Yuungnaqpiallerput - The Way We Genuinely Live - Masterworks of Yup'ik Science and Survival

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Things Made of Bone and Ivory

Nucugcuun Fire Drill Cord Handles



Fire Drill Cord Handles made from walrus teeth, used to rotate the drill stick during friction fire starting.

Frank Andrew said that walrus bones, especially walrus jawbones, were stronger and more durable than ivory, which tended to crack.


E. W. Nelson, 1880, Cape Vancouver, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution 36483

  Tugkar Carved Tusk

Carved Tusk from Nunivak.

Frank Andew noted: "They engraved carefully, and when the carved area got deep, they would spill water over it. Ivory is easier to work on when it is periodically dipped in water."

Tusk Carving
P. Manship, 1965, Peabody Essex Museum 41020

Science panel: Why ivory cracks

Ivory is a type of dentin, or calcified connective tissue, that normally includes some water. The water molecules create spaces between the weakly cross-linked protein molecules of the tissue. When the ivory dries out, the spaces where the water was shrink, the protein molecules get closer, and cracks form as the tissue contracts.

Inuguaq Ivory Doll


Ivory Doll

Ivory Doll from Rasboinsky.


E. W. Nelson, 1882, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution 48709

  Nagtuqaq Ivory Belt Fastener

Ivory Belt Fastener

Frank Andrew observed: "They made ivory into belt hooks and bag fasteners, story knives, dolls, earrings, labrets, and other things used for beautification."

Belt Fastener
E. W. Nelson, 1879, Araiyakcaq, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution 37332

Iinruq Walrus Ivory Amulet



Iinruq/Walrus Ivory Amulet made to both protect and empower the owner.


B. Gierke, 1920, Bethel, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle 1.2E766

Naqugun Caribou Tooth Belt

Caribou Tooth Belt
J. A. Jacobsen, 1882, Ethnologisches Museum Berlin IVA5439

Caribou Tooth Belt with fox teeth and bullet casings dangling from the edge.

Theresa Moses recalled how women were careful with their bodies and always used belts to keep their personal debris, like dust, from spreading out to boys and men.

Paul John said: "The process of acquiring materials for these belts was not easy. When other people saw women wearing belts like these, they knew that their husbands were excellent hunters."

Tugkarmek Piliaq Ivory Device


Ivory Device

Ivory Device with incised circle designs, said to be for gambling but possibly a calendar with individual arms to be inserted every seventh day in holes carved around the base.


C. M. Garber, 1925, Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution 22/7458

  Iqmiutaak Ivory Tobacco Box

Ivory Tobacco Box from Nelson Island with circle and dot designs, ellanguat, literally "model or pretend universe."

Tobacco Box
S. Wheatland, Peabody Essex Museum 39617

Qungasvik Ivory Box


Ivory Box

Ivory Box with bird foot design, from Nunivak Island.


G. B. Gordon, 1905, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology NA427

  As'utet Ivory Earring Hooks

Ivory Earring Hooks held in a wooden storage device, as the hooks on earring backs easily broke.

Wassilie Berlin noted: "Once the earring hook's front and sides were done, it was placed in this vice and decorated. Gosh, people back in those days were so resourceful."

Hooks and Storage Device
J. A. Jacobsen, 1882, Ethnologisches Museum Berlin IVA5091



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