Alaska

The majority of our collections from Alaska are ethnographic in nature and part of the T.L. Brevig Collection. Brevig, a Luther graduate of 1876, was a missionary and teacher in Teller, Alaska who worked with the Inupiaq or Inuit people and a group of Norwegian Laplanders, the Sami.

Inupiaq Snow Goggles

Snow Goggles, E207
Snow Goggles, E207

Wood
Brevig Mission, Alaska, United States
Ethnographic Collection, E207
Donor: Rev. T.L. Brevig, donated ca. 1894-1916

The first use of snow goggles in North America is attributed to the ancestors of the modern Inuit, the Thule people (AD 1000-1600). Eskimo groups such as the Inupiaq used snow goggles to help reduce snow/ice glare and exposure to the harsh Arctic sun, which can cause snow blindness, a condition that causes temporary blindness and may result in permanent eye damage. The goggles are crafted from a single piece of wood, bone, or leather. Oftentimes, the inside of goggles will be burned or painted black to further reduce the glare. The narrow slits limit the wearer’s field of vision, reducing the amount of extra light entering the eyes and improving visibility in a snow-covered environment, which especially helped hunters find their prey. This was especially important during the spring when the Arctic sun is at its peak, sometimes reaching 24-hour periods of sunlight.

Why I Chose It:

On one of my ventures into The Cage, I came across a box with a bunch of really cool Inupiaq artifacts, including seal calls and intricately carved ivory pieces. I saw this tiny little thing tucked away, snug in its own little compartment. Given its small size, it took me a minute to realize that it was a set of snow goggles. As a skier, it’s pretty cool to see the drastic change in design from modern snow goggles and learn that the original models were highly effective.
- Emily England ‘15

Needle Case

Ivory and Wood
Brevig Mission, Alaska, United States
Ethnographic Collection, E661
Donor: Rev. T.L. Brevig, donated ca. 1894-1916

The needle case is primarily made of ivory but has a wood stopper at one end. Needle cases were often designed and carved by men to be given to their wives and portray images of Inuit life. The cases were a source of pride and sentimental value for each woman. Inuit women would have used needles for the never-ending sewing and repair work on clothes, blankets, and all kinds of other materials. Each Inuit tribe would carve in different styles and patterns. The needle itself would have been attached to a leather strip that would be able to be pulled in and out of the case for easy use.

Needle Case, E661
Needle Case, E661

Why I Chose It:

I chose this artifact because I was very interested in the intricate designs and pictures on the very small object.  When I first found the needle case, I had absolutely no clue what it was or what it could have been used for, but I was drawn to the carvings. I wanted to understand why someone would spend so much time and effort carving a tiny piece of bone. In the end I found it to be very sweet and almost romantic that the men would carve these small needles cases for their wives. The Inuit people turned a functional item into a beautiful piece of artwork that could be shown off to others in their community. The idea that they took the time to make these intricate carvings is remarkable to me.
- Ally Lothary ‘16

Inuit Baby Moccasins

Inuit Baby Moccasins, E2006.26
Inuit Baby Moccasins, E2006.26

Leather, Fur, and Beads
Juneau, Alaska, United States
Ethnographic Collection, E2006.26
Donor: Jane Kemp, donated 2006

Moccasins vary in size, but are recognizable as clothing items for Native Americans across the country. Though made of similar materials, soft leather stitched together by sinew, the different patterns, cuts, and decorative beadwork, quillwork, fringes, or painted designs actually served as a way to differentiate between tribes. Moccasins were used as everyday footwear, made to be durable and comfortable and designed to protect the wearer’s feet from the harsh outdoor conditions and be stealthy during hunting. The Inuit were known for their invention of the heavier-duty boots called mukluks, which were made of sealskin, fur, and reindeer hide and frequently lined with rabbit fur for added warmth.

Why I Chose It:

Having been new to the Anthropology lab, I decided that the best way to become more familiar with the collections was to spend some time wandering through the storage facility, or “The Cage” as it is affectionately called. While going through the ethnographic objects, I found so many really interesting items from all over the world in our collections, but for some reason I kept coming back to the same box- these tiny baby moccasins. I would repeatedly open the box to just stare at them, or show whoever happened to be in The Cage with me. Not only did they prompt an "Awww!" from everyone due to their sheer adorableness, but they also show such great craftsmanship in the intricate beading and small nature of the object. Although I’m sure stealth while hunting was not the intent for this pair of moccasins, they definitely would have kept little toes warm.
- Callie Sonnek ‘15

Cribbage Board

Cribbage Board, E262
Cribbage Board, E262

Ivory
Nome, Alaska, United States
Ethnographic Collection, E262
Donor: Unknown, donated 1910

Most of the Inuit today live near the coast of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Siberia. They depend on the sea for food, and family is the most important aspect of Inuit society. Before the 19th century, when the Inuit fashioned tools, weapons, and religious or ceremonial items, they used the limited number of materials available to them — walrus ivory, bone, driftwood, stones, and skin. Today, these artifacts are considered “art” because of their beauty and intricate designs. This high quality of design came from a need to please the unseen spirits at the time they were made. The Inuit began to make more objects specifically to sell to European whalers in the 19th century. This included highly decorative pipes and walrus tusk cribbage boards, like this one. Still considered some of the finest examples of Inuit work, this tradition of excellence in craft continues among modern-day Inuit.

Detail of bottom of cribbage board, E262
Detail of bottom of cribbage board, E262

Why I Chose It:

The first time I was exposed to cribbage was a fifth grade tournament. I was not very good at the game, but it was good for working on my arithmetic. Ever since then I have been fascinated with the game and its history. The game of cribbage is believed to be invented by British soldier and poet Sir John Suckling in the 17th century. It was very popular among English settlers in the American colonies and eventually became a staple among sailors and submariners for hundreds of years, especially in the Navy during World War II. Although the game has declined in popularity over the last 50 years, many people I know still have an old cribbage board in their basement or on the back of a shelf. When I saw this Alaskan cribbage board, I was transported back to fifth grade and I wanted to play again! The coolest part of this board is the storage for the pegs, which is a little drawer underneath the right end of the board.
- Rachel Wiebke ‘16

Ice Scratchers, E186 and E194
Ice Scratchers, E186 and E194

Inuit Ice Scratchers

Wood, Seal Claws, and Leather/Sinew
Alaska, United States
Ethnographic Collection, E186 and E194
Donor: Unknown

Seals are comforted by the sound of other seals on nearby ice. These ice scratchers allow hunters to mimic the sound of seals on ice by making a series of fast short scratches on the ice. The pattern and sound lulls alerted seals into a sense of security which allows the hunter to approach. The scratching sound may also attract seals from farther way. Given the effectiveness of the technique, it is still used today, though hunters use different and less specialized tools. 

Seals are an important resource for coastland cultures in the far north. Nearly every part of the seal was used by the Inuit: the seal meat provided a valuable food source, the seal skins were used to make clothing, blankets, tents, and boats, seal blubber was a fuel, sinew made cords and ropes, and the bones and various internal organs were used for making hunting equipment and other tools.

Why I Chose It:

I chose the ice scratchers because they were some of the most intriguing things in the box of Alaska artifacts in the collection. I didn’t know their function, but research revealed both their function and the many different styles of ice scratchers that exist. Some are all carved wood and others have many seal claws. It was interesting to learn about the importance of the seal to the Inuit and how increasing environmental regulations with seal hunting has affected the Inuit and their relationships with international governments. The seal is so important that the Inuit are exempt from several modern governmental protections for seal hunting as a reflection of its importance to their cultural heritage.
- Emily England ‘15

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