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Carrie M. McLain Memorial Musuem: Journey of an Arctic Collection

By Amy Phillips-Chan, Director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum.  Originally Published in the ASC Newsletter, No. 23. 55-57

For almost 50 years the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum has perched a few yards from the icy coast of Norton Sound on historic Front Street in Nome, Alaska. In 1967 the Nome Museum, among other museums, including the Cordova Historical Museum, Pioneer Museum (Fairbanks), and Alaska State Museum (Juneau), sprung up across the state to celebrate the centennial purchase of Alaska from Russia. The centennial museums represented a concerted statewide effort to gather and preserve Alaska history and culture while at the same time they announced the importance of Alaska collections and researchers to the professional field.

In Nome, local historian Carrie M. McLain had embarked on a lifelong pursuit of collecting and sharing oral histories, photographs, and artifacts since her arrival on the fringe of the gold rush in 1905. McLain’s founding collection of ivory artwork and historical photographs set a precedent for donors with personal connections to Nome and the surrounding region looking to return their treasures and memories. The museum collection greatly expanded over the past five decades and now comprises 15,000 objects, 12,000 photographic prints and negatives, and over 100 linear feet of historical records.

Tools-lopp
Tools, ivory carvings, a pair of model boots, and a baleen basket from the Lopp Collection donated by great-grandson Stuart Dick in May 2015. CMMM, Acc. 2015.4.abøgarður, Faroe Islands.

The museum’s greatest collection strength is Alaska Native material culture from the late 19th century, followed by items related to gold mining, the ivory curio market, ancient ivory carvings, and dog sledding. The collection also comprises a fair number of business and household articles from early 1900s Nome as well as cultural artifacts and faunal remains from the Snake River Sandspit site. The overall collection affords unique insight into the socio-cultural and economic shifts occurring within Bering Strait communities at the turn of the 20th century.

The Lopp Collection of bone and ivory implements, stone tools, models, and ivory curios represents one of the museum’s distinct assemblages portraying transculturation. William Thomas “Tom” Loppand Ellen Louise Kittredge Loppserved as missionaries, teachers, and reindeer superintendents in Wales between 1892-1902. The Lopps participated in subsistence activities, took photographs, and printed a newsletter, The Eskimo Bulletin, which chronicled daily life within an Iñupiaq village. The growing presence of gold miners in the area and ensuing changes to the local economy are captured in Kathleen Lopp-Smith’s, Ice Window: Letters from a Bering Strait Village, 1892-1902 (2002).

By the time of the Lopp’s departure from Wales in 1902, the town of Nome had swelled to almost 20,000  people, Western goods were prevalent, and the ivory curio market was in full swing. The Shields Collection provides an example of positive cross-cultural relations with Iñupiaq families in transition and a variety of items produced for the tourist trade in Nome. From 1910-1918, Walter C. Shields served as Superintendent of Schools

Ivory-lopp
Ivory artwork from the Shields Collection donated by grandson Philip Shields in April 2015. The reindeer and figure stand on top of the tusk inscribed, “To Walter C. Shields, Superintendent 1916. Nome, Alaska. From, Wales Delegates.” CMMM, Acc. 2015.2

of the Northwest District of Alaska. Shields oversaw the establishment of new schools and advocated for the promulgation of reindeer herding as a means to increase Iñupiaq wealth and standing. During his treks to northern communities by reindeer sled, Shields took photographs, acquired objects, and framed his view on Iñupiaq history as a book of poems titled The Ancient Ground (1918).

In February 2015 I came onboard as Director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum as it stood on the cusp of its own significant transformation with construction of a new building, new exhibits, and its first dedicated collections storage area. Like many small museums, lapse in staff and lack of training over the years had resulted in a disorganized and poorly documented collection. The use of multiple numbering systems, a lack of accession records, and dearth of deed of gifts, presented an impressive challenge. Indeterminate portions of the collection were also stored in seven different locations across town adding another layer of organizational complexity.

In spring 2015 the museum undertook its first comprehensive inventory in fifty years. For those who have processed collections, one is intimately familiar with the meticulous task of searching for documentation, identifying, attributing, and cataloguing. Opening unmarked boxes and exploring collection hideaways also carries a heady sense of excitement and discovery. One remarkable object found folded in storage is a tanned and dyed sealskin wall hanging featuring alternating light and dark squares of intricate geometric appliqué typically found on 19th century Chukchi clothing from Eastern Siberia.

