Into the Field: The Smith Creek Archaeological Project

The Smith Creek Archaeological Project is a new Penn Museum research project, conducting its first season in the field during the late spring of 2015. The Penn Museum’s social media coordinator, Tom Stanley, is blogging about the project.


For more than 125 years, researchers from the Penn Museum have been digging on excavations throughout the world, and this year is no different. A variety of Museum-sponsored excavations are in progress during 2015, and one project will be in its first season this year: the Smith Creek Archaeological Project, led by Dr. Megan Kassabaum.

This particular project focuses on a site known as Smith Creek, situated along the eastern banks of the Mississippi River—specifically, near a town called Woodville in southwest Mississippi. The site is significant due to the presence of three large, earthen mounds made completely of soil and created by hand more than a millennium ago.  The largest mound is a flat-topped platform about 10 meters tall.

One of three earthen mounds at Smith Creek. Photo by Megan Kassabaum.

Mound A, one of three earthen mounds at Smith Creek. Photo by Megan Kassabaum.

Smith Creek was occupied as early as about 600 CE and the mounds were created by a group known as the Coles Creek Culture. This culture flourished in the Lower Mississippi River Valley between about 700 and 1200 CE and many mound sites were constructed throughout the region during this time. Most of these sites show an architectural pattern consisting of two to four platform mounds arranged around an open plaza.

Today, our knowledge about the people who created the mounds is limited. The connection between Coles Creek people and contemporary Native tribes is complicated, and few Coles Creek sites have undergone extensive excavation.

Dr. Megan Kassabaum, Director of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project.

Dr. Megan Kassabaum, Director of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project. Photo by Penn Museum.

But the director of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project, Dr. Kassabaum—who goes by Meg—is well qualified to head up this expedition. Meg has been conducting fieldwork at Coles Creek sites since 2006, the majority of which took place at a site about 45 miles north of Smith Creek, called Feltus; this site has much in common with Smith Creek, from its physical layout to the types of artifacts discovered therein. Aside from directing this new project, Meg also serves as the Weingarten Assistant Curator in the American Section here at the Penn Museum, and Assistant Professor of Anthropology for the University of Pennsylvania.

The first season of the Smith Creek Archaeological Project kicks off on Sunday, May 24. The main goals of the project will be to survey the landscape to gain a broad view of the site overall and determine just how much of the site was modified by its ancient designers; and to excavate at various points across the site with the intention of uncovering artifacts like ceramics, lithics, and plant and animal remains that may represent evidence of ancient food consumption, and unique features that can speak to a very big, underlying question: why was this mound center created in the first place?

The project will be assisted by an excavation team of a dozen undergraduate and graduate students, most of whom are enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. Also tagging along will be the Penn Museum’s Social Media Coordinator, Tom Stanley (that’s me!)—I’ll be on site for close to two weeks in the middle of the excavation season, snapping photos, taking notes, getting my hands a little dirty, and documenting the adventure right here on the Penn Museum blog.

Stay tuned for much more on this fascinating project in the weeks and months to come! For now, if you’d like to learn more about the monumental grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, I highly recommend this video of Meg’s lecture of the same name.

To learn more about the Coles Creek Culture, see this article authored by Meg and Dr. Vincas Steponaitis, Director of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and John O’Hear, another Mississippi archaeologist.

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Inuit Kamik from Greenland

Fashion: Fur, Flowers, and Flannel

Object Analysis and Report for Anthropology of Museums
by Elizabeth Peng

Elizabeth Peng examines Eskimo (Inuit) women's boots from Greenland, in the Penn Museum Collections Study Lab. Photo by Margaret Bruchac, with permission of the Penn Museum.

Elizabeth Peng examines Eskimo (Inuit) women’s boots from Greenland, in the Penn Museum Collections Study Room. Photo by Margaret Bruchac, with permission of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Numbers 30-5-1A-D.

The clothes that we put on our bodies are rarely simple: they are imbued with cultural and aesthetic purposes that cannot be easily disconnected from the materials from which they are constructed. A myriad of factors come together to create the clothes that people wear, now and in the past. This is especially clear in the Greenlandic Inuit boots and stockings I examined at the Penn Museum (object numbers 30-5-1A to 30-5-1D).

The catalog card identifies them as having been made by the “Eskimo” culture in Greenland. The boot consist of sealskin leather, with a walrus hide sole. The tops of the boots are appliqued with leather bits arranged in a geometric pattern of Native design. The stockings, in contrast, consist of sealskin with fur on the inside, flipped over at the top to expose a fur border. On the top half of the stocking, under the fur border, a piece of red flannel cloth is loosely tacked to the furless backside. On top of the flannel, the lower leg of a Euro-American-style linen woman’s pantalette has been attached upside down, exposing its lacework border and embroidered floral motif. The only severe signs of wear on the garments are large brown droplet stains on the outsides of the linen. These stains, located at the same height on each boot, might have been caused by mud splashing onto the sides of the stockings, or dampness that rotted the linen. The wear patterns on the soles and creases are consistent with everyday use of the boots and stockings.

Detail of Eskimo (Inuit) women's boots, showing linen, embroidery, and stains. Photo by Margaret Bruchac, with permission

Detail of Eskimo (Inuit) women’s boots, showing linen, embroidery, stains, and wear patterns. Photo by Margaret Bruchac, with permission of the Penn Museum.

According to the Penn Museum, the boots were a gift from Constantin Dumbrava, a Romanian polar explorer. He made two scientific expeditions to Greenland in 1927 and in 1930 to study meteorology and topography, the latter trip with the intention to gather data for the establishment of transatlantic flight routes.[1] Perhaps it was on one of these trips that he collected ethnographic materials from the Indigenous people with whom he came into contact. A search of the Museum’s collection shows that he also collected caps, trousers, parkas, pouches, and moccasins, among other objects, from Greenland.[2]

These boots and stockings appear to be traditional Greenlandic kamiks, or waterproof boots and liners made from either seal or caribou skin.[3] Seal skin, as seen in this example, is more lightweight than caribou and ideal for year-round wear, especially for wet snow, as it is more waterproof than caribou. A combination of skin stockings, slippers, and boots are worn; the number and type of layers vary with weather, terrain, activity, and cultural group. Two to five layers could be worn, in the following order: inner slipper, outer stocking, boot, and over slipper.[4]

It is clear that kamiks are imbued with cultural significance: the construction and decoration communicate the maker’s lineage, abilities, gender, chosen activity, and even regional relationships. For example, men’s kamiks often have vertical patterns on the shaft, while women’s kamiks have horizontal ones, as seen in this example.[5] Even the production of the boot consists of a lengthy and complex process spanning from the preparation of skins to cutting and sewing a specific set of patterns, using tools personal to the maker.[6] Traditionally, kamiks are sewn together with dried sinew, which swells when wet and therefore acts as a waterproof barrier—here, while the boots seem to be sewn together with sinew, the decorative fabrics are tacked on with cotton thread.

Elizabth Peng and Karen Thomson, Curatorial Assistant at the Penn Museum, examine the lining of these Eskimo (Inuit) boots.

Elizabth Peng and Karen Thomson, Collections Assistant at the Penn Museum, examine the lining of these Eskimo (Inuit) boots. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

The making and wearing of kamiks appears to be a common circumpolar tradition, shared by the Inupiat, Inuit, and Inuvialuit peoples. In many of these regions, it seems that the creation of kamiks takes on the role of a generationally transmitted tradition. According to Ulayok Kaviok, an Inuit elder from Nunatsiavut, Canada:

During the skin boot production process, elders pass on oral traditions to young seamstresses who are interested in traditional rituals and sharing systems. The first pair of skin boots sewn by a young sibling is a symbol of her bond with the traditional lifestyle and the importance of sharing Inuit and Inuvialuit culture.[7]

Indeed, in a scene depicted in “Kamik,” an episode of the documentary series Unikkausivut—Sharing Our Stories (1989) detailing kamik making, Ulayok Kaviok’s daughter Elizabeth prepares and softens the sealskin by chewing on it while Ulayok sews the skins together.[8]

Ally Mitchem, Elizabeth Peng, and Bill Wierzbowski in the Penn Museum collections storage area, with multiple examples of adorned Inuit women's boots from Greenland. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

Ally Mitchem, Elizabeth Peng, and Bill Wierzbowski (American Section Keeper) in the Penn Museum collections storage area, with multiple examples of adorned Inuit women’s boots from Greenland. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

However, it is important to note that, although there are similarities in the processes of creating kamiks among circumpolar Arctic peoples, the creation of Greenlandic kamiks is very particular to that region. Thus, it should not be surprising that the boots and stockings would combine indigenous Greenlandic and European sensibilities. When Europeans arrived in Greenland, they often brought with them fabrics and other trade goods. These materials came to be incorporated into Inuit dress, especially for festive attire.[9]

These fashion choices by Indigenous women in Greenland—to have combined European embellishments with Native materials, symbols, and construction—suggest the complexity of Native relations with trading posts and with Euro-American settlers. These exchanges can be interpreted not only materially, through the acquisition of non-Native goods and their physical combination with Native garments, but also symbolically, through the adaptation of European fashions to Indigenous ones and vice versa. In fact, it seems that this specific intermixing of forms—the interposition of floral embroidery and lacework on sealskin boots—is unique to Greenland, based on a cross-cultural analysis of other Arctic boots in the Penn Museum collections and in photographs from the Museum Archives.

