Skip to Content
Pre-historic Indigenous ivory carving in the form of an elongated human figure | Donald Ellis Gallery
Close-up view of a carved human figure with incised design | Donald Ellis Gallery
Back view of an elegantly carved human figure with incised design from Western Alaska | Donald Ellis Gallery


Western Alaska

1200 - 1700 AD

marine mammal ivory

height: 4"

Inventory # E4335



Dr. John Schaeffer collection, Lake Monroe, FL


Wardwell, Allen. Prehistoric Eskimo Ivories. Dalton: Studley Press, 1992, pls. 25 and 26

This carving exhibits the relative stylisation of the human body common to most Thule human ivory figures (1200 - 1700 AD). Conceived symmetrically, the figure assumes a neutral standing pose. Emphasis is placed on the overall proportions of the body, the hands clasped behind the back. Precise fine line engraving across the waist might indicate loin cloth, while parallel running lines along the chest possibly relate to tattooing practices. The figure is exceptionally well preserved and has acquired a light honey brown patina resulting from soil mineralisation. Although no scholarly consensus as to the proper purpose or context of pre-historic ivories exists, it is likely that this fine figure relates to spiritual practices, mythology, social organisation and storytelling. Created more than 500 years ago, it is among the most enigmatic and endearing works created in Indigenous North America.