shaman's pottery paddle
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Shaman's Pottery Paddle
This ivory pottery paddle illustrates a shaman with outstretched human legs and hands transformed into bear paws of his polar bear spirit helper, in shamanic flight. A bear head is carved at one end, a beast's mouth at the other.


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By the third millenium B.C. in Chukotka, the region in which this Ekven burial was discovered, neolithic cultures had developed ceramics decorated with net impressions, and later by the beginning of the first millenium, with cord impressions. These cultures, designated by Dikov as Northern Chukotka and Ust'-Belaia, have clear parallels with the large suite of Ymyiakhtakh cultures of northern and central Yakutiia that date to the same period and must have been important components of ancient Chukchi and Koryak cultures. Grave finds from the region include ceramics with check-stamped and hatched decoration typical of Ymyiakhtakh culture.

Pottery traditions in most regions of the Americas developed without external stimulus, but pottery spread into Alaska from neolithic cultures of Siberia 4,000 years ago. Used for cooking pots and oil lamps among relatively sedentary coastal peoples, Eskimo pottery was relatively crude and was often undecorated. Ivory paddles with stamp designs were used by Old Bering Sea people to consolidate the wet clay and impart surface decoration.

One of the differences between Old Bering Sea and Ipiutak cultures is seen in the ceramic traditions of Old Bering Sea culture, absent in Ipiutak. Old Bering Sea ceramics were generally of low quality. The types present were usually round bottom cups and bowls stamped on their surfaces by ivory pottery paddles like the one shown here.

ivory pottery paddles

Several of these stamp paddles were found at the Ekven site with concentric circle and lined decoration. To some degree this decline in ceramic technology has to be seen against the elevated expression found in the ivory carving arts, the lack of wood for kilns, and the nomadic lifestyle.

- William W. Fitzhugh, ed. J. Prusinski

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