From Alaska to Aunty

The BBC have recently uploaded a fascinating episode of the popular material culture series Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? filmed at Manchester Museum in 1954.

A panel of experts, including the unmistakable archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890 – 1976), are shown debating the function and origin of seemingly unfamiliar objects. Pooling their collective intellect they attempt to identify a selection of objects from Manchester Museum’s collection. First to be scrutinised is a Yup’ik finger mask from Alaska in the Living Cultures collection, which is described as resembling a 1950s microphone. The round face within a surrounding circle which prompts this comparison is a device used by the Yup’ik to represent the cosmos.


Yup’ik finger mask. Wood. Alaska, USA. Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

Yup’ik women use these masks, which can represent a variety of spirits or mythical creatures, during dances to further articulate the all important hand movements. The following film shows just how important hand movements are in traditional Yup’ik dance.


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