Although it sounds a bit extreme, some populations from Papua New Guinea used human bone daggers only a century ago. These weapons are well-known for the intricate designs that were present on their handles, and were common not only for hunting, but also during ceremonies. After a close analysis of these daggers, researchers discovered they also had a social purpose.
The tribes had daggers made from two types of bone
Bone daggers were a pretty common weapon for the tribes living in Papua New Guinea. The basic material they used was cassowary thigh bone, a flightless bird common in the area. However, for a few others, these people used human bone. These bones had belonged to honored fighters who had lost their lives while in battle. Whenever these people died, their descendants could carve their bones into a dagger.
Researchers were baffled by this distinction, as they couldn’t tell why these people carved daggers from two different types of bone. To unravel the mystery, a team of scientists from Dartmouth College performed an analysis of 11 daggers made from different types of bones. Five of them were human bone daggers, while the other six were made of cassowary bone.
The human bone daggers were an indicative of social status
Both types were more or less the same. However, the human bone daggers were a bit sturdier, and could better cope with bending. After running a few computer models and estimating the breaking point of each weapon, they came to the conclusion that human bone daggers were superior.
These properties weren’t necessarily a result of the superior properties of human bone. The design is responsible for this superiority, which could better cope with tension. Therefore, these people might have deliberately shaped the human bone daggers to be better. This could have been an attempt to preserve their symbolic meaning. Those people who owned such daggers wanted them to last longer, so they would show off and display their social prestige.
The study on these unique types of daggers has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons