A.S. Pakhunov, D.A. Ksenofontov, E.S. Sukhorukova, K.A. Dneprovskiy. The use of red mineral pigments in the Old Bering Sea culture (based on materials from the Ekven burial site)

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Pakhunov Aleksandr Sergeevich. Institute of Archaeology RAS (Moscow, Russian Federation).

E-mail: science @ pakhunov.com

ORCID: 0000-0001-9604-2106


Ksenofontov Dmitrii Aleksandrovich. M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University (Moscow, Russian Federation).

E-mail: ksen53 @ gmail.com

ORCID: 0000-0002-2408-0776


Sukhorukova Elena Stanislavovna. State Museum of Oriental Art (Moscow, Russian Federation).

E-mail: esukhorukova2013 @ gmail.com

ORCID: 0000-0001-5742-1090


Dneprovskiy Kirill Aleksandrovich. State Museum of Oriental Art (Moscow, Russian Federation).

E-mail: dneprk @ gmail.com

ORCID: 0000-0002-0489-6698



Hunting for large marine mammals was the mainstay of life of the Old Bering Sea culture bearers — sedentary tribes of ancient Eskimos who lived in the 1st millennium AD along the coast of Chukotka and on the islands of the northern Bering Sea. One of the most common ornamental materials was walrus tusk, which was used to make a variety of objects, including richly decorated ones. The artistic design of ancient Eskimo products included a kind of surface plastic decoration and ornamental engraving, the grooves filled with black and red paints. Numerous pieces of minerals of different colours (untreated and with traces of abrasion) which were used to produce powdery pigment were found in the ancient Beringomor burials. This study has described and analysed the composition of samples of red pigments from four burials of the Ekven burial site excavated by the Chukotka archaeological expedition of the State Museum of Oriental Art. It was shown that their composition varies from saturated red with a lustre (hematite) to yellow-brown (goethite with admixtures). The pigments were not heat-treated to change colour but used as found in nature. In order to obtain a powdery pigment, the technique of abrasive friction of minerals against hard surfaces was mainly used, resulting in the formation of facets with sharp edges. Traces of friction against a soft substrate resulting in a polished surface and overall smoothing of the sample edges were also detected. A combination of techniques was also applied. While not all the minerals from the burials have extensive traces of usage probably due to their inappropriate mechanical properties (e.g. too low or high hardness) and/or colour, some pieces of rock are completely faceted.


Key words: pigments, technology, Old Bering Sea culture, analytical methods.


DOI: 10.31250/2658-3828-2020-1-109-120 



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