High-heeled and traditional versions of kamiks. Photo courtesy of Mads Pihl. Photo - Angu Motzfeldt - Visit Greenland.

High-heeled and traditional versions of kamiks. Photo courtesy of Mads Pihl. Photo – Angu Motzfeldt – Visit Greenland.

Today, kamiks are incorporated into the Greenlandic national costume, worn on special occasions and at celebrations such as “Christmas, Easter, Greenland’s National Day, confirmations, and weddings,” according to the Official Tourism Site of Greenland.[10] They consist of long boots made with sealskin at the bottom and floral embroidery sewn in silk thread at the top.[11] Kamiks also became a subject of controversy a few years ago, when a pair of “modernized” kamik boots were presented at London Fashion Week by Danish designer Peter Jensen. Protestors saw the white, leather thigh-high heeled boots with floral embroidery at the top that were clearly inspired by Greenlandic national attire as offensive, and they demanded that the boot be taken off the market.[12] The case for cultural appropriation continues to be debated, and on this, Greenlandic writer and artist Jørgen Chemnitz offers these insights:

Ironically, this ignores the fact that the Greenlandic national costume is actually an imaginatively put together amalgam of new and old materials from all corners of the globe: sealskin, pearls, [and] silks.[13]

Thus it seems that the fur, flannel, and floral embroidery used in the creation of traditional kamiks represent the continuing synthesis, reorganization, and interpretation of differing cultural traditions in Arctic Greenland.

Footnotes:

[1] International News Service. “Greenland Trip to Study Storm Danger for Atlantic Flyers.” The Deseret News 2 July 1927: Section 4, Page 8; “Paris to Montreal Flight Projected: Romanian Scientist and Explorer Will Gather Parliamentary Data.” The Montreal Gazette 28 March 1930: Page 2.
[2] See objects collected by Constantin Dumbrava in the Penn Museum Online Collections Database.
[3] “Our Boots, An Inuit Woman’s Art: Skin Footwear.” All About Shoes. The Bata Shoe Museum, 2008.
[4] “Kamiks of the Inuit: Protective Clothing of Seal Skin and Caribou Skin.” On Canadian Ground: Stories of Footwear in Early Canada. Virtual Museum Canada, 2005.
[5] “Kamiks of the Inuit: Patterns and Styles.” On Canadian Ground: Stories of Footwear in Early Canada. Virtual Museum Canada, 2005.
[6] “Our Boots, An Inuit Woman’s Art: Tools and Preparation.” All About Shoes. The Bata Shoe Museum, 2008.
[7] “Kamiks of the Inuit: Protective Layers of Footwear.” On Canadian Ground: Stories of Footwear in Early Canada. Virtual Museum Canada, 2005.
[8] “Kamik.” Unikkausivut—Sharing Our Stories. Dir. Elise Swerhone. National Film Board of Canada, 1989.
[9] “Traditional Dress.” About Greenland. The Official Tourism Site of Greenland.
[10] Ibid.
[11] “Deconstruction and Date.” About Greenland. The Official Tourism Site of Greenland.
[12] Holmes, Rachel. “Designer Death Threats.” Fashion. The Guardian US Edition. 26 March 2009.
[13] “Deconstruction and Date.” About Greenland. The Official Tourism Site of Greenland.

NOTE: For more information on traditional and modern Greenland Inuit dress, see J.C.H. King, Birgit Pauksztat, and Robert Storrie, eds. 2005. Arctic Clothing of North-America-Alaska, Canada, Greenland. Montreal, Quebec: McGill Queen’s University Press.

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Potato Stamps and Ash Splints

Potato Stamps and Ash Splints:
A Narrative of Process and Exchange

Object Analysis for Anthropology of Museums
by Elizabeth Peng

Mrs. Michel Buckshot (whose personal name was Mackosi’kew, also spelled Meshkosikwe, meaning “Beaver Meadow Woman”) was well known as an Algonquin herbalist and artisan who made a variety of traditional crafts. These included puzzle pouches, a craft taught to her by her grandmother at Golden Lake, where she was born. She and her husband befriended University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Frank Speck and his student, Frederick Johnson, who was extremely interested in capturing the “traditional” culture of the River Desert Band of Algonquin (also spelled Algonkin or Algonkian) at Maniwaki (now called Kitigan Zibi). At the time, Mrs. Buckshot was the only person in the Band practicing ash splint basketry.[1]

During the 1920s, a collection of potato die stamps illustrating the process of stamping baskets, along with the corresponding stamped ash splints, entered Johnson’s possession. He commissioned Mrs. Buckshot to create these potato die stamps, in order to show the traditional use of vegetable stamps and herbal dyes to decorate ash splint baskets. The dies, which are now preserved (likely in alcohol) inside a glass jar, consist of chunks of potatoes onto which various shapes have been carved, such as leaves and other organic shapes. Even today there are remnants of colored pigment on at least one of the stamp surfaces. Because the organic material would shrivel if exposed to the air for extended periods of time, these would have been made immediately preceding use. Collected at the same time were illustrative stamped ash splints, to serve as proofs of the dies used.

Figure 2. Elizabeth Peng in the Penn Museum Study Lab, with jar of potato stamps and ash splints from River Desert. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Elizabeth Peng in the Penn Museum Collections Study Room, with a jar of potato stamps and ash splints from River Desert. Photo by Margaret Bruchac. Museum Object Numbers 29-10-79A and 29-10-79B.

A variety of colors and shapes can be found on the stamped pictures. On one splint, red (now faded to pink), brown, and blue dyes were used to stamp shapes in the form of flowers, leaves, beavers, shells, hands, feet, and what appears to be either a mask or a face. On another, pink and brown dyes were used to stamp shapes in the form of flowers, leaves, beavers, birds, and a round shape that appears to have spokes, much like a wheel. These ash splints were meant to be woven into basket form using what Speck described as “the simple under-and-over twill,” better described as plaiting or checkerboard weave. He concluded, through comparative studies of baskets in the region, that this type of splint work does not extend farther north than the uppermost boundaries of the Algonquin nations, although it is widespread elsewhere in Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) and Algonkian territories.[2]

Figure 3: Coiled ash splints from River Desert, Quebec. Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum.

Coiled ash splints from River Desert, Quebec. Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number: 29-10-79B

Johnson eventually sold these objects to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where they are now curated as objects 29-10-79A and 29-10-79B, as part of the Frederick Johnson collection.

The Johnson collection from River Desert includes 90 objects, representing: hunting equipment (woven nets, bows, arrows, birchbark moose call, etc.); craft tools (bone awls, needles, knives, etc.); and personal gear (snowshoes, war clubs, canes, wooden spoons, pouches, containers, etc.). In her summary of this collection, Marilyn Norcini notes that the River Desert collection is exceptional for the: “fibrous and tactile nature to these vernacular objects from the northern words. What they may lack in color and elaborate design, they make up for in a feeling of everyday life expressed through the common, utilitarian objects.”[3] Yet they also express the relationships embodied in the material exchanges between the River Desert Band, Speck and Johnson, and the Penn Museum.

NOTE: For more information about these stamps and splints, see the related blog article—“Mack0si’kwe’s Baskets: Marking Relationships”—by Margaret Bruchac.

Footnotes:

[1] Speck, Frank G. 1939. “More Algonkian Scapulimancy from the North, and the Hunting Territory Question.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 4(1): 21-28. Also see Penn Museum notes on collection cards re: Purchases from Frederick Johnson (#1-93) / Gifts of Frank Speck (#94-99).
[2] Speck, Frank G. 1941. Art Processes in Birchbark of the River Desert Algonquin, a Circumboreal Trait. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnography Anthropological Papers 128(17):1-60.
[3] Norcini, Marilyn 2008. “Frederick Johnson’s ‘River Desert Algonquin’ Materials at the University of Pennsylvania Museum: A Collection History,” Museum Anthropology 31(2):122-147.

