shaman's remains with burial artifacts
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Shaman's Remains.
Within the tomb lies the skeleton of a woman, lying on a wood floor in a stone-lined grave, surrounded by whalebone and many ivory, wood, shell, stone, and bone tools, with a remarkable wood mask positioned between her knees.

Click in the picture to begin a tour through some of the fascinating artifacts in this burial, or click on the bar to return to the entrance to this room.


Contents of the Burial

This display was put together with the artifacts found in Ekven Burial 154, excavated by Russian and native archeologists in the Russian Province of Chukotka on Bering Strait. Of course, the human bones, which are in the museum in Leningrad, were not used, only the plan from the archaeological excavation showing where the skeleton lay on a wooden floor. The skeletal remains of native peoples are not used in museum displays, in deference to religious sensibilities.

illustration Ekven Burial 154 excavation showing placement of bones on wooden floor
The Ekven burial is important because it gives us a picture of the Old Bering Sea culture about 2,000 years ago. We are particularly interested in this cemetery because it is probably from the direct ancestors of the people who live in the Bering Sea region today - particularly the Yup'ik Eskimos of Southwest Alaska, whose tools are almost identical to the ones we see here, with the exception of some minor differences in stylistic features. There are certain kinds of artifacts that are exactly the same as those used by modern peoples of Bering Strait and some of the Inupiat cultures. So this may represent an unbroken tradition of 2,000 years of occupation of the Bering Strait region by Eskimo peoples who developed early ways of hunting the sea mammals and living in the ice filled waters of this region. It's remarkable to have an unbroken sequence that one can follow through a series of archaeological sites over two millenia, and our Russian colleagues feel that perhaps this is one of the only archaeological examples known in the world where an ethnic group can be traced in detail for as long as 2,000 years.

This time period was one which saw the convergence of an ethnos, a common Eskimo type of lifeway, which spread throughout the region in both Alaska and Asia. The result of this was the formation of the brilliant Old Bering Sea complex of cultures - Okvik, Old Bering Sea, and Ipiutak - that were the immediate progenitors of later Eskimo culture history in the Bering Strait region. As seen from excavations in this region, a single human burial may contain objects decorated in any of the three styles, suggesting wide travel and communication between the cultures.

Among the artifacts found in this grave are gut scrapers to clean the sea mammal intestines used to make waterproof clothing, and pottery paddles, ulu knives and various other implements like containers for food, as well as a walrus ivory chain, wood dance goggles, and drum handles. The grave also included lance points, harpoons, drum handles, ivory chains and various other types of objects.

Whale hunting was already completely developed but was secondary to walrus hunting in importance. Thus objects carved of walrus ivory were found in this burial, as well as the implements of hunting. Harpoons were thrown by hand or with the aid of a throwing board; the rear end of the shaft was fitted with an ivory "winged object" that acted to counterbalance the heavy ivory socketpiece and and harpoon at the front end of the shaft. All of these components were decorated and had both aesthetic and magical qualities.

- Sergei Arutiunov, William W. Fitzhugh, ed. J. Prusinski

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