Sealaska Heritage Institute Blog

Stone artifact recently donated to the Sealaska Heritage Institute Special Collections. Source: SHI.

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is a regional Native nonprofit organization founded for the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. SHI was established in 1981 by Sealaska Corp., a for-profit company formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). SHI, formerly Sealaska Heritage Foundation, administers Sealaska Corp.’s cultural and educational programs.

I know this because I got linked the other day by SHI’s Special Collections Research Center Blog, which I hadn’t seen before.  While not updated as frequently as this corner of the internavel is, it contains a lot of great posts going back to 2007 – you can see links to their archives down on the lower right hand side of their front page.

The most recent post concerns the artifact shown above.  It looks to my eye like a, possibly unfinished, hand maul. They seem a little uncertain about the function though, so someone should go over to their site and give some opinions – they take comments.  People with dirty minds are excluded from this request.

Tlingit carved implements from "Life in Alaska" by Mrs. E. S. Willard (1884). Source: SHI.

Another section of note is the new and upcoming books along the upper right sidebar of their front page – some of these, like the how-to carve a Tlingit helmet (and related books), and Thornton’s new book on SE Alaska placenames, look really worth having.

A lot of their posts are about historic documents and photos which come into their possession.  Some of these, such the Richard Wood photo collection, they put onto picasa, which is nice because it is very fast to load.  A few, such as the picture below (more information on, and a large version of which, is available if you click through) document donations to SHI of archaeological and ethnographic specimens.  All in all, it’s an interesting blog and a good way to keep an eye on events to the North of us.

Four carved stone artifacts donated to the SHI.

12 responses to “Sealaska Heritage Institute Blog

  1. I noticed that no one had commented which I took to mean, as per the post text, that everyone has a dirty mind.

    But to put any dangling doubts to bed, I ran into Jinky tonight and she assured me that this artifact was, indeed, phallic.

    Extremely phallic.

    So now we know.


  2. Really? is that what it looks like to you, Q?


  3. What’s all the fuss about? It’s just a mushroom, isn’t it?


  4. I see the SHI blog has posted another view of the artifact – unfortunately in my view it doesn’t really clarify function – one at 90 degrees to this one would be ideal. I’ll still go with hand-maul preform I think but that’s tentative.

    I know I’ve seen ones with similar tops before (e.g.: ) but don’t recall such an elongate one with no real flare at the bottom end.


  5. qmackie and others;

    I just posted a new view and some video footage showing the item being rotated. This should provide some more clear views to examine it. I too lean towards a hand maul (so excuse the video footage showing it being used as a wedge), but we are very open to hearing new ideas and opinions on its use. All our materials are open for study, and we really do want scholarly opinions and research done on our holdings.

    As for the images provided via the link on Native Access, our piece seems to be quite different in shape (though we do have a different piece similar to that), but I can very easily see it being used as a hand maul. And if you are interested, I have begun posting images of our cultural objects in our Picasa album, which can be viewed As a disclaimer, this isn’t all of our materials, but just some, and I’ll be adding more over time since this is a new undertaking. For interest, in the first two web albums there are some stone items we have. The Haffner Collection was found in the Juneau area, while the others in the Bowlsby Collection come from all over Alaska, though our hand maul shown likely came from the Juneau area also. Please let me know if you have any additional questions, comments, or feedback. Thanks.


  6. Hi Zach,

    Hey, this is great. I suspect commenter “Al” over there came from here but, it’d be really great if some more readers of this blog, especially North Coasties, could go take a look. For simplicity then, Zach’s original post, now with more pictures, is here:

    And the short video clip he refers to is here:

    The poll end really does look wedge-shaped in cross-section and certainly it could be a multi-functional hammer-wedge/splitter tool. The nipple-top ones from the Gulf often seem to be bashed up at both ends so the idea of a double-ended tool is reasonable.


  7. I am having a lot of trouble posting a comment on Zach’s blog. It is a unfortunately non-friendly tool and I am not sure if my comment has posted there. So I will post it here and if it did not upload over then, then maybe Zach can post a link back to this place.

    The discussion about this object over on the Northwest Coast Archaeology blog and your comments there have led me back to your video and other views of this object.

    Thank you so much for posting more views, or making it clear where to find them. Now that I see all sides including a better view of the slightly flared “base” as well as the wedge-shaped “top” I would be inclined to agree with other comments on that blog that this could be a multipurpose wood working tool. I would not be surprised if it served variously as a maul and some kind of splitting tool.

    However, I think there is a resonable chance it might also be a weapon – some form of club.

    For instance look at the highly decorated Halgwiget Canyon clubs from Gitksan territory up the Skeena River. They too can have a phallic shape and narrowing or wedge shaped end and clear hand grip area. I think they are about the same size too.

    This link shows a couple of them:

    I am sure there are others from the big cache of these on the web somewhere, but finding them is not as quick as I thought it might be. I know there is a publication somewhere that shows pictures of quite a few of them, but don’t recall where. Maybe someone else will know and post more about them here.


  8. Weird about the posting over there. If you were including a hyperlink, it might have been rejecting it. Comment SPAM almost killed comments on blogs, and now there is a lot of SPAM flypaper that can catch innocent comments too, and one thing it looks for is URLs. (Here, the limit is currently 2 URLs or else it gets held up for moderation. Overall the SPAM trap has nailed something like 5000 comments, some of them genuine no doubt!).

    Anyway, about the club thing, yeah it has that sort of head-cleaver-in-two-er look. But it is kind of a crude specimen of the genre. I just browsed 600 clubs at the Peabody and didn’t see anything this rough. But with some work, you could imagine it being something like:

    Or even more work and like this:

    But all in all I lean to utilitarian woodworking tool of some kind. The rock type seems fairly coarse and probably wouldn’t clean up that nicely, for example.


  9. Perhaps you could assist me with a visual reference to ana basket that satisfies this description. —Their baskets were made in fashion like adeep boale, andthough the matter were rushes, or such other kind of stuffe, yet it so cunningly handled, that the most part of themwould hold water: about the brimmes they were hanged with pieces of the shells of pearles, and in some places with two or three links at a place, of the chaines forenamed: ( The chaines seemed of a bony substance, every link or part thereof being very little, thinne , most finely burnished, with a hole pierced through the middest. the number of links going to make one chaine , is in a manner infinite ) thereby signifying that they were vessels wholly dedicated to the only use of the gods they worshipped; and besides this, they were wrought upon with the matted downe of red feathers, distinguished into divers workes and formes”


  10. Hi Ralph – I’m sorry but that doesn’t ring a bell. Maybe one of the other blog readers can chip in with an idea or two?


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