Week 6: Alaskan Native Caribou-Tooth Belt

What is this? Who made it?

How unique is this artifact?



Answers:

What is this? Who made it?

This is a leather belt with inlaid caribou teeth. In several of the Native cultures of Alaska, belts like this were made by men to be given to the woman they were wooing. The many sets of caribou teeth were meant to demonstrate that the man would be a good provider. This one has over 400 teeth! In addition to showing hunting prowess, the caribou teeth were believed to ward off or "chew up" sickness, and thus these belts were prized by women who believed they carried protective and healing powers.

How unique is this artifact?

There are probably more than we know about -- in fact in the village of Nunalleq in Alaska, archaeologists recently discovered the thawed remains of just such a caribou-tooth belt, which they estimate has been lying preserved in the frozen ground since 1660. It is one of many sites across the Arctic that has thawed due to recent climate change, giving archaeologists their first access to once-sealed artifacts. But it also means a race against the clock to recover and preserve the artifacts before they rot or are otherwise destroyed.



Links to learn more...

(National Geographic) Alaska's Thaw
(Wordpress) Nunalleq Archaeology