The appearance during the first millennium A.D. of small, exquisitely carved artifacts of walrus ivory in the Bering Strait region marks the beginning of an extraordinary florescence in the art and culture of North America. The discovery in the 1930s and 1940s of world-class carvings of animals, mythical beasts, shape-shifting creatures, masks, and human figurines astounded scholars and excited collectors. Nevertheless, the extraordinary objects that belong to this fascinating, sometimes frightening, world of hunting-related art remain largely unknown.
Gifts from the Ancestors examines ancient ivories from the coast of Bering Strait, western Alaska, and the islands in between—illuminating their sophisticated formal aesthetic, cultural complexity, and individual histories. Many of the pieces discussed are from recent Russian excavations and are presented here for the first time in English; others are from private collections not usually open to the public. The essays, written by an international group of scholars, adopt a refreshing interdisciplinary approach that gives voice to the various competing, and now sometimes cooperating, stakeholders, including Native groups, museums, archaeologists, art historians, art dealers, and private collectors.