Spirituality and the Seamstress: Birds in Ipiutak and Western Thule Lifeways at Deering, Alaska

Anna C. Sloan

Abstract

Zooarchaeological data from sites 49-KTZ-299 and 49-KTZ-300 at Deering, Alaska, and ethnographic and oral historical information from Inupiat, Yupiit, Inuit, and other northern Indigenous communities are brought together to examine Ipiutak and Western Thule reliance on birds. Cut-mark, elemental-representation, and aging data from bird bones suggest that Ipiutak and Western Thule living at Deering between ca. AD 700 and 1200 utilized birds not only as food, but also as raw materials for making needles and sewing garments. Bird-skin clothing manufacture is a gendered and spiritually charged activity for northern Indigenous peoples, and the antiquity of these associations is explored. Although circumpolar bird subsistence encompasses intertwining economic, sociocultural, spiritual, and symbolic components, the dynamism and multidimensionality of these practices have been underrecognized in academic discourse on subsistence.

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