This ovate medallion or brooch was recovered from a midden on St. Lawrence Island, in the Bering Strait. It is 2 1/8” inches long, by 1 1/2” wide, with only slight irregularities in the smoothness of its outline. The top is slight domed (about 1/4”) and the underside is slightly dished out. The thickness at the edge is about 1/16”. The back of the item has abundant chisel or scraper marks. The top is more smoothly finished, except where it is adorned with decorative engraving or perforations near the edge. The engraving includes three more or less concentric ovals that are space ¼ and 3/16” apart. The diameter of the inner oval is about 1/2”. The two outer ovals are connected by engraved cross ties at about 1/8” intervals. Within the inner two ovals are periodic short “dashes”, vertically oriented, with a pair of deeper “dashes” at the center of the inner oval. Just inside the periphery are a series of equally-spaced perforations that are gouged, not drilled, and may have served to have been used to sew, or otherwise attach the brooch to an item of clothing, or perhaps, a hat. All of the engraved lines and dashes are filled with a reddish clay-like material that is found on many archaic examples of Eskimo artistry that is known as “red ochre.”
The walrus ivory has acquired a warm brownish patina that is often seen in materials recovered from old middens, and is though to represent staining of the ivory by organic materials in the subtrate. This is enhanced by long immersion in the material, while being more or less permanently embedded in permafrost.
The ethnological and archeaological histories of peoples living in the Bering Strait regions points to a sequence of habitation that is expressed by sequential changes in their tool making, and decorating of those tools that date back, at least, to a few hundred years BC. By the beginning of the Christian Era, the sculptural and decoration involved more highly ornate and striking engraving. These phases are sometimes known as “Old Bering Sea” , and show an increase in complexity through at least three stages ((OBS 1, 2, & 3). The final stage was reached sometime around 400 – 600 AD, and in time was replaced by a new, and somewhat less ornate style beginning about 500 AD and continuing for almost another thousand years, ending by about 1500AD. This cultural phase (known as “Punuk”) is typified by the engraving style found on this brooch. The fact that the perforations are gouged, rather than drilled, likely dates it to the early segment of the Punuk culture, since bow drills were not found until later in that sequence.
As an example of early (PaleoEskimo) artisanry this object ranks high, indeed. It is a treasure of museum caliber. Fine.