Headrests, 19th century
Attribution unknown
:TIN 234.1, :TIN 234.5, :TIN 234.2
© Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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Headrests, 19th century

From top to bottom, the first headrest is made by the Tsonga people; the second is likely made by the Ngoni people and the third headrest is made by the Shona people. Headrests have been recorded in art traditions across Africa. The oldest preserved headrests on the African continent were found in Egypt and have been dated to the second and third dynasties of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 B.C.). The use of headrests in southern Africa has been traced back to the twelfth-century archaeological site of Mapungubwe, along the Limpopo River.

Primarily designed to support and protect the owner’s elaborate hairstyle, this wooden pillow was a sign of status rather than to aid a good night’s sleep.


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