Skulls were the main trading currency used by the Torres Strait Islander people with their Papuan New Guinean neighbours. These trading skulls were acquired in battle and through raiding parties to other islands and the Australian mainland. Not all skulls were traded, some being used in ceremonies and rituals.
The artist’s depiction of the Baidam or Shark constellation in the seven inlaid pearl shell stars, identifies this skull as one that was used for trading. This constellation was the main one used for navigation on the trading routes between the Islands and Papua New Guinea. The Baidam constellation is so called because the seven stars form the outline of a shark which is delineated by the nose, dorsal fin, tips of the tail and body. The two figures seen in the canoe are observing Baidam on their journey north.
The nose and eye sockets of the skulls were filled with bees wax. Pearl shell, in the diamond shape shown in the sculpture, was inserted into the wax in the eye sockets. Fibre and other adornments were attached to the skull to enhance its appearance and desirability as a trading item.