engraving (art); scrimshaw


Produced in Siberia, this is a tusk of walrus ivory. Walruses are world_gallery:layered_info:publish:encounters:americas:arctic:arctic_hunting|hunted by many Arctic peoples for their meat and hides, while the tusks are often whittled into harpoon heads and snow knives. Some, however, are reserved for decoration, and carvers inscribe them with detailed diagrams like these. On this tusk are scenes in which Siberian hunters pursue walrus and whales across the ice by sled and skin boat and were used by storytellers to illustrate their tales.

They are often carved with bow drills, a complex and difficult skill in which the blade is moved across the surface by means of a bone bow and a metal drill held in place in the mouth of the carver. As they came into increased contact with European sailors, carvers discovered that they could sell these decorated tusks at a profit, and some sailors learned the skills needed to produce such carvings. This is where scrimshaw, the nautical practice of incising scenes onto ivory and bone, comes from.

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