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Arctic Bow Drill

Getting a Handle on the Past:
An Arctic Bow Drill

Object Analysis and Report for Anthropology of Museums
by Ally Mitchem

After several years at two different colleges, I’m good at research. I can find my way around online journals like a pro. You have an object in museum collections you’d like to know more about? Great, tell me who collected it and when and I’ll be back in a little while with all of the information I’ve found. Except, that’s not always the best strategy.

Last month, my class went into the Arctic collections in the Penn Museum’s American Section to survey materials collected from arctic expeditions. The Keeper, Bill Wierzbowski, brought a selection of objects into the Collections Study Room for a closer look. This is a great exercise for us as students, to get a sense of what we need to look for when examining objects, and a chance to actually discover something new. I was gearing myself up for a massive research project, imagining tracing the acquisition of an artifact through various museum records, like an academic super sleuth, but I had overlooked an important step.

Getting ahead of myself, I had forgotten to actually stop and look at the object first. So, as per the instructions of our teacher, before googling anything or even touching the artifact, I sat down to look. The photograph gives you an idea of the artifact as I first saw it.

Arctic Bow Drill. Photograph by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number 86-35-364.

Arctic Bow Drill. Photograph by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number 86-35-364.

On the most basic level, this is a bow drill (86-35-364). I knew this going in, because I had seen them before. As I would later learn, this is one of the items we know relatively little about. It came to the Museum in 1986 from the George Vaux III and Henry Vaux Jr., prominent Philadelphia collectors, but the records of which native group it came from aren’t known. It’s not clear how this drill came to be in a private collection, and the Museum’s Registrar’s Office has no further information.

The Penn Museum has a large collection of bow drills, and a number of the Arctic ones are made of walrus tusk ivory, with incised animal imagery. Many of these drills utilize not just wood and rawhide, but metal introduced to the area by trade. This bow drill appears to be the only one in collections containing jadeite (rarely found in Arctic tools), so it clearly signals access to jadeite, either from deposits in the region or through trade. Bow drill technology is common among Arctic and other North American Indigenous peoples, used to drill shells, soft metals, and, in some cases, stone.

While I wasn’t exactly sure where every piece fit, I knew that the purpose of this object, practically speaking, was to bore holes in other materials. Right, got it. The accessions card identified the materials: wood, ivory, rawhide, metal, and some kind of stone. The kit included two apparently interchangeable spindles to use with the same stabilizer and bow. Upon further investigation, it became clear that one of the drill bits was metal, an old nail, adapted to fit its wooden handle. This is interesting, because bow drills are ancient Native technology, but nails were only introduced after European contact. The other drill has a stone (jadeite) bit, representing both an older method of drill-making, and a practical means of drilling a different hole.

Iñupiaq Bow Drill from Port Clarence, Seward Peninsula, Alaska. From the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Museum ID Number E260132.

Iñupiaq Bow Drill from Port Clarence, Seward Peninsula, Alaska. From the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Museum ID Number E260132.

A similarly etched bow drill—identified as Iñupiaq from the Seward Peninsula, Alaska—is housed at the National Museum of Natural History. The Penn Museum has another example from Indian Point, Siberia. A Smithsonian Institution website—Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledgeprovides information about the use of this tool:

“The traditional drill was a wooden spindle wrapped in a turn of leather cord and twirled by the back and forth motion of an ivory bow. The upper end of the spindle was held by a mouthpiece inset with a cupped bearing of smooth stone. Craftsmen kept sets of spindles with different sized bits made from stone or iron. Drill bows were engraved with life scenes, like this these showing hunting and dog sledding.”

The most notable details of the bow are the carvings on the ivory. If you look closely, you can make out shapes and figures: people hunting, and animals being hunted…whales, caribou, maybe a snow goose. These animals make sense, they’re native to the Arctic where this was made. What is interesting, though, is that this object does not seem to be made for hunting, or for rituals associated with preparing for hunting. Why the intense emphasis on the act of successfully predating on an animal? If you look more closely, these are not depictions of people getting ready to hunt, they are in the midst of the act of killing their prey.

Close-up of whaling on Arctic bow drill.

Close-up of whaling on Arctic bow drill.

Close-up of hunting scene on bow drill.

Close-up of hunting scene on bow drill.

The whale, which is being pursued by a beautifully detailed canoe (look at those tiny paddles) has a harpoon in its back. The caribou has an arrow about to pierce its back. Whoever was carving this was not simply playing around with images, accidentally ending up with a hunt. This bow drill is imbued with powerful iconography, and clear intent. It is beautiful, in a very simple, but very powerful way. Staring at it for a while, you can imagine it becoming animated and moving, the  people chasing down their prey, dogs pulling a sled across the snow, a hunt in full action.

And yet, this is not the part of the drill that captivated me most. The stabilizer for the drill is attached to the bow with a rawhide strip that looks to be loosely tied. How convenient would it be to be able to untie it when you needed to use it, then attach it back while you stored it? The wooden mouthpiece and stabilizer itself is fascinating.

Close-up of wooden stabilizer for bow drill.

Close-up of wooden stabilizer for bow drill.

It is carefully carved, all in one piece. There’s metal attached to the bottom to hold the drill. At first I couldn’t tell if it was metal or stone, due to how dark it was, but it felt very cold through the nitrile glove in a way that the jadeite did not. My favorite observation is this: it is designed to be held in the mouth, but on one side, there is a worn down section in the precise shape of a thumb or a finger, where the person using it would put pressure to hold it steady. This was the smallest and most amazing detail—an actual mark left by someone using this. This left me with an overwhelming sense that I was not the only person to have held this tool, that it is not simply a part of an exhibit, and that museums do more than simply show you interesting objects…they show you things other human beings have created with their hands.

Sources:

Arctic Studies Center. Website: Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

Martin, Paul S. 1934. The Bow-Drill in North America. American Anthropologist, 36(1), 94-97.

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Arctic Dance House Model

Kuskokwim Dance House

Object Analysis and Report for Anthropology of Museums
by Michele Belluomini

This Inuit (Eskimo) Model Dance House (object #NA1522) in the Penn Museum’s Arctic collections drew my attention because it seemed very mysterious, but also like something I “knew.” The more I studied it, the more I realized that much more was going on within in it, than if it were just a “toy.”

Yup'ik (Eskimo) Model Dance House from Kuskokwim, Alaska, Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission from Penn Museum. Museum Object Number NA1522.

Yup’ik (Eskimo) Model Dance House from Kuskokwim, Alaska,
Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission from Penn Museum. Museum Object Number NA1522.

I have so many questions: What are the materials? Wood, but what kind of wood? There are cross-wrappings on the two back cross-poles, but not on the front. What are the lighter colored pegs for? Could something be strung from the pegs over the poles to create a roof? Are the figures carved of whale bone, seal bone, or walrus tusk ivory? Why have the figures been placed into small holes in the structure? There is a hole in the floor near two prominent standing figures; is this a spirit hole of some kind? What is missing?

And then there are activities within the structure. Some figures are holding items: frame drums, rattles, and a rope (for what purpose?). Some figures appear to be singing; one appears to be calling out, and one is “answering,” perhaps. Two “lead” figures in this house have markings, tatoos of some kind; perhaps they are shamans or ritual leaders. Perhaps this is a ceremony of some kind, or an initiation? One figure smaller than the others appears to be a young boy? Is this a ceremony for him?

Yup’ik (Eskimo) Model Dance House from Kuskokwim, Alaska, Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number NA1522.

Yup’ik (Eskimo) Model Dance House from Kuskokwim, Alaska,
Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number NA1522.

The animal being held by one figure has the same markings as the two prominent figures; it is not clear whether it is alive or dead, intended to be released, or meant to serve as food or sacrifice. This animal looks very much like a large weasel (given the long tail) or a sea otter. In Inuit mythology, animals are significant in hunting rituals and shamanic practices. What is the purpose/meaning of this animal in this dance house?

Locations and Connections

Preliminary research led me to the Kuskokwim River in Alaska. The name derives from a Yup’ik word—Kusquqvak–meaning “big, slow-moving thing.” This river is approximately 702 miles long, connecting multiple Indigenous groups: the Yup’ik Eskimo on the lower river, the Deg Hit’an Athabaskan in the middle; the Upper Kuskokwim Athabaskan on the upper part; and the Koyukon Athabaskan on the North Fork.I wondered about the possibility of widely-held beliefs among these different groups, since the Yup’ik and Athabaskan languages are two very different tongues.

