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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Actic
Old Bering Sea
Fish Talisman
Ivory, 1¼" Length, c.500-800 AD
Fish Talisman
Fish Talisman

Hybrid animal-human forms are commonly seen throughout paleo-Eskimo art, and this miniature pendant is a prime example.

With greatest economy of means, the carver has modeled a human head emerging from a fish’s body, equally weighted so that it is ambiguous whether one manifestation or the other is prominent.

Note how the markings around the face suggest a hooded parka, a feature seen on human doll figures. One form borrows from the other, just as the life cycle itself does: fish becomes man as man eats fish. A visitor to a native village once remarked, upon having his first taste of seal meat: “It tastes like a cross between venison and fish.”

His native host replied: “You are what you eat.”