Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ivory 'Maskette' Uncovered at Arctic Canadian Site

Hmmmm, perhaps the cross-hatching on this beautifully preserved 5 centimeter ivory 'maskette' aren't just meant to represent "tatooes"...  What follows here is an excerpt.  For the full article, please see Archaeologists discover ancient ivory maskette on Canadian Arctic island
Submitted by owenjarus on Thu, 07/08/2010 - 22:14

The Nuvuk Islands lie off the northern tip of Quebec, close to the modern day settlement of Ivujivik. A team of archaeologists from the Avataq Cultural Institute and Laval University, including nearly a dozen local high school students learning about archaeology, have been exploring the islands.

They have uncovered two Dorset houses [the full article explains what the Dorset culture was], each of them nine meters long, that date to somewhere between 1,500 and 800 years ago. Constructed of stone and sod they were sunk partly into the ground to help insulate them.

One of the most intriguing artefacts they’ve found is a 5 centimetre long ivory maskette that may have been used by a shaman – a person who would have connected the people with the spiritual world. It’s the first complete maskette found in northern Quebec (an area also known as Nunavik) in more than 50 years.

“It’s quite possible that it had some kind of shamanic connection, there was some kind of religious or spiritual side to it,” said archaeologist Susan Lofthouse, in an interview with Heritage Key.

It has a hole near the top which means it probably would have been worn like an amulet. It was cut out of walrus ivory and crafted with great skill as shown by the small details.

Two nostrils (representing the nose) are cut into the centre. Mouth, ears and eyes were also depicted. The maskette has an “x-ray motif” – lines that run across it. It’s something commonly seen in art from this time period.

“A lady from Nunavik suggested to me that the lines represent tattoos – indicating that the face represents a woman,” wrote Lofthouse in a recent paper.

There is more evidence that this maskette represents a woman.

At the top of the mask there is a round shape that looks like a bun. “Historically Inuit women would wear top knots on top of their heads,” said Lofthouse. “Their hair would be kind of tied up into a bun on top of their head – it looks quite similar to that.”

So could this maskette have been used by a female shaman? “Traditionally shamans were more often men (however) there have been accounts of female shamans,” said Lofthouse. “It could have been related to magic that pertains to women.”

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