According to Susan Kaplan, Native people in this region, “developed a sophisticated technological and religious system. They focused on the exploitation of highly seasonal resources found throughout the region. Hunters ventured out in carefully constructed kayaks. . . . They wore amulets and charms that protected them from dangerous supernatural beings, and sang songs that attracted the game.”[1]

Kuskokwim umiak identified as “Happy Traveler Canoe.” Photo by Margaret Bruchac, with permission of Penn Museum. Museum Object Number NA1521.

Kuskokwim umiak identified as “Happy Traveler Canoe.” Photo by Margaret Bruchac, with permission of Penn Museum. Museum Object Number NA1521.

Another Museum object, labeled as “Happy Traveler Canoe” (object # NA1521) originated from the same area. This object—which is technically an umiak, not a canoe—also appears to have spiritual or ritual implications, given that the upright figure (perhaps a shaman) is pierced through with a spear.

These two objects—the Dance House and the Umiak—were collected during the same Alaska Ethnological Expedition, and accessioned with sequential numbers, leading me to wonder if they came from the same source or were both used ceremoniously. There does not appear to be any data about their maker (or makers), or any indication how Gordon came by them.

A similar model, identified as an “Iñupiaq model qasgiq (men’s house),” survives in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian, collected from Point Barrow, Alaska around 1900 by Frank Wood (item # 5/3662). This model is described as follows:

“This complex and beautifully constructed model depicts a dance scene in a qasgiq (or qasgi or qaygiq—communal men’s house). Traditionally used by men for eating, bathing, and sleeping, the qasgiq was also a place where all community members gathered for performances of masked dancers. This model shows a highly detailed tableau of spectators watching dancers perform one of a series of winter festivals that take place around the time of the winter solstice.”[2]

Patterns of Collecting

Between 1875 and approximately 1925, a massive quantity of material – both sacred and secular – was collected from native craftspeople of the Northwest Coast for the private and public collections of the European world. The major demands came from the museum, which coincided with the enormous growth of museums of all kinds; anthropology museums like the Penn Museum were a significant part of this movement.[3]

George B. Gordon, Director of the University Museum at this time, embarked on expeditions to the Northweast Coast in 1905 and 1907, for the purpose of collecting as much as possible from Alaska natives. His career as Director was marked by, “…a formidable number of additions to the collections. Early on he set about purchasing as many items of high quality as funding would allow.” Artifacts NA1521 and NA1522 were most likely acquired during the 1907 trip to Alaska, when Gordon traveled with his brother MacLaren. They began in the Yukon, and traveled by canoe down the Yukon river to the Kuskokwim river. He made substantial collections among Yup’ik people living in the interior and along the lower reaches of the river, revisiting many of his 1905 locations. [4] Gordon believed that Native American cultures and lifeways were disappearing, and so he urged other field collectors, like Van Valin, to assist in making the Museum, “…an instrument for the preservation of the truthful records of the aboriginal people of America.”[5]

Interestingly, according to Dorothy Jean Ray, Alaska’s Native people were eager at the time to produce “market art,” especially in the Kuskokwim – Nunivak area. The Southwestern Yup’ik, “. . . went joyfully to their knives and their needles at the first opportunity to sell their ‘art’.” In 1936, ethnographer Hans Himmelbeber suggested that the younger generation was just beginning to earn money from the souvenir business, but Ray suggests that the making of “souvenirs” was an older practice. Other observers, like signal corps officer Edward William Nelson, noted in 1882 that the Native people in this region, “still retained their ancient customs [and] their character is but slightly modified by contact with whites…they retain their complicated system of religious festivals and other ceremonies from ancient times. Their work in ivory and bone bears evidence of great skill.”[6]

Does this mean that artifact NA1522 was created solely for sale as a souvenir? The grace and beauty of this artifact suggests that it could have been a teaching tool, or it could have had some other Yup’ik purpose. It is difficult to know, given that Gordon’s field notes are sketchy at best. My assessment is that this Dance House model is more than a simple ”toy,“ as it is currently identified. The level of detail suggests that it could be what might best be called a “ceremonial remembrance.” This (and other questions) could likely be answered by consulting Yup’ik experts in mythology, ceremony, and cultural practices.

Sources:

[1] Kaplan, Susan A. and Kristin J. Barsness 1986. Raven’s Journey: The World of Alaska’s Native People. Philadelphia: The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, p. 129
[2] Infinity of Nations. Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian. The National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center, New York, NY.
[3] Cole, Douglas 1985. Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, pp. 286-287.
[4] Gordon, George B. 1917. In the Alaskan Wilderness. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co. See Kaplan pp. 32, 39.
[5] Gordon to Van Valin, 24 October 1912, North America: Arctic, Point Barrow-VanValin, B4, F2, UMA, in Kaplan, Susan A. and Kristin J. Barsness 1986, p. 39.
[6] Ray, Dorothy Jean 1981. Aleut and Eskimo Art: Tradition and Innovation in South Alaska. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Himmelheber, H. 1987. Eskimo Artists. Fieldwork in Alaska, June 1936 until April, 1937. Stuttgart: Kassel, 1938, 1953 (enlarged ed.). Nelson 1882 is cited in Ray 1981, p. 15.

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Cree Coat

Quillwork-Embellished “Cree” Coat

Object Analysis for Anthropology of Museums
by Pauline Saribas

This delicately adorned fringed Cree coat (item #NA3635) was procured from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1915 by George Byron Gordon, who was then the Director of the Penn Museum. Sewn out of three pieces of elk hide, it is embroidered with porcupine quills in beautiful geometric motifs, and trimmed with a warm, golden-brown fur that looks to be muskrat. The texture of the hide (soft and pliable, with a slight smoky odor) suggests it was prepared through brain-tanning and smoking. The coat displays European influence in the tailoring, the scalloped edges of the bottom hem (cut with special pinking shears), and the use of velvet and cotton to make the pockets. Yet the elk hide, fringing and trimming with fur, and ornamentation with quillwork designs, are essentially Indigenous.

Quillwork-embellished leather coat collected by George Byron Gordon. Photo by Margaret Bruchac, with permission of the Penn Museum.. Museum Object  Number: NA3635.

Quillwork-embellished leather coat collected by George Byron Gordon. Photo by Margaret Bruchac, with permission of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number: NA3635.

The porcupine quillwork that makes this coat beautiful is common among the Native peoples of the Northeastern, Northern Plains, and Subarctic regions, including the Cree. Porcupine quills are stiff, pointed, modified hairs, up to three inches in length, that were dyed and flattened. Native Americans and First Nations people had ingenious ways to color and use porcupine quills for decoration, stitching them through bark or hide, or wrapping them around a piece of fringe.[1]

The shoulders, front placket, and sleeves of this coat are decorated in this way. The Cree historically attributed power and meaning to certain kinds of adornment; perhaps the quillwork has protective as well as decorative effect.[2] The dyes used for the quillwork designs could be a starting point for determining the age of the coat. Before the 1850s and the invention of aniline dyes, plant-based dyes were used for coloring.[3] Perhaps the dyes could be analyzed to see if they were aniline or plant based? The purple color in the neckband is particularly vivid, and the range of colors is similar to other quilled objects from the subarctic found in other North American ethnographic museums.[4]

Detail showing intensity of of purple and red dyes on quillwork. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Detail showing intensity of of purple and red dyes on quillwork. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

There is little information about how this coat was obtained by the Museum, except to record that it was collected from the Hudson’s Bay Company. No clues appear to have survived in Gordon’s correspondence, photos, or bills of sale, and there are no publications describing this coat.

In searching for comparable objects, I found some Cree coats in other museums, and learned that fringed leather coats—cut to European patterns and embellished with designs made from paint, porcupine quills, and/or beads—became common on the Canadian frontier during the 18th and 19th centuries. The style began when settlers gave military-style frock coats to tribal leaders as a way to reinforce trade and convey status. Some Native people made their own versions of these tailored coats out of various hides. A description of a Cree frock coat from 1832 in a Christie’s auction catalogue notes that these coats were common among the Ojibway, Cree, and Red River Métis who demonstrated:

“…artistic ability, technical accomplishments, and keen ingenuity in their ability to replicate things alien to their respective cultures. Trade goods, especially ready-made garments, were expensive items during the era, yet they exerted strong appeal. Resourceful Indian artists created remarkable facsimiles of prized items such as frockcoats, giving them a decided Indian twist.”[5]

Yet, this is not a frock coat. It is cut in a squarish jacket style, suggesting that it may date to a later period, perhaps the late 19th century.

