Whaling Ritual Ornament

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From card: "Undetermined level (no marks). Human face & 2 whales on front; a bird head (?) at each end. Line of encircling dots around edges; perforated at top for suspension. Illus.: Crossroads of Continents catalogue; Fig. 157, p. 133." Crossroads caption and text identify as an ivory plaque, Kachemak phase, ca. 500 B.C. - 500 A.D.. "The imagery points to its use in whaling ceremonies. The human face is flanked by whales; bird heads adorn the ends of the plaque; and feathers were probably once inserted into the bordering line of small holes. From the back of the plaque projects a lug which served as a hand or mouth grip." In 2000, a cast of tinted polyester resin was made from this artifact for exhibition purposes. Cast has been given same catalogue number as original and stored with it. Illus. Fig. 162, p. 166 in Crowell, Aron, Amy F. Steffian, and Gordon L. Pullar. 2001. Looking both ways: heritage and identity of the Alutiiq people. Fairbanks, Alaska: University of Alaska Press.
Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact http://alaska.si.edu/record.asp?id=355, retrieved 8-29-2012: Whaling ritual ornament, Sugpiaq (Alutiiq), Koniag. Whalers summoned spiritual power for the hunt through songs and charms. This archaeological carving from Kodiak Island has a grip on the back so it could be held in the mouth, probably by a dancer. Images of whales and a human face with a whale-tail mouth are carved on the front. Birds' heads on the ends may represent helping spirits and the small holes around the edges probably once held feathers. The artifact is 1000 - 2000 years old.
This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022; original only is on loan; cast of object was not lent.
Record Last Modified
9 Jul 2019
Specimen Count
Donor Name
Dr. Ales F. Hrdlicka
Accession Date
3 Dec 1932
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Accession Number
USNM Number
Prehistoric Eskimo, Kachemak Tradition
Kodiak Island / Uyak Bay, Kodiak Quad / Kodiak Islands, Alaska, United States, North America
Length - Object
19 cm
NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
Object Type
Ornament / Cast