La prochaine conférence de la Société des Américanistes aura lieu le vendredi 22 novembre 2019, à 18h, dans la salle de cinéma du musée du quai Branly
Owen K. Mason (INSTAAR - University of Colorado, Boulder)
Did trade from East Asia lead to Whaling, Warfare and Inequality in the Bering Strait region?
Surplus is often considered the precondition to social complexity. Yet, no larger caloric surplus exists beyond that offered by the bowhead whale. Though its development remains mysterious, whaling is inherently a dangerous act, dependent on a combination of technology, skill and luck. A successful crew certainly gained status and the ability to attract followers and allies. The development of whaling presupposes a series of social and technological developments; primarily in boats and spears, but in social capital as well. In Bering Strait, interaction with East Asia may have fostered whaling. Compelling evidence of the ability to secure whales appears around 2000 years ago along the shores of Siberia and Alaska—thought for a century to arise mysteriously without predecessors. However, recent data indicate walrus-taking occurred 5000 years ago in southern Alaska and whaling may be over 3000 years old in Chukotka. Long-noticed is the co-occurrence of fabulous art traditions—Old Bering Sea and Punuk—engraved with iron tools on walrus ivory. Walrus hunting was also critical: its skin serving as the membrane for the watercraft and as trade offerings for caribou fur. Grave goods confirm the deep roots of inequality as status display and in shamanism, reflecting the role of trade and feasting in producing the Old Bering Sea cosmic vision. A second expansion of whaling occurs among Punuk and Birnirk peoples ca. AD 1150-1200 co-occurring with a trade in metals and by innovations in nautical and propulsion technology.