Wall hanging-lopp
Sealskin skin wall hanging featuring alternating light and dark squares of geometric designs. CMMM, Cat. 1979.1.52.

For our museum, the comprehensive inventory served a manifold purpose. First, the extensive processing activity helped us establish right of ownership while gaining critical insight into the scope and strengths of our collection. Knowledge about the range and dimensions of objects was also instrumental in planning the layout of cabinets and shelves in our new collections storage area. Next, after objects were catalogued and photographed they moved down the line to where they were wrapped and boxed for the move to the new museum. Finally, hands-on analyses of the collection afforded an opportunity to visualize new exhibit themes and identify key objects for storylines.

The museum collection will embark on its next journey during summer 2016 as it moves approximately one mile north to our new facility. Rehousing the collection in mobile storage will greatly increase the accessibility of the collection and expand its potential value for research, public programs, exhibits, and community projects. Following the move, the museum will be rolling out a “Community Historian” program as an integral part of exhibit development for the main gallery. The program invites community members with localized knowledge to partner with museum staff and draft exhibit content utilizing materials within the collection.

The Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum contains a rich assemblage of artifacts, photographs, and papers that reveal the vibrant history of Nome and the Bering Strait, from marine mammal hunting equipment and ivory artwork, to gold mining and the origins of long distance dog sled racing. Through many personal donations and accounts, the collection offer critical insight into the shared history of Western and Bering Strait Native peoples that continues to enrich the cultural fabric of Nome.


Arctic Ethnology Imaging Project

By Emily Cain and David Rosenthal.  Originally published in the ASC Newsletter, No. 23. 40-41

Emily and Brittany
Emily Cain (left) and Brittany Hance (right) in the Department of Anthropology's Imaging Lab at the Museum Support Center.

The summer of 2015 saw the beginning of the Department of Anthropology’s Collections Management Unit’s Arctic Ethnology Imaging Project. The goal of this project is to photograph and make available online the entire NMNH Arctic Ethnology collection of over 20.000 objects.

Funding for the first project year (2015/2016) came from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund (CCPF) created in 2006 as an institution-wide pool to accomplish a wide variety of collections-related projects. The CCPF has funded 181 projects since its inception, totaling over $19 million awarded. Jake Homiak, former Anthropology Collections and Archives Program Director, and David Rosenthal, Anthropology Collections Manager, worked on the first grant proposal in summer 2014 together with the support of Igor Krupnik, Arctic Ethnology Curator.

Receiving the funding has allowed us to hire Brittany Hance and Emily Cainto see this project through. Brittany is a professional photographer and former intern with NMNH Photo Services. Emily, with a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from GWU (2015) has worked as a SIMA (Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology) intern and contractor. Brittany and Emily primarily work out of the Anthropology Collection Lab’s photo studio at the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Suitland, Maryland. It is equipped with an in-studio Mac Pro shooting computer, a Canon T6s camera with 24-70 EF lens, and Capture One 8.3 software, allowing for a streamlined process and high-quality product. Objects are tracked electronically, using a digital bar-code reader and color-coded system that records at exactly which step in the process each individual object is. Using these and other tools, they’ve modified the imaging workflow so that images are added to the online database almost as fast as they are taken while also minimizing human error.

Each object from the collection, ranging from Edward Nelson’s 1879 ti-sikh-puk dance mask from Western Alaska to Greenlandic souvenir tupilak figures of the 1960s, are carefully and thoroughly photographed, providing a highly detailed and readily accessible visual record to go along with existing catalog records.

Miniature walrus
Miniature walrus carving collected on St. Lawrence Island by Vaughn Rockney, 1943. E416900, Photograph by Brittany Hance

Challenges

The wide variety of materials within the Arctic collections presents certain logistical challenges; namely, the execution of an efficient system despite the breadth of shapes, sizes, and compositions of objects. In order to navigate this issue, the photo studio has been redesigned with fully modular and mobile shooting and staging areas, allowing for maximum flexibility to suit the needs of individual objects. Additionally, a series of specialized, supplemental photoshoots are planned for objects that fall outside of the capabilities of our main studio.

