International Scientific Conference "Archeology of the Arctic"
November 19-23, 2017

Ancient eskimo art in Chukotka: research perspective.

Bronshtein M.M.

The State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow




The Eskimo art items found on the Chukotka coast were represented mostly with walrus ivory pieces (hunting gear, decorations, religious sculpture). These artifacts have been an object of academic research for at least 70 years already. In the 1940–1980s a significant contribution to these studies was made by S.I.  Rudenko, S.A. Arutyunov, D.A. Sergeev, N.N. Dikov. In the 1990s this work has been carried on by the students of these outstanding scholars. Large collections of ancient Eskimo art pieces can be found today in Saint Petersburg Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, in Moscow State Museum of Oriental Art, in Anadyr Museum Center "Chukotka Heritage", as well as in various museums and research centers of Magadan.

Today we may state with certainty that we have accumulated a significant pool of information about ancient art of the Chukotka Eskimos. Attribution of most of the published pieces to archaeological cultures and chronological periods has been made. A typological classification of the ancient Chukotka sea-mammals hunters' main graphic ornamentation variants has been developed, and the main types of sculptured (3D) images created by them have been described. We have certain understanding of the tools with which the ancient bone carvers worked, what techniques they used for creating artistic images. At the same time modern science has practically no answers to many other questions e.g. about the origin and the evolution of this historical and artistic phenomenon, its role in the life of old Eskimo society, the place which the ancient Eskimos of Chukotka art had in the culture of other peoples who lived in the remote past at the border between Asia and America.

Future archaeological excavations will, by all means, produce new factual material the analysis of which would enhance our understanding of this vivid artistic tradition of the ancestors of todays Asian Eskimos and the coastal Chukchi who lived there in the 1st millennium AD. However, I believe that even today it is possible to make significant progress in the ancient Eskimo art of Chukotka studies. In the first place it requires a creation of an accessible for a wide range of researchers comprehensive list of artifacts discovered in the course of excavations. This work will obviously require combined efforts of specialists from various regions of our country, many other complicated tasks shall also have to be addressed, however once such a body of sources is built, this will become an invaluable research tool for scholars. I also believe that it is quite important to work in cooperation with our foreign colleagues, since the study of ancient art pieces found in the area of Chukotka coasts would be incomplete without their comparative analysis with the ancient art pieces from Alaska. Another promising approach for the study of ancient Eskimo art may be its comparison with the Neolithic art of the Amur and the Primorie regions. This idea first suggested by S.A. Arutyunov in the 1960s has still not lost its relevance.  

Electronic versions of printed documents