Punuk Knife

Archives | Alaska

Punuk Knife

Alaska

Punuk culture (Archaic Eskimo)
5th-9th century
Carved walrus tooth
Height: 10 ¼ in. (26.2 cm)

Ex private collection, Geneva

Published: White Memory, 2016
Sold
Throughout history, Subarctic cultures from Alaska to Siberia have been known to use various types of knives
Eskimo women used knives to cut up fish and animals for the reparation of food. They also used knives to prepare hides and extract sinew, which were used for sewing clothing and other purposes.
These knives were generally simple in shape, the handle was made of wood, bone or antler and the blade was either made of slate or, more rarely, nephrite (jade).
Men also used snow knives to prepare shelters (especially igloos). These knives had smooth edges and simple shapes, sometimes with carved handles but usually without any elaborate decoration.
Finally, among contemporary cultural groups in the Arctic, notably the Yup'ik, young girls used "story knives" to trace pictograms in the muddy ground referring to stories or myths.
On our knife, the incised ornamentation of the handle includes lines and patterns which are characteristic of Punuk style (circles/eyes, triangles, parallel lines and curves). The Punuk era, beginning around 800-900 AD tends to favor simple surface decoration with geometric designs. For a more detailed discussion of the Punuk style, see Gifts from the Ancestors, Ancient Ivories of Bering Sea, Fitzhugh W., Princeton University Art Museum, 2009 (pp. 32 ff.).

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