In collaboration with NMNH Photo Services, two weekend photo shoots have been completed to date in order to accommodate oversized objects such as large parkas and blankets. These objects’ size and, often, age require a much larger staging space and many careful hands. These photo shoots, conducted with the gantry system in the street at MSC, involve experienced volunteers to help facilitate the handling of very large objects, as well as the presence of two photographers for a combination of overall and detail shots with maximum efficiency. In order to manage extra-long objects such as spears and paddles, a new shooting process involving linear motion positioning is in the works for the coming summer.

Small wooden mask
Small wooden mask collected in western Alaska by Henry Collins in 1927. E340246, Photograph by Brittany Hance.

To date, we have photographed more than 2,800 objects and produced over 14,000 images. The majority of objects that belong to St. Lawrence Island Yupik and Nunivak Island Yup’ik/Čupik cultural groups have been photographed and inserted into the database, as well as the collections of Lucien M. Turner and Charles Francis Hall for Labrador and Arctic Canada/Greenland, respectively. The collections database is being updated with the outcomes of the project on a regular basis, with hundreds of new images being made available to both internal users and the general public each week.

We are currently waiting for the Smithsonian to announce the 2016 recipients of the CCPF awards and have high hopes to be funded for year 2 of this project. It will include the imaging of the Kotzebue Sound, Northwest Alaska, and of our smaller Siberia collections. Overall the project is expected to take four years to complete. In that time, Brittany and Emily plan to continue improving their process and to document it for future implementation across other in-house Anthropology digitization projects.


Smithsonian Spotlight: Making a Difference

 

 

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Location: Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum

Date: Thursday, September 1 at noon

Carpenter turned positive rap musician, motivational speaker and community activist, Samuel Johns (Ahtna Athabascan) talks about his work, which includes founding ForgetMeNotAK.org to help the homeless reconnect with their families.

This event is sponsored by the Recovering Voices Program, an initiative led by the National Museum of Natural History.


Smithsonian Spotlight: Tupik Mi Tattoo Project

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Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum: Thursday August 4th at noon

In 2015, the Anchorage Museum brought Greenlandic tattoo artist Maya Jacobsen together with Iñupiaq artist Holly Nordlum to collaborate around traditional tattoos. Join Nordlum for an update on this project and accompanying documentary about skin-stitching cultural heritage. 

This event is sponsored by the Recovering Voices Program, an initiative led by the National Museum of Natural History.


Urban Interventions: Street Art

Street art collage

Location: Anchorage Museum lawn

Date: Friday, July 8th at 1-5pm

See murals in the making, inspired by Alaska Native heritage represented in the Smithsonian and Anchorage Museum collections. Arizona artists Dwayne "Dwayno Insano" Manuel (Onk Akimel O’odham) and Rene "Strike 1" Garcia (Tohono O’odham) with Alaska artist Arielo "Bisco" Taylor (Unangax/African American) teach Anchorage youth about creative communication through this community-building, public art form.

Urban Interventions motivates and empowers youth through creative, healthy expression. This public program series is organized by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and Anchorage Museum. Local youth will join the program through assistance from community partners: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Covenant House Alaska and Kennecott Youth Center (JBER).


Material Traditions: Sewing Gut

Gutsewing

 

CLICK HERE for a preview of Material Traditions: Sewing Gut – a set of educational videos from the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center artists' residency at the Anchorage Museum and community workshop at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel. Featuring artists Mary Tunuchuk (Yup'ik), Elaine Kingeekuk (St. Lawrence Island Yupik) and Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabascan), the videos include interviews, how to process seal intestine, preparing thread and grass, sewing gut strips and more.

To see the complete set, CLICK HERE or search online for "Sharing Knowledge Alaska Sewing Gut." Use Google Chrome for best viewing. A limited number of DVD copies and full resolution HD files are available by request.

Photo: Mekoryuk, 1964. Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum.


ILULISSAT CLIMATE DAYS- ILULISSAT, GREENLAND JUNE 2 – 5, 2015

Climate Days brought together 158 Arctic specialists to share with one another the current knowledge of ice conditions and climate change in the Arctic. The primary venue for the conference was Ilulissat’s Hotel Arctic.

 

 

Sponsors who made this conference possible include Denmark’s National Space Institute, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the European Space Agency, the International Arctic Science Committee, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, the Hotel Arctic, and others.

 

 

Opening Session

 

Introductions made at Ilulissat’s sports hall (Ilulissat Hallen) were presented by Mala Høy,

Greenland Minister of Nature, Environment, and Justice. Anne Riiser presented a welcome from the Nordic Council of Ministers (NORDFORSK).

