The Testimony of Hands


Location of Walakpa Site

75.35.489, tow line handle of bone
Late Thule culture (A.D. 1400–1750)
Walakpa Site, Alaska
UNM research collections (depositor: Dennis Stanford)
Photograph by B. Bernard

Bone handles like this one were found at one end of leather lines. Hunters used the lines to tow or drag freshly killed seals back to the village, as is happening in the next photo.

89.5.17, Inupiaq hunter with seal
Wales, Alaska, 1901
Photographer: Suzanne Bernardi
Lois Minium Collection

The resemblance to a seal head is deliberate. By carving bone and ivory in the shape of the original animal, Arctic sculptors honored the animals they hunted. They hoped that in exchange, animals would allow themselves to be hunted again. Thus, art helped maintain the balance between hunters and their prey—a balance essential to the continued success of hunting and life itself.

The final photo shows the back of the handle, including the holes through which the leather line was tied.

Photograph by B. Bernard

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