This massive limestone object is approximately 30 inches across and weighs 285 pounds. It is a form of currency, called rai, used by the inhabitants of the island of Yap in Micronesia in the southwest Pacific. Rai stones were quarried on the islands of Palau, located about 300 miles from Yap, and brought to Yap by boat, where they were stored in communal structures. The largest rai could be 12 feet in diameter and weigh more than 4 tons. Too heavy to physically change hands, ownership and the biography of individual rai were tracked orally: a rai’s value depended on its size, craftsmanship, and history of prior owners. Unfortunately, the early history of this rai was lost when Peter Hill acquired it between 1948 and 1950. It has a more recent history, however: visitors to the U-M Museum of Natural History may recognize this object, which has been on display in the Anthropology Gallery since 1985.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.