There is a Cree coat in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), identified as misko takiy (hide coat). The quillwork motifs are geometric, but the coat is also painted, and it is made from moose hide, not elk hide. Sherry Farrell Racette notes that it is cut along the traditional lines from a single large moose hide: “the coat wraps around a man’s body as it once wrapped around the animal.” There is a coat in the NMAI collection labeled “Cree Métis,” but the quillwork motifs are curvilinear and it is patterned on a Euro-American style frock coat. A second square-cut leather coat can be found in the Penn Museum collections—identified as Alaskan Tlingit, item # NA9478)—but the decoration is very different from this “Cree” coat.

When I could not find an example of a Cree coat similar to this one, I wondered, based on the extent of decoration, if it was Métis, a blend of European and Native culture? The use of velvet on the pockets appeared to date it to the 19th century, and I found other Métis coats with velvet and quillwork from that era, but none of these resembled the one at Penn. Métis motifs for quillwork tended to be overwhelmingly curvilinear and floral, rather than geometric.[6]

Pauline Saribas and other Museum Anthropology students in the Penn Museum Collections Study Lab. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Pauline Saribas and other Museum Anthropology students in the Penn Museum’s Collections Study Room. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

It is hard to know what this particular coat meant to its Native maker and wearer. There is only slight evidence of wear on the inside and sleeve ends, suggesting it was rarely worn. Perhaps it was made specifically for a collector? Since the quillwork displays such careful symmetry, perhaps it was regalia to be worn on a special occasion? Although this coat was made to fit a man’s frame, the delicacy of the quillwork leads me to suggest that this finely embellished coat was decorated by a woman. Perhaps it is in the category of museum objects that are:

“…encoded with knowledge, although they are sometimes impenetrable and difficult to understand. Most often sleeping on a shelf in a museum storage room, completely decontextualized from their cultures of origin, they are the raw materials of women’s history.[7]

This coat has a story to tell, and I continue to wonder at its meaning.

 

[1] Orchard, William C. 1916. The Technique of Porcupine-Quill Decoration among the North American Indians. The Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation.

[2] Miranda, Caroline A. June 18, 2014. “Object Lesson: Rare Cree Coat a Window into America’s Complex History,” Los Angeles Times.

[3] Feest, Christian F. 1992. Native Arts of North America. London: Thames and Hudson.

[4] Cole, Christina, and Susan Heald 2010. “The History and Analysis of Pre-Aniline Native American Quillwork Dyes.” Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010.

[5] A handsome example of a Cree leather coat cut in a frock style was auctioned at Christie’s in 2003.

[6] For a gallery of clothing examples and more information, see Métis Textiles, a website gallery at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, in Eugene, Oregon.

[7] Farrell Racette, Sherry 2009. “Looking for Stories and Unbroken Threads: Museum Artifacts as Woman’s History and Cultural Legacy,” in Gail G. Valaskakis, Madeline D. Stout, and Eric Guimond 2009. Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community and Culture. University of Manitoba Press, p. 287.

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Beauty Is Pain: A New Look at the Toiletry Kits from Ur

Toiletry kits have been found around the ancient world from the Indus Valley to Britain, and range in time from the 3rd millennium BCE to the modern day, albeit in varied forms.  Nearly every publication that mentions these artifacts acknowledges that we do not know how they were used, but most interpret them as dealing with the application of cosmetics.  The kits found at Ur are usually made of copper, with a conical case (or reticule as Leonard Woolley and our website—www.ur-online.org—call them) containing three or four tools on a wire ring.  They are typically corroded within the case with only their heads visible. Because it is difficult or even impossible to separate them after thousands of years, we must look for individual tools found separately from their cases in order to analyze the different instruments.  The instruments themselves are secured by a ring formed by a piece of wire, so even if they do not have cases, they are grouped together.  At the site of Kish, located upriver from Ur, and containing burials dating to the Early Dynastic Period (ca. 2750-2600 BCE), excavators have found both kits with and without cases.  The kits that contain three instruments tend to have an ear scoop, a pointed tool (or stiletto as Leonard Woolley and our website call them), and a pair of tweezers, whereas the kits that contain four instruments tend to include a small blade as well (Torres-Rouff et al. 2012).  There appears to be no way to prevent the instruments from falling out of the case, beyond jamming them in very tightly.

Picture:  30-12-346 showing ear scoop, needles and points.  35-1-508 showing four instruments, tweezers, point, and knife blade apparent.  35-1-506 showing three instruments in a knobbed conical case.

Picture: 30-12-346 showing ear scoop, needles, and points. 35-1-508 showing four instruments, tweezers, point, and knife blade apparent. 35-1-506 showing three instruments in a knobbed conical case.

The toiletry cases  at Kish are recorded as being decorated, while the ones found at Ur that are housed in the Penn Museum do not seem to be decorated.  Two have pseudomorphs of bands, possibly leather, which are indications of ancient belt attachments (See January’s Ur Blog for more on Pseudomorphs).  At Kish, these objects were found in burials and were located near the waist of the skeletons.  Of the 98 recorded toiletry kits at Ur, 87 were found in graves, but where they were found in relation to the bodies was typically not recorded.

At Kish, toiletry cases were found in eleven of the 162 burials.  Previous studies, however brief, have usually correlated these objects with garment pins, and hence as part of women’s funerary kits.  However, the analysis at Kish shows that only two women were buried with toiletry kits, whereas twelve men were buried with them (Torres-Rouff et al. 2012).  These statistics may be biased due to a small sampling size and possible incorrect sexing of some skeletons; however, it seems that more kits are found with men than women.  In the future, we hope our website (www.ur-online.org) will make it easier for these types of studies to be performed as well as for more statistical analysis of possible funerary assemblages of the people.

Three different functions are put forth in the interpretation of the toiletry kits.

First is cosmetic.  This is the most common type of interpretation, where these tools were used to modify the body by applying a make-up of some type.  The pointed tool could be used to apply kohl to the eyelids, or add a rouge to the lips.  The ear scoop could be used not only to remove the wax from one’s ear, but also to swipe mineral components onto the eyelid.  Tweezers could be used to remove unwanted hair, usually stated to be used for shaping eyebrows.

Second is hygienic.  In this instance, the tools are interpreted as being used for things like removing thorns from the skin.  The knife could be used to open the wound. The point and/or ear scoop could be used to press between the thorn and raise it, and the tweezers to extract it.  Or they could be used for cleaning and clipping the nails. The ear scoop could be used for pushing back the cuticles at the base of the nail.  The knife could be used for trimming the nails.  Lastly, tweezers could be used for cleaning under the nails or pushing back the cuticles.

Third is medical.  Wendy Morrison (2013) interprets Roman toiletry kits as being used to care for painful eye infections.  She was inspired to look into this function for these kits after seeing a picture of a woman in Kenya with trachoma who was wearing a pair of tweezers around her neck.  Trachoma is caused by living near fly-ridden refuse heaps and in smoky or dusty habitations, and her research has shown this disease existed in the past.  Roman books record it as well as its treatments.  The disease starts by turning the eyelid inside out, and causes hard sores on the inside of the eyes. If left untreated, it can cause blindness.  In looking at the toiletry kits from Roman Britain (which are quite similar to the kits found at Ur), Morrison has shown that tweezers could be used for plucking eyelashes to alleviate pain when the eyelid starts to turn inside out.  The pointed tool could be used to scrape off the hardened sores in order for them to heal.  The ear scoop could also be used to scrape off the hardened sores, but also could be used to apply a medicine to the eye and eyelid.  Roman texts record some recipes for these medicines, and the ways in which they were applied (Morrison 2013).

It has been said that beauty is pain, and the toiletry kits from Ur might represent either or both.  They could be tools for beautification or the treatment of illness.  They have been analyzed as objects that display personal identity and gender, especially in funerary contexts.  No matter how we interpret them, they are fascinating artifacts that deserve more attention.

Examples for toiletry kits found on the internet: 1) 1-200AD, Rhineland, Roman Athlete’s kit 2) 400-700 AD, Oxfordshire, Anglo-Saxon toiletry kit  3) 800-1169AD, Ireland, Model of a Viking toiletry set 4) Our modern day version of a similar kit

Examples for toiletry kits found on the internet: 1) 1-200 CE, Rhineland, Roman Athlete’s kit; 2) 400-700 CE, Oxfordshire, Anglo-Saxon toiletry kit; 3) 800-1169 CE, Ireland, model of a Viking toiletry set; and 4) our modern-day version of a similar kit.

Morrison, Wendy. 2013. A Fresh Eye on Familiar Objects: Rethinking Toiletry Sets in Roman Britain.  Oxford Journal of Archaeology 32(2):221-230.

