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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Actic
Old Bering Sea, Okvik period
Caribou Amulet
Walrus Ivory, 3" Length, c.200 AD
Caribou Amulet Old Bering Sea, Okvik period
Caribou Amulet Old Bering Sea, Okvik period

As with other representations of animals throughout all stages of ancient and historic Arctic cultures, this small stylized bear probably had numerous functions, with its primary purpose to express respect for the hunted animal,to ensure its proximity and willingness to be hunted.

Dating such artifacts can sometimes be a matter of analyzing its form and engraved patterning, such as in this Okvik example. But it can also be a simple matter of noting which animals the carver chose to represent.

For example, we associate the advent of whale hunting to be concurrent with the later Punuk and early Thule periods, and it is rare to see representations of whales before then. Similarly, the innovation of hunting with bow and arrow coincide with the representation of caribou in Old Bering Sea art. Bears, though, figure prominently in the very earliest stages of Old Bering Sea culture, having been hunted since early times, and being seen as a close neighbor and partner in the lives of arctic ancestors.

An amulet of a bear would, however, have had a dual purpose. A bear was both predator and prey, a potentially dangerous animal that demanded respect, but from which one needed protection. Given that house guardian dolls
were regularly kept during Okvik times as a comprehensive protectorate of a family, it is possible that an amulet of a bear might also been kept at home to provide equilibrium with a family’s wild neighbors.

One may not have always wished to summon the presence of an animal in order to live successfully. In other words, amulets may have offered a two-way means of communicating with the spirits of those animals; sometimes teasing them out to give of themselves, other times asking them to wait until another time.