Collections Highlight E64289: Bird Skin Gloves

By Tiffany Priest

These gloves were collected by Edward Nelson, an explorer who was stationed on the Bering Sea coast of Alaska from 1877 to 1881. These gloves are made from bird skin and are affiliated with the Inupiat (Eskimo) Alaska Native group. The gloves were collected from the Diomede Islands, which are home to approximately 4.7 million seabirds according to Audubon Alaska.  We are unsure what kind of bird was used to make these gloves. The birds would usually be caught using nets or bolas like this. We also are unsure what the lining is made from, but the cuffs appear to be made from polar bear fur!

See more incredible Circumpolar objects by exploring the Anthropology Collections Search online!

Collections Highlight E332296: Cribbage-Board

By Tiffany Priest

This object was collected by Dr. Aleš Hrdlička, the founder of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, near King Island, Alaska, and was accessioned into the museum in 1926. This object is affiliated with the Inupiat (Eskimo) Alaska Native group. It is 53 cm long and 4.5 cm wide. It is made from walrus tusk with scrimshaw depictions of a kayak, seals, and a bear’s head relief at the end. There are four rows of small round holes on the surface that would have held ivory pegs which would be used to keep score during the card game, cribbage. There is also a small ivory peg that keeps the tusk upright during play.

If you want to see more of scrimshaw designs on the cribbage board check out the other images taken by our photographer!

 See more incredible Circumpolar objects by exploring the Anthropology Collections Search online!

Collections Highlight E43311: Gut Skin

By Haley Bryant

Gut skin is a common material found in circumpolar collections and was used commonly for clothing items. Most gut skin items, like this kapitaq or parka, are made from seal intestine that has been processed and stitched together with sinew thread to form a water-tight seal. Gut skin parkas do a very good job of repelling moisture, making excellent raincoats. This particular sample of gut skin may have been rolled and stored to be turned into a parka in the future, or packed in a backpack to be used as a tarp. Gut skin is very light and thin, so while a gut skin item was still being used its owner had to take care to maintain it and never let it dry out and tear.

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Collections Highlight E201158: Seal Retriever

By Haley Bryant

Seal hunting has historically been a large part of the economy in Arctic and Subarctic communities. As you may imagine, hunting seals comes with all sorts of challenges! Communities throughout the Arctic have had to innovate some ingenious methods of pursuing, killing, transporting, and processing seals such as harpoons with long throwing lines, seal floats, seal drags, and this floating Seal Retriever (or qayux^). This retriever would have been used to snag and retrieve the body of a seal that had been shot before it could sink and be lost. This Seal Retriever was collected by Miner Bruce in Alaska, and accessioned by the museum in 1899.

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Collections Highlight E45157: Doll


By Haley Bryant

The attire this carved doll is wearing is pretty different from many of the dolls, such as this one, in our collections which are often wearing parkas and robes very similar to typical full sized garments. According to Yup’ik elders, doll outfits tend to mimic the styles of dress of the village their makers live or lived in and the decorations on the outfit mimic family-specific decoration styles. This doll, on the other hand, is meant to be an effigy of a “Reverend Marine Sailor” according to the catalog information. The interesting design for the hat and the colorful cloth, likely a trade good, signal that this doll is different! While we don’t have information about who made the doll, or why, we know that it was collected near Sledge Island in Alaska and donated to the museum by Edward Nelson in 1880.

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Collections Highlight E46140: Ice Scoop

By Haley Bryant

The basket-like head of this mitiŋŋiun, or “Ice Scoop”, would have likely been fastened to a long wooden handle and served as an important fishing tool. After trekking out onto the ice, fishermen carve holes in order to fish through the ice. This ice scoop would be used to clear ice chunks from the newly-formed hole! According to information gathered by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in collaboration with Inupiaq community members, “When ice-fishing with a traditional stick reel and hook, the fisher moves the line up and down with one hand and holds an ice scoop in the other to clear the hole. When a fish is caught, the scoop handle and stick reel are used together to wind up the fishing line, which avoids having to touch the freezing wet line.” Inupiaq elder Marie Saclamana remembers her grandmother going out to fish with her ice scoop, ice pick, and a backpack. This particular ice scoop, collected near Port Clarence, Alaska, was donated by William H. Dall and Tarleton H. Bean and accessioned by the museum in 1880.

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Collections Highlight E44064: Muskrat Tails & Sinew Thread

By Tiffany Priest

To the untrained eye, this object may at first look like it is made from part of a plant. In fact, I thought it looked similar to raw vanilla beans. However, it is made of muskrat tails and sinew! The catalog indicates that muskrat tails and sinew thread were used for making small nets. A muskrat is a semi-aquatic mammal that is often hunted by humans for their meat, fur, and as a recreation activity. The animal could be roasted, boiled, smoked, or dried for consumption and the tails could be eaten as a snack! Muskrats are an important source of meat for many cultural groups, but their fur and skin are also used to create a variety of tools and clothing.

See more incredible Circumpolar objects by exploring the Anthropology Collections Search online!

Collections Highlight E339340: Dancing Mittens

Dance Mittens
By Emily Cain

On November 29, 1927, this pair of dance mittens came to the museum from Tununak, Nelson Island. While they are made mostly of hide which has been painted red, they are also completely covered in loose hanging seal claws, puffin beaks, and feathers. You may think these accoutrements make the gloves seem a bit impractical, but they’re meant to produce sound! The loose attachment of keratinous materials (like beaks and claws) allows them to swing freely, making a dry rattling sound when the wearer dances.

If you’d like to see and hear acoustic gloves like these in action, join us for a free public screening of The Wolf Dance with Ted Mayac at the Mother Tongue Film Festival! The film, produced by the Anchorage Museum, focuses on the Messenger Feast, one occasion when Arctic peoples wear dance gloves like these. It will screen on February 22, 2018 at 7:00 pm in the Q?rius Theater at the National Museum of Natural History. For more information about the program, keep an eye on the festival website.

And as always, explore more great objects and images on our online database!

Collections Highlight E45335: Model of Mahlemut Sled

By Tiffany Priest
Can you guess what pulled this type of sled? This model of a Mahlemut sled, which is only six inches long, was collected by Edward Nelson at Sledge Island in Norton Sound, Alaska and came to the museum in 1880. The object, affiliated with the Mahlemut, an Inupiat-speaking Alaska Native group living in Norton Sound, is a made of wood, bamboo, cane, reed, sinew, gut, and baleen. The Mahlemut are known as hunter-gatherers, and this sled model is representative of sleds pulled by Artic dogs, also known as Malamutes, which hauled people and hunting game to the Inupiaq villages.  

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Collections Highlight E83166: Umiak Model

By Daniel Kellam

For most Arctic peoples, the sea and rivers are essential for providing food and transportation to ensure survival. The umiak was the boat of choice for the Inuit.  At 7 inches wide and 22.5 inches long this model of a wooden framed umiak uses the traditional material of animal skins to cover the frame, and is structurally similar to a life-size umiak. This model was accessioned in 1943 after being donated by Mrs. J. Stanley-Brown.