Body Metamorphosis and Interspecies Relations: An Exploration of Relational Ontologies in Bering Strait Prehistory

Feng Qu


This article explores the prehistoric ontologies etched into theriomorphic images on ivory harpoon parts among the Okvik and OBS cultures that flourished about 2,000 years ago in the Bering Strait region. Inspired by the theory of relational ontology, the author argues that the images on prehistoric Inuit artifacts not only reveal the interior essence of other-than-human animals but also signify the interpersonal and intersubjective relationship between humans and other-than-human persons. A comparison between the prehistoric Inuit artifacts and the Yup’ik yua masks suggests that these Okvik/OBS hunting artifacts with theriomorphic images represented rebuilding of the hunter’s multiple, extra body. Further analyses show that interspecies relations between other-than-human persons are crucial in prehistoric Inuit ontologies. Accordingly, the author argues that the polymorphous form represented by the prehistoric hunting implements was not only the human hunter’s but also the other-than-human being’s extra body.

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