Archive for the 'Ivory' Category

Object: Harpoon Head

Punuk, Alaska, United States of America
Materials: Ivory

This ivory harpoon head comes from the tusk of a walrus, and was made by people of the Punuk Culture, a part of the Thule tradition. It was used for whaling, which is what the Punuk culture is known for. To the Punuk people and its descendants the making of the harpoon and harpoon head was a ceremony in itself. A walrus was only killed for its ivory, and it was as close to a sacred animal as possible to the Punuk people. There were ceremonies to prepare the ivory, after which it was carved very intricately. The carver added his personal mark in order to see which harpooner was the one that had the killing thrust.

The whales which were hunted by the Punuk people were bowhead whales, and the hunt involved the entire family. They assembled in a boat owned by the family and rode along the shoreline waiting for the whales to surface along the ice . When a whale surfaced, they went in for the kill. Cultural and religious beliefs support the use of every single part of the whale. After it has been processed, it goes out to all members of the family.

Many of the indigenous people living within the Arctic Circle practiced whaling, but it was not until the Punuk culture that it became the focus of their society. Some whalebone gravesites show that a particular family could have killed as many as 30 whales in a particular season with a tendency to go for the infant whales.

The modern descendants of the Punuk people still practice whaling using methods similar to those of their ancestors. While it may not be the main source of food anymore due to recent whaling laws, it remains an important part of the cultural lives of the indigenous people of the Arctic Circle.Here is an interesting video that show what happens during a whale hunt.

Work Cited

Alaskan Artifacts.
N.D.  A Brief Overview of the Arctics Cultural Periods.

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.

Hurst Gallery.
1998  Punuk 600-1200 AD.

[Manuel Marin]

Object: Labret & Crochet Needle

North Alaska Inuit, Alaska, United States
Material: Focalized Walrus Ivory

North Alaska Inuit, Alaska, United States
Materials: Walrus Ivory

The labret from Northwest Alaska is made of fossilized walrus ivory. Its date of origin is unknown but it was donated to the museum by James “Barney” Gibbs in 1991. Many men and women in Inupiat tribes wore a labret called a Tootuk or Tutu. Traditionally the larger the labret, the higher rank in the family, and between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two Inupiat people have their lower lips pierced under each corner of their mouth for labrets. When pierced, sharp-pointed pieces of ivory are put in, and after healing the hole is gradually stretched to half an inch in diameter. Labrets are made from coal, ivory, and glass stoppers obtained from ships.The Inupiat are the people of Alaska‘s Northwest Arctic and North Slope boroughs of the Bering Straits region. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the Inupiat population in the United States is around 19,000 and most of them live in Alaska.

The crochet hook from northern Alaska is made from walrus tusk and added pigment. The Tlingit are indigenous people to the Pacific Northwest Coast. This piece came to the museum as part of an exchange with Mabee Gerrer Museum at St. Gregory’s College in 1957; although its date of origin is unknown. The crochet hook is an important tool necessary to the survival of the Tlingit people. They used sinew, for thread and needles made of bone, antler, or ivory; with these materials they made fur and skinclothing that helped them to survive freezing Arctic winters. The crochet method is actually a European tradition, and the Tlingit people fashioned these hooks to sell or trade with foreign whalers to either use in their down time or send home to their wives. The Tlingit’s first foreign contact was with Russian explorers in 1741, then again with Spanish explorers in 1775. The Tlingit were able to maintain their independence but suffered great losses to smallpox and other infectious disease brought by the Europeans. The labret and crochet hook you see here are made of ivory from the walrus tusk. In the beliefs of Arctic Native hunting cultures the walrus is one of the most respected natural predators (along with the polar bear). Hunters must have respect for the walrus and try to kill them in a humane manner. The walrus population is now only about 250,000 in the world. Pacific walruses number more than 200,000 currently. The Pacific walrus population has been drastically reduced by hunting several times in the past. Recently their numbers have rebounded after these severe reductions. Check out this cool video on the walrus below.

