mid-19th to early 20th century
Artist Unidentified, Pacific Islander

Object Place: North Island, New Zealand; Object Place: Aotearoa


20.32 cm (8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood with obsidian and traces of red paint

On View

Arts of Asia, Oceania, and Africa Gallery (Gallery 177)


Africa and Oceania



In the past, the Maori carefully preserved their ancestors’ skulls, and works such as this rare example may have been a substitute for a lost or damaged skull. The relief represents the tattoo patterns (moko) of the individual depicted. Tattooing was a mark of prestige among the Maori. Specialists created body tattoos with a needle comb, but this type of facial pattern was incised into the skin of the face with chisels, resembling the technique used in carving wood. While these facial tattoos belong to the past, certain types of tattooing continue to this day.


1983, J. A. Prime, Esq., England; June 27, 1983, sale (consigned by J. A. Prime), Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London, lot 168, to Wayne Heathcote (dealer), London; 1987, sold by Wayne Heathcote to Richard Manoogian, Masco Corporation, Detroit; sold by Manoogian back to Heathcote; December 1, 1992, sold by Wayne Heathcote to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1994, partial year-end gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA; 2015, accessioned fully with the bequest of William Teel to the MFA [see note]. (Accession Dates: January 25, 1995 and June 12, 2015)

NOTE: The MFA consulted with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, New Zealand, before accessioning the Head.

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel