The early Paleo-Eskimos inhabited St. Lawrence Island near the Bering Strait more than 2000 years ago. An early cultural phase, termed Okvik or Early Bering Sea (OBSI) produced artifacts that date back to 200 BC, or beyond. These artifacts includes of beguiling toy-like figures, engraved fat scrapers, harpoon points, bag handles, etc. Many of these are engraved, but all of them were buried in middens, or house remains, that were organic rich, held in permafrost for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and came to acquire a deep patina mahogany brown to black in coloration. Many were also embedded in the frozen matrix long enough to become mineralized to the stony consistency that typifies true fossilization. Note that that usual “fossil walrus ivory” found in the western Arctic, is most often ivory that has suffered a fairly short period of time immersed in permafrost (a few hundreds of years at most). This is enough to cause amber and brown color changes in the ivory, but not enough time to produce the mineralization or stony character of true fossil material—which is much to hard to be carved with ordinary tools.
The small kayak here is a true fossil—dense, hard, and colored in the hues typical of Okvik-age artifacts. The sculpture—obviously a Kayak is only 5 ¾ inches long, 1 1/4” inches long at the cockpit, and only 5/8” inch deep. It is pointed at one end, and squared off at the other (perhaps by and old break). The Kayak is wonderfully shaped, having perfect proportions that extend even to some vertical camber that raise the bow and stern higher than the midpoint at the cockpit. The surface of the dark brown mineralized ivory has suffered some wavy corrosion in the surface. But, if you look closely at the smooth areas you can still see the scraping tool marks that were made by the carver. The kayak was most likely made by a Paleo-Eskimo as a toy. It is humbling to hold this piece and realize that this was lovingly carved, literally a thousand or more years ago, as a plaything for a child. It is a wonderful artifact of Arctic history. Unique!