Torres-Rouff, C., W. Pestle, and B. Daverman. 2012. Commemorating Bodies and Lives at Kish’s “A Cemetery”: (Re)presenting Social Memory.  Journal of Social Archaeology  12(2):193-219.

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Iñupiaq Smoking and Siberian Reindeer

Eskimo (Inuit) ivory pipe. Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum.

“Eskimo Tobacco Pipe” from Alaska collected by Captain David Henry Jarvis, and donated to the Penn Museum by Mary E. Jarvis. Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number: 39-10-1.

This semester, my students in Museum Anthropology conducted close examinations of objects from Arctic locales in the collections of the Penn Museum. During our object analysis of this walrus tusk ivory Iñupiaq pipe (item# 39-10-1) in the Collections Study Room, I was intrigued by the idea that it was used for smoking opium, given the absurdly small hole in the bowl. After further research, a very different story emerged. The pipe’s shape was, indeed, inspired by Chinese opium pipes, but a survey of Arctic scholarship revealed cultural exchanges from Siberia. Iñupiaq pipes like this—with a curved tusk shape, wide bowl, and very narrow bore—closely resemble the chukch pipe used by the Indigenous Sami of northern Asia.

"Siberian Eskimo Pipe" sold at Cowan's 2004 American Indian Art Auction. Formerly in the collections of the First People's Museum of the American Indian and Eskimo. Photo from Cowan's Art Auctions.

“Siberian Eskimo Pipe” sold at Cowan’s 2004 American Indian Art Auction. Formerly in the collections of the First People’s Museum of the American Indian and Eskimo. Photo from Cowan’s Art Auctions.

First-hand accounts indicate that this pipe style, sometimes called a “Siberian Eskimo” pipe, was particularly prevalent at Point Barrow, Alaska, where Captain David Henry Jarvis acquired it. There, it was called a kuinya or kui’nye (an apparent loan word from the Siberian koy’nin).[1]. Its use was described as follows:

"Portrait of Su-Ku-Uk in Native Dress and Holding Pipe MAR 1894." William Dinwiddle, Glass Negatives of Indians, collected by the Bureau of American Ethnology. BAE GN 03099A 06510000, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

“Portrait of Su-Ku-Uk in Native Dress and Holding Pipe MAR 1894.” William Dinwiddle, Glass Negatives of Indians, collected by the Bureau of American Ethnology. BAE GN 03099A 06510000, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

“A little wad of hair (reindeer hair, at Point Barrow)…is first pushed down to the bottom of the bowl to prevent the tobacco from being drawn into the stem. The narrow bore is then filled with tobacco cut up very fine…lighted with a bit of tinder and smoked entirely out with two or three deep inspirations. The smoke is deeply inhaled and allowed to pass out slowly through the mouth and nostrils… a sort of temporary intoxication [is] produced by this method of smoking…we found the Eskimos at Point Barrow passionately attached to it, preferring their own pipes to those of the civilized pattern even when there was no question of economy of tobacco.” [2]

This pipe style is widely distributed in museums and private collections. The Penn Museum has at least a dozen, collected by George Byron Gordon, William Van Valin, and Edward McIlhenny. A similarly decorated ivory pipe is housed at the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. [3] An 1894 portrait of an Iñupiat, Su-Ku-Uk, shows him holding just such a pipe carved from wood, with a metal bowl and mouthpiece. [4]

It is important to note that David Henry Jarvis (1862-1911), the man who brought this pipe back from Alaska, was not an ethnographic collector. He was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, patrolling the coast of Alaska along the Bering Sea, and he was said to be fully fluent in Iñupiaq (the language of the northernmost Inuit people, the Iñupiat). He photographed families, ceremonies, hunters, and herders, but this pipe is the only Indigenous object attributed to him that I have been able to find, in any museum. It was donated to the Penn Museum in 1939, long after his death, by his sister, Mary E. Jarvis.[5]

Inuit men with domesticated reindeer. Albumen print, catalogue # 2000.100.200.68. Photo Archives, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford,

Inupiat men with domesticated reindeer. Photo c. 1897 by David H. Jarvis. Albumen print, catalogue # 2000.100.200.68. Photo Archives, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

During his time in the Arctic, Jarvis was keen to ensure the survival of both Iñupiat and whalers along the Alaskan coast. He was serving aboard the cutter ship Bear in 1891, when the first domesticated reindeer were delivered to Unalaska, as part of a strategy to provide the Iñupiat with herds that could offset the decline in indigenous game. A few years later, in 1897, Jarvis was in charge of an overland relief expedition sent to rescue 265 distressed whalers aboard eight frozen-in ships.[6] Before setting out, he negotiated with Charlie Artisarlook and his wife, Mary Makrikoff, and other herders to barter for 435 reindeer; some were harnessed, some were shipped, and others were driven across the ice to provide a source of fresh meat on the hoof for the stranded crews.

David Henry Jarvis c. 1898, photo source unknown.

David Henry Jarvis c. 1898, photo source unknown.

In his official report, Jarvis described the generosity of his Iñupiaq friends: “He and his wife, Mary, held a long and solemn consultation… They were sorry for the white men at Point Barrow, and they were glad to be able to help them; they would let me have their deer, which represented their all, on my promise of return, if I would be directly responsible for them.”

Frozen-in whaling ship. Photo by Captain David Henry Jarvis. Albumen print, catalogue # 2000.100.200.43. Photo Archives, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Frozen-in whaling ship. Photo by Captain David Henry Jarvis. Albumen print, catalogue # 2000.100.200.43. Photo Archives, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Jarvis hired Artisarlook and other Inupiat men as guides and herders, traveling over “…what at times seemed impassible obstacle, through frozen seas, and over snow-clad mountains.” [7] When the relief expedition finally found each of the stranded ships and crews (spread across 100 miles of coast), Jarvis oversaw the building of shelters and distribution of medical aid and food, and even organized baseball games on the ice to recover morale. He documented the men, dogs, sleds, reindeer, and ships in hauntingly evocative albumen photographs.[8]

Jarvis also fulfilled his promise to the Artisarlook family, returning nearly twice as many reindeer as he had taken. Charlie passed away in the 1900 measles epidemic, but his wife Mary eventually increased their reindeer herd to such a degree that she came to be known as the “Reindeer Queen.”[9]

Side view of Inuit pipe. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Side view of Inuit pipe. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

David Henry Jarvis became a celebrity, celebrated as an American hero, but the records of his exploits make no mention of this pipe. It may have been a keepsake or a touristic acquisition, but it seems like more than that. This object, made by an unknown Iñupiaq artisan, is wrought with elaborate imagery—dancing shaman figures, depictions of animals and arrows in flight, people jumping onto and falling off of sleds—that allude to hunting activities, while also evoking relationships among peoples, creatures, and other forces in the Arctic world. The pipe may have been designed as a talismanic object, to provide supernatural assistance during the ordeal of hunting. It appears to record transformative events; the shamanic figures move between human and animal forms. The documented practice of using reindeer hair (rather than indigenous caribou hair) to stoke this style of pipe suggests that the pipe and reindeer may be related.

Tobacco was a prized substance in the Arctic, and it was often used for pay or gifts to the Iñupiat. While preparing for his overland expedition, Jarvis’s initial supply of provisions included 40 pounds of tobacco, plus another 10 pounds “for me personally.”[10] Did he barter some of that precious tobacco for this unusual pipe? In the end, regardless of how it came into his hands, it is intriguing to consider that perhaps this pipe was a gift to Jarvis from one of his Iñupiaq friends, ensuring his success in the grueling overland trek, and offering him some intoxicating refreshment to thank him for his efforts on their behalf.

NOTE: For more information about this pipe, see the related blog article—“Searching for Stories: Patiently Listening to an Iñupiaq Pipe”—by Sarah Parkinson.

