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Human likeness

April 12, 2019

When we first recovered this hand-sized doll last summer at Nunalleq we thought that it was made from caribou antler. But with closer examination after cleaning it turns out to be carved from mammoth ivory. Fossil ivory was widely used and traded in SW Alaska and is one of the hardest organic materials to carve.


This doll head is simply carved but still conveys a lot of personality. Much of the original red ocher paint is still intact and there is a groove around the edge of the head which held a string which in turn held down hair. The oval dent below the mouth represents a labret, or lip plug.


One of the smallest wooden dolls in the Nunalleq collection. Tiny dolls like this may have been worn as amulets or included in charm boxes. The carver managed an impressive amount of detail despite its size.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Linda McDowell permalink
    April 15, 2019 23:04

    Hi, My name is Linda McDowell. I worked with Sierra Club at the site last summer. I have become fascinated with the masks and got to see many at a showing at the Heard Museum in Phoenix a couple of months ago.

    I think I have found an important link to the use of the little “dolls”. I was lucky to have found a few of them. I have since found evidence that they are directly connected to masks and would like to send pics to you showing them attached to a mask.

    Is there some way I could e-mail you to send the photos? My e-mail is I was excited to find this evidence.



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