The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Length: 37.000 cm
Said to be from the Cook and/or the Banks Collection (acquired before 1803)
AOA Ethno NWC 13
Wooden eating bowl in the form of a seal
Alutiiq (Chugach), 18th century
Probably from Prince William Sound, Alaska
We can not be sure, but this bowl was probably collected on Captain James Cook's Third Voyage in May 1778 in Prince William Sound, Alaska. It comes from the group of people once known as the Chugach, a Pacific Eskimo people. Later during the Russian period the Chugach became increasingly associated with the Aleut, hence their current name Alutiiq.
Cook and his men noticed the numerous similarities between the Chugach and Greenland Inuit, particularly in terms of material culture, which included similar clothing, hunting equipment and watercraft including kayaks and umiaks. The Alutiiq live in a warmer climate than that of their Yupik relations further to the west and north. Their environment has very rich marine resources, particularly salmon, seals and whales.
After 200 years, the bowl still exudes oil, probably seal oil which was used as a condiment when eating preserved fish.
Much of traditional Alutiiq material culture was shared with neighbouring Northwest Coast peoples, including the use of zoomorphic images for wood utensils and regalia. The bowl is inlaid with roundels of bone, shell or ivory along the rim, and with iron pyrites eyes.
K. Birket-Smith, The Chugach Eskimo, Nationalmuseets skrifter, Etnografisk række (København, Nationalmuseets publikationsfond, 1953)
W.W. Fitzhugh and A. Crowell (eds.), Crossroads of Continents: cult (Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988)
J.C.H King, Artificial curiosities from th (London, British Museum Publications, 1981)