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Tools and Implements: St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait Region

St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, is noted both archaeologically and historically for its important role in the development of Arctic cultures. Located in the Bering Sea, it lies less than 200 miles south of the Bering Strait, about 125 miles southwest of Nome on the Alaskan mainland, and its northwestern tip is only 40 miles from Siberia. It is believed to be one of the few remaining nonsubmerged parts of a land bridge connecting the New and Old Worlds during the Pleistocene period that allowed migrating groups from Asia to enter North America. The prehistoric and historic Eskimo cultures of the island show links with groups on both sides of the Bering Strait.

The island contains a number of significant sites in the development of Bering Sea prehistory, and has produced an extensive artifactual record important in establishing a chronology for occupation of the region. This prehistoric cultural chronology, which continues to be reformulated, is generally as follows: Old Bering Sea/Okvik period (ca. A.D. 1–700 A.D.), Birnirk/Punuk period (ca. A.D 500–1200), and Thule period (ca. A.D. 900–1500). Assemblages dating from all these periods show items related to an Arctic sea-mammal-hunting lifestyle, with stylistic differences in artifacts used by different groups.

The historic Saint Lawrence Island Eskimo traditionally followed a lifestyle like that of their prehistoric ancestors. These historic inhabitants are related culturally to Asiatic Eskimo groups rather than to those of North America. Their language, Siberian Yupik (also known as Central Siberian Yupik), is the only language spoken by people on both sides of the Bering Strait and most clearly shows their continued link with Eskimo groups of Siberian Asia.

This online exhibit presents a variety of Arctic hunting and fishing implements, manufacturing and processing tools, and other items originating from various cultural time periods and locations on St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait region. Including items common throughout the Arctic, as well as those unique to prehistoric and historic cultures of St. Lawrence Island, it illustrates how the Siberian Yupik Eskimos of St. Lawrence Island integrated techniques from all over the Bering Strait into their way of life and modified those techniques over time to create tools that best met their needs. These items are samples from the Museum’s Corrington and Van Zyle collections, an assemblage of over 1200 items collected from Western Alaska and the Bering Strait region.

References and Related Links

Inuit Circumpolar Conference: www.inuit.org

Inupiaq and Saint Lawrence Island Yupik at Alaska Native Heritage Center: www.alaskanative.net/36.asp

Saint Lawrence Island Gallery at the Museum of the North, University of Alaska, Fairbanks: www.uaf.edu/museum/depts/archaeo/pages/gallery.html

Bandi, Hans-Georg. Eskimo Prehistory. (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 1969).

Bychkov, V.V. (translated by Richard L. Bland). Catalog of Objects of Material and Spiritual Culture of the Chukchi and Eskimos of the Chukchi Peninsula in the Provideniya Museum Collections (Anchorage: U.S. Department of Interior, 2002).

Chaussonnet, Valérie. Crossroads Alaska: Native Cultures of Alaska and Siberia. (Washington, D.C.: Arctic Studies Center, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 1995).

Collins Jr., Henry B. Archeology of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections. Vol. 96, Number 1 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1937).

Fitshugh, William W. & Susan A. Kaplan. Inua: Spirit World of the Bering Sea Eskimo. (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982).

Hughes, Charles C. Saint Lawrence Island Eskimo. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 5: Arctic, pp. 262-277. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1984)

Pearce, Susan M. Eskimo Carving. (Aylesbury: Shire Publications, 1985).

Rainey, Froelich G. Eskimo Prehistory: the Okvik Site on the Punuk Islands, Vol. XXXVII, part IV. (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 1947).

Ray, Dorothy Jean. Eskimo Art: Tradition and Innovation in North Alaska. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977).

Text prepared by Tara Hein fall 2004

Harpoon Heads
artifact
harpoon head
artifact
harpoon head
artifact
harpoon head
artifact
harpon head
artifact
harpoon head
Bentwood Buckets
artifact
bucket fragment
artifact
bowl bottom
artifact
bucket brace
Knives
artifact
ulu
artifact
Knife handle
artifact
man's knife
Other Items
artifact
figurine
artifact
wedge
artifact
bola weight
artifact
sinew twister
artifact
armor
artifact
winged object
artifact
boat needle
artifact
labret
artifact
ice pick

Museum of Anthropology, 100 Swallow Hall, Columbia, MO 65211-1440

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