Work Cited
Brower, Harry Lr. and Hepa, Taqulik.
1998  Subsistence Hunting activities and the Inupiat Eskimo.
Inupiat of Arctic Alaska.
National Park Service
2014  Inupiat Heritage Center.
Onboard Infromatics
2013  Barrow, Alaska.
[Travis Chilbert]

Object: Harpoon

North Alaska Inuit, Alaska, United States of America
Materials: Whale bone, Ivory, Wood, Leather

There are two types of heads for harpoons, the non-toggling head and the toggle head.  This harpoon is of the toggling type that was invented by ancestors of the Inuit people, and it continues to be modified and used today by hunters from all around the world. It is suggested that the toggling head was first used along the Bering Strait, the narrow passage between Alaska, Russia, and the Aleutian Island, but the exact origin is highly debated.  However, among the uncertainty there remains one consensus; it changed the way sea mammals would be hunted forever.  The technology emerged to enhance hunting techniques, because, in the original design, the non-toggling harpoon, the head was fixed to the end of the shaft.  This was effective, but the design was not perfect.  Even though the head was barbed, it could still be dislodged from the animal.  The toggling head was invented to resolve this problem.

In the toggle harpoon the head detaches from the weapon but remains connected to the harpoon by a leather line.  Once the head has penetrated the animal the separation allows the head to rotate and become more securely fixed under the hide.  This technique gives the hunter more leverage to pull the animal from the water and to remain attached until the animal becomes tired.  Additionally, when the head detaches from the weapon, the harpoon does not break against the ice when the animal dives back under the water.

The toggle harpoon has a long history of success.  Its earliest prototypes in 5500 BC began to improve the living conditions of the hunters and their families with its added efficiency, and the invention remained mostly the same until the 19th century.  In 1848 Lewis Temple, a former slave and blacksmith, revolutionized the technology with the addition of the iron head.  Since then, the makeup of the shafts and other parts of the bodies of harpoons continue to be modified, but the toggling head remains a constant in all of the new designs.  This Native American invention transformed sea mammal hunting and continues to thrive over 7,500 years later. To see a toggle head harpoon in action watch the movie below.

Work Cited

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.

Forbes, Jack D.
2007   The American Discovery of Europe. University of Illinois Press. Ch. 6-7
Glenbow Museum
National Park Service.
2008  Lewis Temple and His Impact on 19th Century Whaling. National Parks Traveler.
NOAA Ocean Media Center
2012   People of the Seal.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
N.D. Whale Harpoons, or Temple Toggle Irons. On the Water.
[Madi Sussmann]

Object: Necklace

Baffinland Inuit
North America: Canada: Baffin Island
prior to 1959
Materials: Glass, bone, ivory, beak or claw, and cord

This trade bead necklace has been attributed to the Baffinland Inuit tribe from Baffin Island, Canada. The Baffinland Inuit are one of the groups that make up the Central Eskimo, along with the Copper, Iglulik, Netsilik, and Caribou Inuit. Baffinland Inuit, like other Inuit groups, traditionally lived in semi-permanent winter settlements. These winter settlements served as a hub for smaller seasonal camps that were utilized for hunting, fishing and gathering of specific materials throughout the warmer months of the year. Marine animals like seals, beluga whales, walrus, narwhal, and polar bear were important year round resources for the Inuit people. While in the summer, caribou, birds (and eggs), small game, berries, roots, and shellfish were also available. Today, the Baffinland Inuit live in six main communities: Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island), Clyde River, Kimmirut (formerly Lake Harbour) and Cape Dorset.

This necklace, like other traditional Inuit arts and crafts, is made of bone and ivory from marine animals. In addition to these traditional materials this necklace also features large glass trade beads. Glass beads were first introduced to native North Americans by European explorers. Prior to European contact tribal groups had been making beads from bone, shell, stone, and other materials for many years. Early glass trade beads came mostly from Venice and Holland, later Poland and Czechoslovakia also became major trade bead manufacturing hubs. Trade in glass beads was very common throughout North America, with blue beads being particularly prized. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Opium Pipe

Opium pipe
Dynastic China
Asia: China
prior to 1950
Materials: Wood, ivory, brass, and ceramic

Pipes of this type were used in Dynastic China to smoke the drug opium. Opium has been ingested as a medicine and painkiller for thousands of years. Sometime in the middle of the 17th century people also began to smoke the drug for recreational purposes. It soon became a major trade good for a number of colonial powers operating out of Asia, like the East India Company. Opium is made from the seed pod of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), and contains varying amounts of alkaloids such as morphine, codeine, thebaine and papaverine that are still used in various pharmaceuticals and street drugs today. Opium is a highly addictive narcotic and its use as a painkiller must be strictly controlled. The addictive effects of opium were well known as early as the 1830s when it was said that nearly 9 of 10 Chinese men were thought to be opium addicts. This widespread addiction led Chinese officials of the Qing Dynasty to attempt to eliminate the substance from their country and further restrict trade with Britain, leading to the Opium Wars. Pipes of this type were designed with special pipe-bowls that were meant to vaporize the drug, rather than burn it like other types of pipe. Opium pipe-bowls were usually made of ceramic and depicted traditional Chinese symbols of longevity, wealth, and happiness.