 

Professor Rene Forsberg led off for the major sponsoring institution, DTU-Space,

which is a Danish research Institute and part of the Technical University of Denmark. Here, he follows with a conversation with Toku Oshima of Qaanaaq, Greenland, on climate change and its effects on traditional hunting and fishing.

Professor Konrad Steffen, Director of the Swiss Federal Research Institute, began with the observation that sea level had been constant for 2,000 to 3,000 years. Now, with global warming producing more melt water and the upper layers of the ocean undergoing thermal expansion, we are seeing sea level begin to rise. The warmest year to date is 2014. Through changes in precipitation, evaporation, runoff, and ice discharge, the Greenland Ice Sheet is experiencing a loss in ice mass. The warming oceans are increasingly a key factor in melting of both glacier and sea ice.

Dr. Jennifer Mercer contractor to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) thanked that body for its support of Arctic and Antarctic research, with its largest funding increases directed to Alaska and Greenland. Other conference leadoff speakers included Jørgen Hammeken-Holm, Acting Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources. He commented that even with all the sea ice reduction in Greenland waters, commercial quantities of gas and oil have not been found.

Dr. Mark Drinkwater from the Netherlands, with the European Space Agency addressed the use of satellite programs through which ESA monitors and studies the cryosphere. He offers that the ocean is becoming warmer and there is more evaporation – more moisture in air, and more precipitation, which falls as snow at higher elevation in central Greenland, which rises to above 10,000 ft.

Karen Anne Arleth, Head of Greenland’s Climate Office addressed Greenland climate change and adaptation policy.

From a cultural change perspective, artists Bjarki Bragason and Anna Lindal of Iceland talked of how politics influences both economy and nature. A loop has been created in which cultural change is causing climate change, which leads to further cultural change – a continuous downward lock step spiral of climate and culture, as we know them. Bragason and Lindal raise the question: Can our economic model be sustained?

Glacier Dynamics:

Selected Modeling Endeavors

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Image caption: Subsequent conference sessions over the period June 3 through 5 were held in the Hotel Arctic, which operates under the Directorship of Erik Bjerregaard. Aerial image is of hotel with town to right (south) and airport to left (north).

 

Maximum thickness of sea ice around Greenland occurred in the 1980s. In 2012, on the ice sheet, Greenland experienced its record year for glacial melt. 2013 had much less melt, possibly due to a coldwater incursion into coastal fjords that reduced the amount of ice lost through calving. This temporarily reduced the ice discharge of outlet glaciers.

The European Space Agency (ESA) through its Climate Change Initiative (CCI) space program measures ice mass through three variables: elevation, gravity, and ice flow velocity. The data show that there is more ice melt in Greenland than in Ellesmere and Baffin combined, particularly in 2010 and 2012.

One of the leaders of these modeling endeavors is Konrad Steffen who has personally installed 25 automatic weather stations in Greenland.

  1-Greenland Conference

Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) does very impressive modeling of ice sheet climatology and surface mass balance. The key is understanding the relationship between elevation and precipitation and the amount of surface melting. These variables are all represented in “Greenland Mass Loss Fits”. Several different models use the same data in different ways, though all realize the same trend of decreasing Greenland ice mass.

In its climate change studies in Greenland, Stability and Variations of Arctic Land Ice (SVALI), a Nordic research initiative, found like GEUS that while there is loss of ice through melt in lower reaches of Greenland, the volume of ice at higher, central elevations continues to increase. As the atmosphere and oceans warm, there is more evaporation and precipitation, with the latter falling as snow at higher elevations in Greenland.

Changes in ice sheet mass can be measured in Greenland by using “space-borne grravimetry”. A pair of orbiting satellites repeatedly measures the gravitational attraction of ice sheet as they pass overhead. The amount of ice lost as the ice sheet melts and as icebergs break off the edge of the ice sheet is not compensated for by new snow and ice. The satellites measure the resulting mass imbalance.

Glacial velocity is a function of season and proximity to sea. There are interesting patterns of advance and retreat, which correlate with ocean temperature. The ice dynamics are a function of velocity (which is a function of the steepness of the outlet glacier), calving rate (which is related to ocean temperature) and subglacial hydrology. (Ian Joughin and Ben Smith). The force of gravity, the weight of the ice, drives ice flow. Changes in climate can modify the frictional forces that resist ice flow. For example, lubrication by melt water can reduce friction if it makes its way to the base of the ice sheet, allowing faster flow.

