Archive for the 'Arctic' Category

Object: Knife and Sheath

Figure 1    Crooked Knife and Sheath from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History
Figure 1 Knife and Sheath from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1959/7/26
Knife and Sheath
Inuit
North America
Materials: Iron, hide, wood

This particular object is a small curved iron knife approximately 8 3/4 inches in length and 1 1/4 inches in width at its widest point on the wooden handle and resides in the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. According to Museum records, this knife is believed to have come from the North American region and was used by the Inuit.

Figure 2   Map of the Inuit peoples, photo courtesy of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s National Inuit Organization.

Figure 2   Map of the Inuit peoples, photo courtesy of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s National Inuit Organization.

The term “Inuit” refers to native peoples of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions when specific tribal affiliation cannot be determined. Based on research, however, one can see the similarities that this knife shares with quite a few different, regional tribal locations. First, this knife shares a similar form, including a curved blade attached to a straight handle, with the Yupik people. This same knife style, however, was also emulated by a tribe much farther to the southeast, the Tahltan of British Columbia. Second, Native Alaskans made and continue to make many different types of knives. These curved blades are primarily employed in the carving of wood or bone in order to make tools, wearable items, or artwork. A curved, long blade would be much easier to use for carved items because of their ability to make precision cuts, rather than the Ulu knife, which is normally associated with the term “Alaskan knife.” Ulu knives are better suited to chopping and don’t have the carving power of a curved blade, such as the one in the Ethnology Collection would have.

Figure 2    "Inuit Ulu", Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inuit_Ulu.JPG#/media/File:Inuit_Ulu.JPG
Figure 3 “Inuit Ulu”, Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inuit_Ulu.JPG#/media/File:Inuit_Ulu.JPG

The knife in the Ethnology Collection also has a crooked sheath to go with the curved blade. The sheath is made out of leather, although it is unclear what animal hide was used to make the leather. Most similar blades either do not have their original sheath, or the sheath is made from another material such as wood or ivory.

While the specific identification of this knife is unknown, it is without a doubt from the Inuit peoples of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions of North America. It also illustrates an excellent example of how the form (the curved blade) of an object can directly relate to the function (precise carving).

[Connor Daggett]

 

Resources:

Museum of Inuit Art:

http://miamuseum.ca

British Museum, Arctic Peoples: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/cultures/the_americas/arctic_peoples.aspx

Canadian Museum of History, First Peoples:

http://www.historymuseum.ca/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/first-peoples

The Dennos Museum Center, Inuit Gallery:

http://www.dennosmuseum.org/exhibitions/inuit/ 

 

 

Object: Harpoon Head

E/48/2/23
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. http://www.alaskanartifacts.com/Arctic_Cultural_Periods.html

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/features/croads/ekven10.html

Hurst Gallery.
1998  Punuk 600-1200 AD. http://www.hurstgallery.com/HG/exhibit/past/artic/punuk.html

[Manuel Marin]

Object: Labret & Crochet Needle

E/1991/2/1
North Alaska Inuit, Alaska, United States
Material: Focalized Walrus Ivory

E/57/24/3
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. http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/united-states/subsistence-hunting-activities-and-inupiat-es
Inupiat of Arctic Alaska. http://arcticcircle.uconn.edu/HistoryCulture/Inupiat/
National Park Service
2014  Inupiat Heritage Center. http://www.nps.gov/inup/index.htm
Onboard Infromatics
2013  Barrow, Alaska. http://www.city-data.com/city/Barrow-Alaska.html
[Travis Chilbert]

Object: Harpoon

E/91/2/11
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.http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/features/croads/ekven10.html

Forbes, Jack D.
2007   The American Discovery of Europe. University of Illinois Press. Ch. 6-7 http://books.google.com/books?id=09tmdIA6cDoC&pg=PA133&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false
Glenbow Museum
National Park Service.
2008  Lewis Temple and His Impact on 19th Century Whaling. National Parks Traveler. http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/potw/lewis-temple-and-his-impact-19th-century-whaling
NOAA Ocean Media Center
2012   People of the Seal. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TuC2erWFlI
Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
N.D. Whale Harpoons, or Temple Toggle Irons. On the Water. http://amhistory.si.edu/onthewater/
[Madi Sussmann]

Object: Snowshoes

E/1944/1/176
Model Snowshoes
Unknown tribe
North America: Alaska
ca. 1944
Materials: Wood, sinew, leather, twine

Snowshoes have been used by humans around the world for thousands of years. Some of the oldest known snowshoes have been found in Central Asia and date back to approximately 4000-3000 BCE. There are many different types and shapes of snowshoes but all are designed for the same purpose. Historically, in North America there were five basic shapes, or types, of snowshoes: the spear (or lance), the leaf, the disc (or pear), the ellipse, and ovate. Each shape was influenced by local terrain and snowfall amounts. A snowshoe used in areas of light snow and dense forest was less desirable in open terrain with deep drifting snow. Likewise certain shapes were preferred for long distance travel.

All snowshoes, regardless of type or origin, are meant to help a person walk on top of deep snow without having ones feet sink below the surface. This makes walking easier and helps to minimize the amount of snow that accumulates on ones feet and legs, keeping the wearer drier. Snowshoes work by spreading out the weight of your foot over a larger area, in the opposite way a pair of high heels concentrate ones weight on a small point. By spreading the weight of the wearer out over a larger area, the snow’s surface can then support the weight of the wearer without collapsing. The density of the snow and the weight of the wear affect how large the snowshoes need to be in order to effectively distribute the weight.

Traditionally snowshoes, like the model shoes shown above, were made of a lightweight wooden frame that was laced together or covered with animal skins. Today snowshoes are still popular and have evolved into high tech outdoor equipment, utilizing the latest materials and technology.

The following video shows George Albert of Ruby, Alaska making and talking about traditional Alaskan snowshoes.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Snow beater

E/1948/2/45
Snow beater
Inuit
North America: Arctic: USA or Canada
Unknown date
Materials: Wood

Snow beaters, also known as tiluqtut or anautaq, were used throughout the Arctic to remove snow and ice from shoes, clothing, and sometimes even the inner surfaces of dwellings. These tools could vary in size and the level of carved detail but were usually made of bone, antler, ivory, or wood, like this example at the Sam Noble Museum. Snow left to melt on clothing or shoes would cause fur and leather items to become stiff, promote decay, and would reduce their insulating capabilities. For these reasons snow removal and drying tools like snow beaters were important for cold weather survival.

Other examples of snow beaters can be found in the Marischal Museum, the McCord Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and others.

The following video illustrates some other traditional arctic tools, made by the Inuit peoples.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Necklace

E/1959/7/59
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]


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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