24 • An Ancient Inuit Maskette

24 • An Ancient Inuit Maskette

Old Bering Strait; 500–1000 AD
Walrus ivory; 5.5 x 3.8 cm

Old Bering Sea cultures had a profound respect for the natural world and strongly believed in the interconnection between all living beings and their shared environment. They believed this world was also shared with spirits which inhabited animals and humans interchangeably, so that the spirit within their prey might once have belonged to a descendant. This spiritual continuity ensured a way of life in harmony with nature, and a balance still manifest in the remarkable carvings they left behind.

This mask arrives to us over a millennia after it was created as if frozen from that distant time and place, brimming with their character and culture, and of survival in the face of extreme hardship. Some have reacted to this as an object with soul, others with an energy they find unsettling; either way it is an object of unusual power.

Although their precise function remains uncertain, most experts speculate that masks such as this one would have related to ceremonies connected to their spiritualism. This example shows a clear distinction between the primary (outer) and secondary (inner) dentine, and has six carved slots around its rim, presumably for hanging or attachment.