There is an increase in snowfall in central Greenland, which doesn’t compensate for the mass lost at the edges.

2-Greenland Conference

In 2013, the rate at which ice loss was occurring slowed. With apparent overturning of the North Atlantic’s massive waters, there was likely a cold-water incursion into the fjords around Greenland, with less heat energy being delivered to the outlet glaciers. This unusual event caused several outlet glaciers to temporarily thicken and advance as of time of conference May 2015 (Mike Bevis). The temperature has averaged three degrees less than the average temperature for this time of year calculated over the last 30 years, barometric pressure has decreased, and precipitation has increased.

A significant realization of glacial modeling is that climate feedback mechanisms, like weather, are not linear.

Through its Climate Change Initiative (CCI), the European Space Agency has investigated ‘essential climate variables’, which are related to changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet. CCI data products include ice velocity, surface elevation change, calving front location, and grounding line location.

Doug Benn concluded that calving, sub-aqueous melting, and buoyancy of, causes the front of floating ice to bend upwards, as ice beneath the water line melts more rapidly than ice above the water line. This has led to collapsing ice fronts at glaciers in Svalbard. Water from beneath glaciers can drive circulation in fjords, bringing in warmer ocean water that enhances the rate of ice melt and calving, sometimes accelerating glacial speed. Benn suggested that glacier surges may sometimes be driven by ice changes at the front of the glacier rather than up in the accumulation area of the glacier.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program identified black carbon as a short-lived pollutant that drifts in from the south with 2015 proving to be a record-breaking high as massive, largely uncontrolled forest fires burn throughout western North America from California through British Columbia to Alaska with carbon particulate matter streaming to the Arctic. Local sources of black carbon further amplify build up. Every Arctic village has its own diesel-fired generator or electrical plant that emits black carbon.

The Greenland Climate Research Centre studies the fundamental relationships between community, ice, and living resources in northwest Greenland. They ask what does weather and climate change mean to the people who are dependent upon the sea for a livelihood. The essence of culture is to serve as a repository of hard won knowledge gained over time, which lends predictability to life. Actor Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves speaks of the loss of this predictability among the Southwest American Indians in the nineteenth century: “Through changes in circumstances, a people who become unable to predict the future become confused”.

Ilulissat Climate Days effectively demonstrated the complexity of climate science through the truly, fascinating modeling of environmental change in Greenland and with worldwide implications of those changes.

The Greenland Ice Mapping Project has tracked Jakobshavn (now Ilulissat) for 20 years, through 2014. The greatest rate of ice loss was in 2012. In recent years, the glacial terminus where calving occurs in Jakobshavn is moving inland approximately 600 meters each year.

Tracking Jakobshavn Glacier Flow

In 2013 I had the good fortune to meet Jens Ploug Larsen, a pilot who flies with Air Greenland as well as with his own local airline, Airzafari. In 2015, with one of Jens’s pilots, Martin, we tracked the Jakobshavn Glacier from Ilulissat inland towards the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photographs track glacial progression from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Note that images portray calving, or “ablation”, that begins well away from the sea.

To present this one glacier in a quantitative, global context, Jakobshavn – one of Greenland’s most prolific – each year produces enough water to satisfy all of the annual water requirements of the United States.

The Greenland Ice Sheet, which rises to more than 2 miles in height, is like a frozen desert that drifts largely through the forces of elevation (gravity) and ice mass. While still miles form the sea, a stream from the Greenland ice sheet enters the Jakobshavn channel. With compression and steeper incline, the ablation zone, region of calving, begins while still miles from the sea.

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A major ablation zone of Jakobshavn is fed with a number of ice streams, which congregate like the headwaters and tributaries of a river watershed. In front of the glacier is the top of a sheared wall, still prominently displayed as one large ridge with a zone of ice detritus in between.

03-4249.(rev)Ablation wall 04-4268.JKBG_Collapsed wall copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iceberg wall, shaped like preceding image of a sheared wall, now floats in the waters of Ilulissat’s Icefjord. All will become icebergs - and water.

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In the setting sun of an Arctic evening, a paddler in his kayak navigates through the icebergs of the Jakobshavn Glacier, calved into the waters of Ilulissat.

