Image Forehead ornament, c1916

TLF ID R6685

This is an Aboriginal forehead ornament from the Northern Territory, believed to have been made in the early 1900s. It comprises more than 30 kangaroo teeth, each embedded in beeswax and then attached to a string. Lengths of string extend out at both ends of the ornament. The ornament is 45 cm long and 9.5 cm wide.



Educational details

Educational value
  • Indigenous people of central and northern Australia produced a variety of body ornaments for both ceremonial and decorative purposes and these included armlets, aprons, pubic tassels, pendants, neckbands and forehead bands, as seen here. Body ornaments were traded between Aboriginal groups and in some cases they were 'sung' to give them certain magical powers.
  • This forehead ornament was made using the incisor teeth of kangaroos, with each tooth being embedded in a small lump of beeswax, and then attached side by side on double-stranded string made of vegetable fibre. Among some Aboriginal groups forehead ornaments featuring kangaroo teeth were worn mostly by women. This ornament was worn with the points of the teeth hanging down.
  • String made of vegetable fibre was in widespread use among Australian Indigenous peoples and the anthropologist Walter Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929), when describing an ornament such as this in 1914, wrote that the parts of string without teeth attached were bound with other pieces of string to form a strong cord that passed behind the head. Spencer made numerous expeditions to central and northern Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
  • A number of Indigenous groups in the Northern Territory used hardened beeswax as a fixative, heating and then moulding it into place while still warm. Apart from its use in ornaments such as the one pictured here, beeswax was also used for hafting stone knives and spears.
  • Spencer and his colleague Francis (Frank) Gillen (1855-1912) recorded Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory using another method to make a forehead ornament with kangaroo teeth. This involved embedding the teeth in a small mass of resin from the leaf stalks of a species of 'Triodia', commonly known as spinifex or porcupine grass. String made from human hair was also fastened to the resin to tie behind the wearer's head.
  • Spencer and Gillen also recorded rows of kangaroo teeth embedded in resin and tied onto Aboriginal necklets in the Northern Territory. In this case the teeth were usually coated with pipe clay to make them stand out clearly against the dark skin of the wearer.
  • Animal parts were not uncommon in Aboriginal ornaments in central Australia, with a range of parts being used. As well as teeth, parts included bones, hawk claws, fur and feathers from various birds.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7

Learning area
  • history
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    Contributors
    • Content provider
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: Museum of Victoria
    • Address: Carlton VIC 3053 Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of Museum Victoria
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 05 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
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    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum Victoria, 2016, except where indicated under Acknowledgements