Footnotes:

[1] Murdoch, John 1892. “Ethnological Results of the Point Barrow Expedition,” pp. 19-441 in J.W. Powell, ed. Ninth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution 1887-88. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
[2] Murdoch, John 1888. “On the Siberian Origin of Some Customs of the Western Eskimos.” American Anthropologist Vol. I, no. 4 (October 1888), pp. 325-336.
[3] Eskimo Ivory Pipe, Early 19th-Century AD, Norton Sound, Western Alaska, PM 94-57-10/R139 at the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
[4] “Portrait of Su-Ku-Uk in Native Dress and Holding Pipe MAR 1894.” William Dinwiddle, Glass Negatives of Indians, collected by the Bureau of American Ethnology. BAE GN 03099A 06510000, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
[5] Mary E. Jarvis, David’s sister, was a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The Penn Museum accession card lists her address as 4216 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia, but no correspondence about the pipe can be found in the Museum Archives.
[5] Strobridge,Truman R. and Dennis L. Noble 1999. Alaska and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service 1867–1915. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland.
[6] Johnson, Paul H. 1972. “The Overland Expedition: A Coast Guard Triumph” in Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association, The Bulletin 34(5):63-71. Reprinted online on the website of the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
[7] U.S. Revenue Cutter Service 1899. Report of the Cruise of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear; And the Overland Expedition for the Relief of the Whalers in the Arctic Ocean. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, see p. 51, p. 137, p. 141.
[8] Jarvis Collection. New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts.
[9] For insights into the challenges of the reindeer introduction, and the unique success of Mary Makrikoff Artisarlook (“Mary Sinrock”), see Roxanne Willis, “A New Game in the North: Alaska Reindeer Herding, 1890-1940” in Western Historical Quarterly 37 (Autumn 2006):277-301.
[10] U.S. Revenue Cutter Service 1899. Report of the Cruise of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. p. 141.

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Iñupiaq Pipe

Searching for Stories:
Patiently Listening to an Iñupiaq Pipe

Object Analysis and Report for Anthropology of Museums
by Sarah Parkinson

As a student intern in the American Section of the Penn Museum, part of my job involves inventorying accessioned objects. When I first started, I was curious about every object I handled. During the first few days, I turned the key to each cabinet with intense anticipation of what might be uncovered in each dark corner of the Museum. I read every accession card, hoping to uncover each object’s story. However, I was often disappointed by the lack of a satisfying plotline. With only a general location and a short description on each card, even the most spectacular objects failed to tell a coherent story. My excitement for museum objects began to diminish, but it was reawakened by a recent class exercise that provided insights on letting objects speak for themselves.

Before going into the Collections Study Room, my professor advised us to be extraordinarily patient with our analyses of objects. Although I did not realize the importance of this advice at the time, I now recognize the value of “listening” to objects. During this class, each student spent nearly an hour silently analyzing each object, before any discussion, and we all discovered more information than we believed was possible.

Eskimo (Inuit) ivory pipe. Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum.

Eskimo (Inuit) ivory pipe. Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum. Museum Object Number: 39-10-1.

Examining an Iñupiaq (Eskimo) Pipe

After glancing over several objects on the table in the Collections Study Room, I chose a large ivory pipe with black etchings covering the stem (39-10-1). The professor instructed the class to delve into the objects first, before reading accession cards, but I had already noticed that the object was labeled “Tobacco Pipe” from an Eskimo tribe in Alaska. I began by focusing on the black etchings on the stem.

Sarah Parkinson in the Penn Museum Collections Study Lab with an Inuit pipe from  the Arctic collections. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

Sarah Parkinson in the Penn Museum Collections Study Room. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

On the top portion, each side features what appear to be shamanic dancers; some have animal masks on, and some are bent into various semi-contorted shapes. The bottom portion of the stem depicts a hunting scene with several people holding bows and arrows aimed at a bird, a deer, a rabbit, a fox, and other animals. One hunter hides behind a mound, concealed from his prey. The bottom half of the other side features etchings of a sled and rider. On the end nearest the mouthpiece, two people busy themselves making something, possibly a sled. To the right of this scene, closer to the bowl, there is a house with a drying rack to the side. Read as a story, from mouthpiece to bowl, the stem speaks of a person riding away from a house on a sled carrying a spear. The rider falls off of the sled and lays down beside it. In the last etching, the sled changes direction so that it is pointed back towards the house.

Close-up view of pictographs on the Eskimo (Iñupiaq) Tobacco pipe. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

Close-up view of pictographs on the Eskimo (Iñupiaq) Tobacco pipe. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

Examining the Eskimo (Iñupiaq) pipe. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

Examining the Eskimo (Iñupiaq) pipe. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

I then examined the physical structure of the bowl itself. I noted that the bowl is loose in its connection to the stem, and likely detachable, given the way it is connected to the rest of the pipe. The black etchings are lighter on the bowl than they are on the stem and mouthpiece, suggesting that it was exposed to more wear than the rest of the pipe, or that it was a replacement piece. After looking at the bowl for a few moments, the validity of the accession card came into question. I questioned how this pipe could be used to smoke tobacco—the opening of the bowl is so small that ash would collect quickly and the pipe would be clogged after only a short period of use.

Close-up view of the end and bowl of Eskimo (Iñupiaq) Tobacco pipe.

Close-up view of the end and bowl of Eskimo (Iñupiaq) Tobacco pipe. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission of the Penn Museum.

After realizing this, I read the accompanying card to check if the accession number was correct. The card identified this pipe as: “Chinese type with tiny capacity.” At this point, I suspected that this was not a tobacco pipe; maybe it was made to smoke opium. Dr. Bruchac agreed this was possible, especially given the hole at the end of the stem, which could be used to draw air and concentrate heat. I shone a light into the bowl in hopes of seeing residue, but found no ash or discoloring. This could be due to conservation efforts, since this pipe was displayed in two exhibitions in the Museum. On shining a light into the hole in the stem, I found that instead of the flat gray ash expected in a tobacco pipe, there was a crystalline-like substance that sparkled under bright light. If possible, it would be interesting to conduct a chemical analysis of this residue to compare it to the chemical structure of opium and tobacco. Comparing this pipe with images of antique ivory opium pipes supports the possibility that this “tobacco” pipe might be an “opium” pipe. However, there are historical accounts of Inuit people smoking tobacco in pipes with very small openings very much like this one.[1]

Living Narratives in Archival Photographs

Inuit Man Bow-hunting. Photo by Suzanne R. Bernardi Jeffery 1905-7, 1916, Alaska Eskimos Hunting. Penn Museum Archives.

Inuit Man Bow-hunting. Photo by Suzanne R. Bernardi Jeffery 1905-7, 1916, Alaska Eskimos Hunting. Penn Museum Archives.

After conducting this object analysis, I searched the Museum Archives, hoping for more details, but the correspondence among the Museum Director, American Section Curator, and Assistant Curator made no mention of any “Eskimo pipes.” However, I was able to flesh out the story of the pipe in an unexpected manner. By patiently exploring boxes of Iñupiaq (Eskimo) photographs, I could see, with my own eyes, the people, dogs, and sleds traveling on hunting expeditions through the frozen landscape. The static etchings on the pipe began to come to life. Instead of seeing two-dimensional images, I saw a narrative of real, living people leaving their houses, preparing their dogs and sleds to depart, and taking off with bows and arrows and spears with hopes of bringing back meat for their families. When I had first encountered the pipe in collections, it was only a mute object, with an incomprehensible label. Now, a dynamic and far more satisfying story began to emerge.

Captain David H. Jarvis’s Rescue Expedition

Captain Henry R. Jarvis. Albumen print, catalogue # 2000.100.200.143. Photo Archives, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Captain David Henry Jarvis. Albumen print, catalogue # 2000.100.200.143. Photo Archives, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

More of the story unfolded when I researched the collector, Captain David H. Jarvis. Jarvis spent the majority of his career serving along the Pacific coast for the United States Revenue Cutter Service. During this time, he worked throughout the Northwest coast of Alaska and was involved with teaching animal husbandry to the Iñupiaq people in Unalaska in 1891. He gained fame from an overland rescue expedition in 1897-1898, during which he worked closely with Iñupiaq communities to procure provisions, sleds, and reindeer to bring to distressed whalers in Point Barrow.[2] Perhaps the surviving map of this expedition includes details about the location where he collected this pipe. The “Jarvis Collection” in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, which includes his photographs of the Iñupiaq, may provide even more detail that could expand the story[3].

Through my investigations of this pipe, I gained insights that might help to recover and enrich its story as part of Iñupiaq history. I also learned something that should have been obvious from the beginning: object stories require listening. The classification and lack of any depth in the record suggested that there was no reason to search further. Yet, if we listen more patiently, if we treat objects with the respect we might give an elder who has a valuable story to tell, we can learn more detailed stories than what appears on a simple label. If museums hope to present richer narratives, they need to collect more complete information about individual objects in their collections, perhaps through patient listening exercises. This kind of study can spark or renew students’ affinity for museum objects and the stories they tell, while also enriching museum collections with additional data.