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NSF flight with Air National Guard 109th from Stratton Air Force Base Scotia, New York to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

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The US National Science Foundation (NSF) arranged for air transport for the American delegation on an U.S. Air Force C-130 from Stratton Base in upstate New York to Greenland’s primary airport, Kangerlussuaq.

Author/Photographer

Wilfred E. Richard, PhD Research Associate

Arctic Studies Center, U.S. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History,

Washington, D.C.

Research Fellow, Uummannaq Polar Institute, Uummannaq, Greenland

 

Author

Michael John Willis, PhD, Research Associate

Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University

Adjunct Assistant Research Professor

Geological Sciences

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

 

Reviewer

Hal Salzman, PhD

Professor and Senior Faculty Fellow

Rutgers, The State University of New York

 

Acknowledgements

Renee D. Crain - National Science Foundation Logistical Support

Jens Ploug Larsen - Airzafari

Ronald W. Levere - publication design


Free Public Lecture on Life and Death in the Arctic on January 15, 2016

Ernest “Tiger” Burch Memorial Lecture Series, 2016

Caribou, Cod, Climate, and Man: A Story of Life and Death in the Arctic

By: Morten Meldgaard, Natural History Museum of Denmark and University of Greenland

January 15th, 2016, 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in the Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

MortenBurchLecture

Far from being a remote planetary ‘deep-freeze’, the Arctic region today is recognized as a dynamic environment that has played a major role in the evolution and spread of animals and plants as well as the migrations and development of peoples and cultures. This presentation begins by investigating why Late Quaternary megafauna like the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros went extinct while others like caribou and bison prevailed. What caused these differential outcomes? And what was the role of humans and climate in the dramatic changes that took place subsequently?

In order to explore these questions we will consider the history of caribou and caribou hunting in Greenland, where excavations at the important site Aasivissuit (“the Great Summer Camp”) reveal a close human association for several thousand years. Archaeological evidence reveals that dramatic caribou population crashes have occurred time and again, forcing major changes in the human economies. The key to human survival has been the development of broad-based, resilient resource strategies.

To understand what this strategy looked like and how people coped with fluctuating resources we examine the 4000 year old Saqqaq site “Qeqertasussuq” on a small West Greenland island in Disko Bay that has produced a wealth of biocultural information from the frozen remains of seals, fish, caribou and whales. Ironically, in spite of apparent abundance, Saqqaq suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. What happened? Did the marine resource base disintegrate? Did winter sea-ice disappear? Were other agents in play?

Given recent history, one cannot but wonder if humans had a decisive role in cycles of key resource populations over time?  Archaeology and history shows that humans have decimated many Arctic animal populations and that the scale of human impact has changed dramatically with industrialized exploitation. Instances of local prehistoric population decreases and extinctions have been replaced by massive over-exploitation that is resulting in possible irreversible changes in the populations of keystone species and even in the structure of entire ecosystems, in the Arctic and beyond.

Dr. Morten Meldgaard (Ph.D. in Biology, 1990, University of Copenhagen) is Professor of Arctic environmental history at the University of Greenland. He served as the directors of Danish Natural History Museum (2007-2014), The North Atlantic House (a cultural center for culture and art, 2000-2005), and the Danish Polar Center (1995-200). He conducted zooarchaeological research in Greenland and Labrador and published widely on historical ecology, animal fluctuation cycles, Inuit use of animal resources, and application of mtDNA and other genomic data in studying ancient human migrations in the Arctic.



Yuungnaqpiallerput (The Way We Genuinely Live): Masterworks of Yup'ik Science and Survival – A Retrospective

By Chelsi Slotten with Ann Fienup-Riordan

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The Bering Sea coast is a sparsely inhabited bit of the sub-arctic Tundra. Despite this, the Yup’ik people have made their home there for centuries. The sophisticated design of their tools allowed the Yup’ik people to live in an area that no one else would inhabit. Despite having no word for science, the Yup’ik people’s tools, containers, weapons, watercraft and clothing were and are very scientifically advanced. Objects from 13 major US and European collections were used to explored the scientific principles and spiritual values that allowed the Yup’ik people to survive in the harsh environment they made home. The exhibit reveals the creative and inventive nature of the Yup’ik people in the past and looks at how their traditions influences their lives today. In recognition of the fifth anniversary of this exhibit I caught up with the curator Dr. Ann Fienup-Riordan to talk to her about her memories of this exhibit.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit? Imageswap_6

A:  My favorite part of the exhibit was working with such knowledgeable elders and younger Yup’ik men and women who were learning along with me.

