Gifts from the Ancestors: Ancient Ivories of Bering Strait

Overview

The appearance during the first millennium A.D. of small, exquisitely carved artifacts of walrus ivory in the Bering Strait region marks the beginning of an extraordinary florescence in the art and culture of North America. The discovery in the 1930s and 1940s of world-class carvings of animals, mythical beasts, shape-shifting creatures, masks, and human figurines astounded scholars and excited collectors. Nevertheless, the extraordinary objects that belong to this fascinating, sometimes frightening, world of ...

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Overview

The appearance during the first millennium A.D. of small, exquisitely carved artifacts of walrus ivory in the Bering Strait region marks the beginning of an extraordinary florescence in the art and culture of North America. The discovery in the 1930s and 1940s of world-class carvings of animals, mythical beasts, shape-shifting creatures, masks, and human figurines astounded scholars and excited collectors. Nevertheless, the extraordinary objects that belong to this fascinating, sometimes frightening, world of hunting-related art remain largely unknown.

Gifts from the Ancestors  examines ancient ivories from the coast of Bering Strait, western Alaska, and the islands in between—illuminating their sophisticated formal aesthetic, cultural complexity, and individual histories. Many of the pieces discussed are from recent Russian excavations and are presented here for the first time in English; others are from private collections not usually open to the public. The essays, written by an international group of scholars, adopt a refreshing interdisciplinary approach that gives voice to the various competing, and now sometimes cooperating, stakeholders, including Native groups, museums, archaeologists, art historians, art dealers, and private collectors.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

"Gifts from the ancestors" is how modern Arctic people refer to the ancient carvings they find in the permafrost around their dwelling places; digging for these valuable pieces has become an important part of Arctic subsistence culture. This volume, accompanying the Princeton University Art Museum exhibition, comes from experts at the Smithsonian (Fitzhugh), the Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage (Crowell), and De Paul University (Hallowell), makes an exceptional reference work on a little-known tradition, despite the fact that ivories are generally sold by Native Americans without any information on how they were found or what other artifacts were associated with them (meaning that much important information about the Bering Sea's ancient cultures is lost forever). Twenty international scholars contribute essays, describing what is currently known from archaeological investigations in Alaska and Siberia. M. M. Bronshtein, of the Russian State Museum of Oriental Art, provides a lengthy description of a hunter's grave, demonstrating how much information can be gleaned from artifacts in context. Other essays compare artistic traditions from different eras and Bering Sea locations, and attempt to place them in terms of culture, religion and lifeways. A final section explores contemporary Arctic cultures, and the new art of ivory carving; the personal closing essay comes from Susie Silook, a contemporary carver. 70 b&w and 272 color illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300122060
  • Publisher: Princeton University Art Museum
  • Publication date: 11/17/2009
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 10.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

William W. Fitzhugh is Curator of North American Archaeology and Director, Arctic Studies Center, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution. Aron L. Crowell is Alaska Director, Arctic Studies Center, Anchorage.Julie Hollowell is Nancy Schaenen Visiting Scholar, Prindle Institute for Ethics, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, De Pauw University.

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