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December 1, 2017

These are small wooden masks – maskettes; most about palm sized. At least some of these may have been intended for dolls to wear; there are reports from Russian visitors that saw large dolls wearing masks in Yup’ik ceremonial settings.


Snow goggles

November 28, 2017

As anyone who’s been out skiing on a bright winter day knows, the winter sun can be very trying on your eyes. For hunters out on the ice and snow it can be very constraining. Snow goggles are a way of protecting the hunter’s eyes, and we have examples of these in the Nunalleq collection – in two very different designs. A wooden pair, and the remains of a pair made of woven grass.

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A pair of wooden snow goggles, from the back and front. 

23755120_1731610006873927_2989019384005611403_nFragmentary remains of woven grass snow goggles following cleaning and conservation. The photo below is from Bristol Bay and is now in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, illustrated in ‘Yuungaqpiallerput; The Way We Genuinely Live‘ with text by Ann Fienup-Riordan and information provided by Yup’ik elders, 2007, University of Washington Press.



November 26, 2017

It’s not only the jewelry that show fantastic craftsmanship and the artistic mindsets of the Nunalleq people. The everyday objects are beautifully crafted as well, and some of the everyday objects have been elaborately decorated. Here are some examples of uluaq knife handles.


An ivory uluaq handle in the form of a seal. The skeletal motif used here is very ancient and can seen in artifacts from early prehistoric sites across the North American arctic. 


A wooden uluaq handle carved into the form of the heads of two wolves. The skull of at least one wolf has been recovered from the site. Other artifacts with wolf designs have also been found in these levels; c. 1650 AD.

23517650_1720347071333554_7912629886460427917_nDetail of an ivory uluaq handle, carved into the shape of a sea mammal. The top is highly hand polished by repeated use over time. Animals were included as part of the Yup’ik social world and the geometric designs may represent facial tattoos. 

Earrings up close

November 25, 2017

Here are some closeups of selected earrings, you may recognise them from yesterday’s post.

23517406_1724414390926822_1903134354932159136_nTwo earrings found separately but probably representing a matched set. Made from ivory with wooden plug insets. On the right side of the photo is a side view to illustrate how they were worn. The hook fits through the ear and a smaller ivory bead probably dangled from the small hole at the base.


A walrus ivory earring. If you look closely you can see a few specks of the original iron pyrites that once filled the circular grooves. The concentric circles symbolise a layered and sentient universe. The hook in back is missing and was repaired by using a bit of spruce root, still in place some 4 centuries later.

23622438_1724492547585673_6666042213418666850_nA very tiny ivory earring of the same design as the one above, but just a centimeter wide. Earrings this size may have been made for girls.


This earring is a bit different, carved in the form of a mask-like face. The multiple sockets were once filled with bright bits of iron pryrite. How the carver managed to make those tiny but exact concentric circles on the left eye is a mystery.


November 24, 2017

We have a wide selection of jewelry and items for personal adornment in the Nunalleq collections, pendants, beads and labrets, but also tattoo needles, which show that people also decorated their skin. Below is a selection of ivory earrings. The variety and workmanship displayed is pretty amazing. And all made without dremels, reading glasses or electric lighting.


The Nunalleq Stick Dolls

November 23, 2017

Rick has been busy in the lab photographing artefacts before they are packed for their journey across the Atlantic.

This is a collection of simply made ‘stick dolls’ from the Nunalleq collection. They seem to be unique to Nunalleq, as they don’t appear in ethnographic or archaeological collections from the Yup’ik area,  unlike the more realistic human images and dolls shown in the previous post, which are widespread.

Most stick dolls were made by carving one or more faces onto flat pieces of worked wood. They used broken kayak ribs, slats from sled frames or fish trap parts. About half of the stick dolls have faces on both sides. Sometimes both faces are the same, others have a happy and a sad face on opposite sides or opposing ends. A few have four or even five different faces, each with a different expression.


Faces of Nunalleq

November 21, 2017

The Nunalleq collection is being returned to Quinhagak this spring, and this will be celebrated with a grand opening of the Nunalleq Culture and Archaeology Center on May 19th 2018. Be there if you can 🙂

Rick has made a draft-poster for the event, picturing (some of the) Nunalleq dolls.