Q: Did you learn anything particularly unexpected while you were working on this exhibit?

A: I learned many many new and unexpected things—for example, how seal oil mixed with moss and left in sunlight becomes as strong as Epoxy; how one can make tools and clothing that fit perfectly by using one’s outstretched arms, fingers, and hands as standards of measurement; how putting one’s ear against a the handle of a paddle allows one to hear sounds underwater. Men and women had to learn so many things to live in southwest Alaska.

Q: What can we learn from the Yup’ik people’s culture?

A: I think the Yup’ik view of the world as responsive to human thought and deed is among the most profound things elders teach. This view is evident in many ways. For example, when they say, “The world is changing, following its people,” they are drawing our attention to the fact that not only human actions in the world, but human interactions, affect us all.

Q: Is there anything else you particularly want to share about this exhibit?

A: Not only do Yup’ik people know a great deal about living on the land and sea, they generously share this knowledge. Their generosity of spirit is their greatest gift.

This wonderful exhibit may no longer be on display here at NMNH but the content is available online at http://www.yupikscience.org/.


Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga- A Retrospective

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

Viking Exhibit041

 

Ask most people who the first Europeans in North American were and they would probably answer Christopher Columbus. They would also be incorrect. The first Europeans to land in North America were actually a group of Vikings sailing under Leif Eriksson almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Leif’s trip to North American resulted in a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland and contact with the Native American population there. The world became much smaller that day as human interactions circled the globe for the first time in human history. Monumental as this event was, Leif does not deserve all the credit. His eventual landing in Newfoundland was the culmination of 200 years of travel and exploration by his Viking ancestors. Fifteen years ago the Arctic Studies Center curated Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga to trace that journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In journeying across the Atlantic, questions of how we know our past and its relevance today were addressed. As the world continues to shrink as a result of better transportation and the internet it’s useful to reflect on where we came from and to that end I have a couple questions for Dr. Fitzhugh.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?  10-ship

A: Producing “Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga” was incredibly complicated and expensive. Hillary Clinton kicked off our fund-raising effort. Curators from seven nations participated  and a dozen museums loaned objects. The shop opened at the Smithsonian and then traveled around North America for three years. We published a great book(cover shown to right) and we connected with a huge population of Scandinavian and Nordic people in North America. Fifteen years later I’m still lecturing about Vikings!

The most exciting part of the exhibit was the opening when I met the kings, queens, and presidents of all those countries and had lunch with all of them and the Clintons in the White House. Dessert? Chocolate Viking ships filled with ice cream and fruit!

Q: Have there been any major discoveries in the past 15 years that change or deepen our understanding of Viking travel to North America?

A: Nearly every year archaeologists find new Viking sites and artifacts. Recently a mass grave was excavated in Britain, a Viking ship burial in Scotland; a Norwegian penny dating 1065-85 in an Indian site in Maine; spoils from a wrecked Viking voyage in North Greenland, and studies of Viking burials in Greenland showing—contrary to previous belief that the Norse did not adopt an Inuit economy-- increasing use of marine foods (fish, seals) in their diet during the life of the Greenland Norse colonies.

Q: Why do you think people are still so fascinated with Vikings centuries after their era ended?

A: Vikings are a touch-stone topic! Everyone learns about Vikings in grade school—especially the raiding and pillaging. We are fascinated by these ‘barbarians who turned Christian’, their bravery, their boat-building skills, their sagas and poetry. They sailed across the Atlantic in small boats; they voyaged to Rome and Istanbul. They were also traders and nation-builders. Who wouldn’t be ga-ga for Vikings!!!

Q: What can the Vikings teach us that is relevant today?

A: Vikings were the quintessential explorers – they explored nearly half the globe and were builders of the finest boats of their day. They braved the storms of the North Atlantic and lived at the edge of the known world for nearly 500 years in Greenland. As we reach for the heavens in our space-ships we are following the quest for knowledge and exploration demonstrated by Vikings a millennia ago.  

Q: Is there anything else of particular importance you want people to know?

A: Be a Viking! Explore. Search. Sing. Work hard. And you will change the world just like the Vikings did.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating period in history the online exhibit is publicly available here: http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/.