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.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

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.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

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.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

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.  

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

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.

Collections Highlight E274505: Bird Bolas

By Daniel Kellam

A “bola”, from the Spanish word for ‘ball’, is a type of weapon consisting of a cluster of weights on strings attached to a hand grip that can be thrown at an animal or bird to entangle its legs or wings. Weapons similar to bolases can be found around the world for hunting a large variety of game, but in Inuit communities they are most often used to hunt birds. The bola would be thrown into a flying flock of birds, entrap one or more of the animals, and bring them down to the ground. This bola made with walrus ivory weights was collected from an Inupiaq community in Alaska by J.G. Brady between 1878 and 1909. It was donated to the museum by Mrs. Edward H. Harriman, and accessioned on June 7, 1912.

Collection Highlight E280159: “Devil Chaser”

By Daniel Kellam

Provocatively titled “Devil Chaser”, this musical object is also indexed as a ‘bull-roarer’ in our catalog information. This long, slightly curved wooden rod was swung with a circular motion fast enough that it would emit a loud, low, vibrating noise. While we cannot say for sure why this specific object is given the name “Devil Chaser”, bull-roarers have been used in communities around the world since Paleolithic times for both practical purposes such as long-distance communication and ritualistic purposes such as healing. Among the Inupiaq peoples of Alaska bull-roarers are also referred to as ‘wolf-scarers’, which gives us some insight into how they were used in that community. If you take a closer look at the catalog information, you’ll see this “Devil Chaser” has a small face carved into the end of the handle. It was collected near the Bering Sea in Alaska by R. D. Moore and accessioned on October 19th, 1913.

Explore more objects and images on our online database!