Study Finds Mosh Pits Mimic Ancient Tribal Rituals of Papua New Guinea | Revolver

Study Finds Mosh Pits Mimic Ancient Tribal Rituals of Papua New Guinea

Researcher: "Mosh pits, crowd surfing, circle pits — in an abstract sense epitomise the metal community"
moshpit.jpg, Andrew Benge / Getty
Gold Sounds Festival 2016
photograph by Andrew Benge / Getty

Researcher Linday Bishop from the University College in London spent 10 years studying heavy metal and the people who attend metal shows, including crowds at 3Teeth, Fear Factory, Mortiis and Pig concerts. As reported on by The Daily Mail, her findings tell a deeper story of the subculture — and specifically its mosh pits — shedding light on the communal experience as one in line with the ancient tribal rituals of Papua New Guinea. Bishop recognizes the pits as a form of "controlled chaos" where participants can release tension.

An important step in this ritual is the generational learning curve, according to her study. Older fans take the youth under their wing to teach them the unspoken rules of mosh etiquette, including the intentional withholding of harm to others, a group effort to pick up any fallen comrades, and the knowledge that the pit exists firmly in the realm of consent and boundaries — no one who wants to stay back should suffer a blow if they haven't invited such. Bishop also parallels the collection of memorabilia like band merch and guitar picks to the shared objects of Papuan cultures as signifiers of past events and rite of passage markers. In particular, the Malangan culture of PNG focuses on ceremonial dance and sculpture, which is ephemeral in nature and thus easily likened to the relatively temporary lifespan of a tour shirt or set list. 

See below for a brief inside look at Malangan culture, and take note of likenesses to heavy-metal culture. As stated in the video, "art can act like a window into the spiritual beliefs of a culture." For those who treat metal as religion, the parallels are clear.