April 2013 Artifact of the Month

 Whale Vertebra Effigy Carving

1998.2.10

Arctic, Inuit

Materials: Whale bone

Whale Vertebra

This month's featured artifact is a carving from the Arctic region made from a whale vertebra. Whales provide abundant meat and natural resources that help to sustain many of the Arctic people that live along the coast line. One whale could provide enough meat to feed a tribal community for months afterward, with enough left over to ensure food during meager hunting periods. Additionally, the whale's blubber, baleen and bones supply the necessary materials for everyday household objects, hunting tools and weapons.

The ability to carve was a necessary survival skill in the unforgiving Northern climate. The Arctic people used bone and ivory to carve everything from knives to sewing needles. Although they created these things for utilitarian purposes, they also decorated them with intricate designs and figures. Carving remains an important practice today, with professional artists and carvers carrying on these skills and traditions into the twenty-first century.