The following video gives additional information on the opium poppy plant. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Ivory Harpoon

Harpoon Head
North America: Alaska
Ca. 20th Century
Materials: Ivory

Harpoon heads have been a key component to survival for indigenous people since around 500 AD.  This particular head is made out of walrus ivory with a crevice at the tip of the head for a metal or stone point and a hole in the center for a line attachment.  The design of this head is commonly referred to as a toggling head design which refers to the ability of the harpoon head to rotate once inserted into the animal’s skin to ensure that the line remains embedded.

Whaling is a long-standing tradition distinct to Inuit communities that reinforces concepts of kinship and sustainability.  The specific design of whaling harpoons are passed down by males in the same kinship group. Whaling is organized by kinship networks of hunting crews who use wooden canoes and search for breathing holes to find bowhead whales. Once the whales have been spotted, hunters thrust their harpoons into the whales. The whales do not die immediately, so the hunters follow them using a system of buoys attached to the harpoon heads until the whale becomes exhausted. Once the whale dies, the whale carcass is taken to shore where kinship groups extract and distribute the meat, fat, and bones for food and tools. This process is known as flensing. Cultural beliefs require that every part of the whale be utilized as a means of honoring the spirits.

Whaling has received much criticism in recent years by the governing powers of North America and environmental organizations that have become concerned about the preservation of endangered whales.  By 1970s, the International Whaling Commission successfully banned the act of whaling due to the impact the commercial whaling industry at that time had on whale populations.  However, the ban largely ignored the significance of whaling in Inuit culture. In response to indigenous movements, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) was created in 1976 as a means of preserving the cultural practice of subsistence whaling among Inuit communities. Since 1981, Inuit groups participating in the AEWC Commission have worked with the National Marine Fisheries Service to come up with an annual quota of bowhead whales that are allowed to be hunted. For example, in 2008, 67 whales were permitted to be killed among the 10 Inuit whaling groups in Alaska.

[Benjamin Norrick]

Object: Ivory Figurine

Ivory Carving of Man
Ca. 1920s-1940s
Materials: Ivory and black teak wood

Ivory is a precious raw material that is used in many applications, including miniature statues and large intricate figures. Ivory comes from animals in the family Elephantidae and it is harvested from the tusks of this species. Ivory tusks are the only incisors that this species posses.  The object above is from southern India, and it may be a chess piece known as a rook. Three countries primarily contribute to the ivory industry: Japan, China, and India. Ivory carving dates back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, as well as prehistoric Inuit, even though they use walrus ivory. These traditions are usually carried on through the families and are considered to be ancient.

Ivory does not just come from elephants but various animals as well. Since 1973 an organization known as CITES, placed both the African and Asian Elephants on their list of various species that can no longer be killed for their ivory. Many ivory carvers and local shops were forced to close due to the ban of ivory trading. Substitutes of ivory sources are walrus, narwhal, hippopotamus, mastodon ivory, and cow bones have been used.  Mastodon ivory is considered to be the best substitute for elephant ivory. Mastodon Ivory, also known as fossil ivory can be found in Russia and Alaska. Most of the time when prehistoric animals die they turn to fossils, however, when the mastodons are frozen they do not fossilize. Instead, the ice protects animal from this process.  After the permafrost has melted away, ivory hunters and paleontologist can find and remove the ivory from its site.

Mastodon ivory has a natural earthy brown hue to its appearance, and it is easy to tell the difference from the whiter, Elephant ivory. An etching technique, also known as scrimshaw, brings our the color in the ivory. The tusk itself has a blue center, and after being heated, the exterior of the tusk changes to a turquoise color. Mammoths and mastodons differ in many ways biologically, but according to CITES these species are preferred over the killing of the present day elephants because retrieving raw materials poses no threat to the extinct species.  It is unknown, however, how much more mammoth and mastodon fossil ivory remain.

[Constance Clark-Lecona]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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