Footnotes: 

[1] Since opium was a major Chinese export during the late 1800s, and since pipes of this design are often described as “Oriental,” a new story of intercontinental trade might emerge from further study. The most likely possibility, however, points to shared material relations between Siberian and Iñupiaq peoples. See John Murdoch 1888. “On the Siberian Origin of Some Customs of the Western Eskimos.” American Anthropologist Vol. I, October 1888, pp. 325-336.
[2] Johnson, Paul H. 1972. “The Overland Expedition: A Coast Guard Triumph” in Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association, The Bulletin 34(5):63-71. Reprinted online on the website of the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
[3] Jarvis Collection. New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

NOTE: For more information about this pipe, see the related blog article—“Iñupiaq Smoking and Siberian Reindeer”—by Margaret Bruchac.

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Alaska Harpoon Rest

Alaska Harpoon Rest:
Supported by Bears, Whales, and Chains

Object Analysis and Report for Anthropology of Museums
by Enika Selby

This Iñupiaq (also called Eskimo or Inuit) harpoon rest (Museum Object Number: NA4796) came to the Penn Museum from Sledge Island, Alaska, a tiny island off the Western coast. It is hand carved from walrus ivory, with effigies of two polar bears and two whales. The item was collected during the Wanamaker Expedition to the Artic, Seward Peninsula and Siberia, and sold to the Museum by William Blair Van Valin.

This collection was discovered in 1912 by one of Van Valin’s Iñupiaq students, Johnnie Tumichuk, who exposed a cave holding the entire whaling outfit.[1] Local people identified the outfit as spiritually powerful items belonging to a shaman who had disappeared. Van Valin recognized it as a rare and valuable collection of exotic artifacts. The sale to the Museum was brokered by E.W. Hawkes, who hoped to gain a fellowship for graduate study at Penn.[2]

Material Examinations

Figure 1: Alaskan Harpoon Rest from the Sledge Island Van Valin Collection. Photo with permission from the University of Pennsylvania Museum

Alaskan Harpoon Rest from the Sledge Island Van Valin Collection. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission from the Penn Museum.
Museum Object Number: NA4796

My initial questions focused on the materials used to make this item, the Indigenous meanings behind the symbols and construction, and the general use. What type of wood, animal parts, unidentified materials, and ivory were used to create this object? What do the bears and whales mean and how do they relate to weaponry? How was this object used with a harpoon to effectively hunt?

A closer look reveals intricate details. The torsos of the bears are carved from two pieces of ivory, with carvings of whales on the outside of each half. Sandwiched between the halves is a flat, hard, porous, material, drilled through by wooden pegs that secure the halves together. The most interesting features are the chain links that hang from the figures. Not a single link shows discontinuity, which indicates that they were all carved out of a single piece of ivory. Additionally, the last link on each side has the tail end of what seems to be a whale. Thus, the entire hunting apparatus is surrounded by animals, suggesting the physical and spiritual importance of these creatures .

Figure 2: Harpoon rest chains and whale tails. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission from the Penn Museum..

Harpoon rest chains and whale tails. Photo by Margaret Bruchac with permission from the Penn Museum.

Basic research reveals the answers to some of these questions. A harpoon rest is attached to the kayak or umiak (on the front or sides of the boat) and used to hold the base of the harpoon in place after the spear was thrust into the whale. Literature on other “Eskimo” harpoon rests mentions that most were made of walrus tusk with holes to lace sinew through, which would eventually be tied and secured to the boat.[3] The Penn Museum’s rest has these features, but also has chain links underneath the body of the harpoon rest. Perhaps the chains secure the rest to the bow of the boat, or assist in holding the rest steady while balancing a harpoon that has already speared a whale.

Beautiful Objects for the Hunt

Historically, the preparation of whaling tools took place within a dwelling known as a kargi. This was the central location of the hunting operation and was assigned to a whaling captain, or umialik. This place was used for social gathering and dancing, and also used for the making and mending of spiritual equipment and weapons. Aesthetics are crucial to whaling rituals, because it is believed that whales are attracted to beautiful things, and can be coaxed towards the hunters.[4] Thus, whaling equipment must be in pristine condition. Special items were created to aid in the hunt, so these chains have both practical and spiritual dimensions. Whale emblems are believed to be imbued with magical qualities that can encourage the whales to reveal themselves to hunters.[5]

Illustration from Walter James Hoffman, The Graphic Art of the Eskimos 1895, fig.573.

Illustration from Walter James Hoffman, The Graphic Art of the Eskimos 1895, fig.573.

Several of the harpoon rests from Sledge Island have chain links, but most harpoon racks from the region lack this feature. Perhaps whaling kits belonging to shamans were more closely associated with the spiritual realm, and therefore displayed extra charms.[6] These links rattle, and the sound is believed to attract animals. Chain link charms and whale carvings were also carried in the umiak for success and luck. Thus, the harpoon rest bridges physical and sacred realms, as both a hunting tool and a spiritual symbol.

A comparable harpoon rest from Barrow, Alaska, housed at the Smithsonian Institution, has carved images of mythical bears with small paws and a giant eagle, depicted in oral tradition as a creature used to hunt whales.[7] The comparison between these harpoon rests shows the variety of spiritual symbolism displayed on whale hunting equipment.

Figure 4: Enika Selby in the Penn Museum Archives, examining photos of Inuit women in fur garments. Photo by Margaret Bruchac

Enika Selby in the Penn Museum Archives, examining photos of Alaskan Native women in fur garments. Photo by Margaret Bruchac.

Spiritual significance is not just portrayed through symbols, it is also connected to the whales themselves. Among Inuit people, whales are associated with the spirits of young women. Certain ritual equipment was made for the wife of the umialik such as a, “wooden bucket with ivory ornaments and chains.” Just such a bucket was found by Van Valin. The wife would use her charmed bucket to pour water on the umiak to give it a drink, as she would also do with the whale once it was brought onshore. These ritual measures were taken to ensure the success of the operation and the safe return of men.[8] Thus, chains used by women may be symbolically comparable to the ivory chains taken on board the umiak and used in the hunting process. This shows the importance of women and their spiritual roles in the hunt, making whaling a ritual that involves both genders.

Archival Examinations

By combining material analysis with archival visits and surveys of existing research, I was able to recover important understandings about: the history of the harpoon rest; its creation and significance; related objects in other museums; and features that incorporate women into hunting rituals.

However, some questions still remain. I was curious about the material sandwiched between the two independent pieces of ivory tusk, and I found no mention of anything like it in the literature. After close examination, I believe, from its porous appearance, that it seems likely that it could be whale bone. From an Iñupiaq perspective, this would be an important inclusion of, not just symbols of the whale, but part of the whale itself.

Figure 5: “Alaska Eskimo Launching an Umiak.” Photograph by Suzanne R. Bernhardi Jeffery, Alaska. 1905-7, Eskimos, Fishing, Folder 3 of 4. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum Archives. Note the harpoon rest at the front of the umiak.

“Alaska Eskimo Launching an Umiak.” Photograph by Suzanne R. Bernhardi Jeffery, Alaska. 1905-7, Eskimos, Fishing, Folder 3 of 4. Courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives. Note the harpoon rest at the front of the umiak.

Thus, by dedicating time for simple research and visual analysis, the story of the Inuit harpoon rest began to emerge. The questions that arose while examining this object revealed aspects for further investigation that might otherwise have been missed. Most significantly, this harpoon rest is but one piece of an entire whaling kit. Each piece has its own distinct aesthetics, purpose, and meaning, and the whole kit reflects the complexity of whale hunting. A more complete understanding of the history and details of Eskimo hunting equipment could be recovered by turning to the knowledge held by the Iñupiat today. Whale hunting is still an active practice, and traditional beliefs are still preserved in oral traditions. Any museum story about Iñupiaq whaling tools is incomplete without including insights about the people—and the animals—who made the object.

Footnotes:

[1] Kaplan, Susan A., Richard H. Jordan, and Glen W. Sheehan. “An Eskimo Whaling Outfit From Sledge Island, Alaska.” Expedition 26.2: 16-23. Jan. 1984.
[2] Van Valin correspondence, folder 1/2, October 1912. America: Alaska, Point Barrow. Penn Museum Archives.
[3] Digby, Adrian. “An Eskimo Harpoon Rest from Alaska.” Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, February 27, 2015.
[4] Kaplan, Susan A. et al. 1984.
[5] Burch, Ernest S., and Werner Forman. The Eskimos. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1988.
[6] Crowell, Aron L. The Art of Iñupiaq Whaling: Elders’ Interpretations of International Polar Year Ethnological Collections. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2009.
[7] National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian, Washington, DC. Ivory whaling charms, Barrow, 1881–1883, Murdoch–Ray collection.
[8] Crowell, Aron L. 2009.

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