Saturday, December 14, 2013

More Alaska Eskimo Maritime Items: Peabody Museum #3

Let's look at more Aleut and other Alaskan Eskimo maritime and related cultural items at Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. (See previous posts on the museum's Baffinland Inuit and other Aleut exhibits.) All quotations are from exhibit display cards.

"Diorama of Alaska Eskimo House Group" is, unfortunately, all the information given, so the specific locale is a mystery to me. At right is a cutaway view of a semi-subterranean, multi-family house, fairly similar to the Aleut one shown in the previous post, except that this one has its entrance through the side, rather than through the roof. Planks are used to extend the walls above ground level and as roof structure, then the whole is covered with a thick layer of earth. At center are plank-built structures: I believe the one in the foreground is a fishing shack that would be set up right at the edge of the shore, and the one behind it either for gear storage or ceremonial use. In the background are several food cache structures. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Close-up of the diorama's right side. At left is a man with a fish trap. To his right are drying racks for split fish, likely cod or halibut. A paddle on the ground beside the kayak has a single blade of an unusual shape. 
Close-up of the kayak at the far left of the top photo. According to Harvey Golden, founder of the Lincoln Street Kayak & Canoe Museum in Portland, Oregon, it's "a Central Yup'ik kayak-- the type used on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and adjacent coasts and Islands (including Nunivak Island)." (Almost simultaneously, this blog received a comment from "John," also identifying it as a Central Yupik type. John's comment is worth reading.)

The Yupik kayak as shown in Adney & Chappelle's The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. As Harvey Golden notes, "the scale drawings of these types make them look massive and blocky, but as the model shows, they are rather elegant craft." Harvey has built a wonderful replica of this kayak, and he reports that another is near completion.
Man's hat, typical of the Aleutians and southwest Alaska, early 19th century. "The caribou effigies at the top of the ivory wing pieces are unusual, because sea hunting equipment rarely depicts land animals."
A wooden helmet from Kodiak Island, collection before 1869. This was worn on top of the head when hunting seals on the sea ice. Hunters would typically hide behind rocks or ice blocks, peering carefully while disguised as a seal and awaiting the moment when a real seal was far enough from open water to dash out of cover and make the kill with either a spear or a club.
Model of a three-hole kayak, similar to those in the previous post. The bow paddler wears a gutskin paddling jacket and a decorated bentwood hat topped with a bird effigy -- possibly a sign of status. The other men wear wooden visors. The man in the center cockpit is about to hurl a harpoon with a throwing board.
Upper left: whale amulet, stone, Point Barrow, prior to 1894. Lower left: sea otter amulet, walrus ivory. "It was probably tied to the inside of a kayak rim where it improved the fortune of the hunter. Bristol Bay or Aleutian region, prior to 1867. Center: Whaling harpoon rest from north Alaska. "The large heads carved out of walrus ivory are polar bears, while the smaller ones are either white fox or, possibly, sea otter. The wide U-shaped opening rested on the gunwales of an umiak during the whale hunt, so only the small inoffensive animals could be 'seen' by the whales. Early 19th century. Upper right: ivory toggle in the shape of a seal: possibly a clothing fastener. Collected on Norton Sound prior to 1888. Lower right: amulet of a bear jaw: probably carried for protection when hunting bear.
A floating seal lure, collected prior to 1894. "This sea mammal effigy is made out of wood and fossil ivory. It rattled when it bobbed around in the water, thus attracting a seal.... (It) was collected at Point Barrow, but it is more ornate than what is usually found in that area." 
Two tobacco pipes of walrus ivory. The bowl of the upper one is in the form of a walrus's head (lying on its back, facing upward), and the spike attached by a carved chain of ivory is a probably representational, not functional, pipe cleaner. Both show many incised carvings of sea mammals, birds, game, hunting scenes, fish and fishing, and umiaks. On the upper edge of the lower pipe, about halfway between bowl and mouthpiece and shown upside-down, is a boat (probably an umiak) with a mast supporting a mainsail and topsail. Partially visible in the upper left is an ivory bow from a bow drill collected mid-19th century from Norton Sound and almost certainly nonfunctional. All of these were probably produced for sale to outsiders.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the mystery kayak, Qayaqs and Canoes native ways of knowing byJan Steinbright and the Alaskan native Heritage Center show a reconstruction of a very similar boat and describe it as a "Central Yup'ik Qayaq - Caninermiut Style". They also show the traditional paddle used with it is a single blade, of course it's in the water so no way to be sure of matching blade shape but I'd guess it's the same based on the image of the paddle being carved.