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By Daniel Kellam.
In modern times, if the weather turns bad and you get caught in the rain you grab an umbrella or perhaps a lightweight nylon rain jacket from a popular outdoor company. But what if you don’t have access to resources like those and you need to rely on something from nature? You can look no further than the inside of a seal or other marine mammal. Seal intestines, also known as “gut skin” is the traditional material used by Arctic indigenous cultures to provide them with an incredibly lightweight and versatile weatherproof shell to wear when hunting in poor weather or at sea, and it is even used in ceremonial dress.
This gut skin parka comes from St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, Alaska. Donated by Riley D. Moore in 1913, it is made from seal or walrus intestine and decorated with crested auklet feathers, fur, and even sports a drawstring hood. The waterproof seams are achieved by a process of using sinew thread and a technique that folds and reinforces the seam with a method of sewing that allows the material not to be pierced all the way through. To see how the gut skin is processed and used check out Material Traditions: Sewing Gut, from the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum where three Native Alaskan artists demonstrate the proper techniques to manufacture this ingenious solution to keeping dry.
Can you guess what these colorful bracelets are made of? They each have borders of small white beads, but most of what you’re seeing is porcupine quill embroidery! Porcupine quills are commonly used decoratively across North America. The quills are flattened and dyed, then folded and sewn to create colorful patterns like this one. You can learn more about traditional quillwork knowledge here, in the curriculum the Arctic Studies Center produced as part of the Sharing Knowledge Alaska program. These particular bracelets, which became part of our collection in 1868, were likely made by the Gwich’in people of Northern Alaska and Northwestern Canada. As you’ll learn from the curriculum, the Gwich’in word for quill is ch’oo.
See more incredible Circumpolar objects by exploring the Anthropology Collections Search online!
Bow drills are a practical object; they allow the user to harness friction to drill holes or start fires. This “toy” version was collected by Edward Nelson at St. Michael in Norton Sound, Alaska, and came to the museum in 1878. It may have been used by children to practice motor skills, but it is also covered with etched and inlaid images! Click here to see more detailed photographs of the artwork, which includes walruses, people, and seafaring vessels. If you’re interested in tools like this one, try searching for more bow drills using the Anthropology Collections Search online. They come from all over the world, in a variety of styles and materials.
In recognition of our 20th collections highlight, we’d like to not only share yet another great object, but also give you a glimpse into our process at the Circumpolar Ethnology Imaging Project. Learn more about the project’s origins in our introductory post!
This beautiful coat, made of smoked moose hide with caribou hair embroidery, was made by Dixie Alexander, a Gwich’in woman and master artist from Fort Yukon, Alaska. Click here to explore more images of the incredible beadwork and colorful caribou hair embroidery, which are evocative of arctic flora and symbolic of various animal tracks.
From a practical perspective, doing photoshoots with clothing like this coat presents a challenge. Because of their size, age, and weight, they require extra time and extra hands. Thanks to the arrival of our new digital imaging intern, Daniel Kellam, we are now able to devote time to photographing parkas, robes, and blankets every single week. So if you’re a lover of fashion, keep an eye out for more incredible clothing pieces by checking back in on the blog or exploring the Anthropology collections online!
Teachers, introduce your students to a career in archaeology. Join us October 19 for a live online “Smithsonian Science How” text chat with Bill Fitzhugh about his job as an archaeologist studying culture and climate change in the Arctic. Learn more and register.
Date: October 19, 2017
Times: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT
Learn More and Register: http://qrius.si.edu/explore-science/chat/archaeologist-bill-fitzhugh
Can you guess what this object is? It’s a mousetrap! It is hard to say exactly how it was used to catch mice since we can’t watch it in action, do you have any ideas? Have you ever seen any traps like this before? This trap was collected by Edward Nelson and accessioned by the museum in 1880. While it isn’t affiliated with any particular cultural group, it was collected near King Island in the Bering Strait and therefore is probably from the Inupiaq Inuit culture.
How would you play with this toy? This game, “Tapaga ‘Towan”, is called both a “Ring-and-Pin game” and a “Cup-and-Pin game” in our records. It was played by tossing the cups in the air and trying to catch them on the pin. It is made out of fibers of dressed skin, and what look like small cups carved out of ivory. Associated with the Montagnais people, it was collected by Rev. John M. Cooper near James Bay, Quebec, and accessioned by the museum on the 6th of July, 1956.
While this object looks like it may have been used as a hunting implement or food processor, it was actually used to scrape the inside of hides as they were being processed. This flesher, or “Machequat” according to the information we have, is made of iron or steel, fibers, and dressed skin. It is affiliated with the Innu people and was collected near Labrador, Canada by Henry G. Bryant. It was collected in August or September of 1891 and accessioned by the museum on the 14th of January, 1892.