Alaska Native Collections – Sharing Knowledge

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Armor shield

They have a special kind of uniform when they fight these wars. These uniforms are made out of shaved ugruk [bearded seal] skin. They are made by overlapping the pieces of skin…Only the strong man’s arrow goes through.

—Roger Silook, from “Seevookuk, Stories the Old People Told on St. Lawrence Island,” 1976

Chukchi, Koryak, Yupik and Iñupiaq warriors used several types of body armor. They had bone- and ivory-plated armor and vests; metal armor imported from southern Siberia or Japan; and hoop armor made of heavy hide. This shield from Kotzebue Sound was designed to cover a man’s back, and its wings protected his sides and arms. It is made of tough bearded seal hide, sewn over wooden slats. A protective medallion is embroidered on the back. A fighter could fire his bow, then crouch and turn to block incoming arrows with the shield.

Culture: Eastern Siberian
Region: Kotzebue Sound, probably St. Lawrence Island, Alaska
Object Category: War
Dimensions: Length 78.5cm
Accession Date: 1910
Source: U.S. Department of Interior (donor)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E260564