The Influence of Butterflies and Bees on Old Bering Sea Visual Art


  • Alysha Strongman



Old Bering Sea; art history; Arctic; insects; ivories; Inuit graphics; relational ecology; zooarchaeology


Insects are a common sight across much of the circumpolar region during the summer season and have a multi-faceted cultural significance to Indigenous peoples across North America’s Arctic and the Bering Strait region. Historians and ethnologists in the 19th and 20th centuries documented contemporary Indigenous interactions and beliefs involving insects, notably butterflies, moths, and bees. However, these investigations inferred comparatively little about the understanding among ancient Arctic peoples and the influence of insects in their lives. By examining a select group of Old Bering Sea (OBS) ivory artifacts, I identify insect-related designs on OBS hunting implements and investigate the correlation between these designs and the potential implications of their inclusion on these objects. I attempt to challenge the vertebrate bias present in the study of Arctic prehistory and relational ecology and suggest that insects have a deeper cultural influence than has been previously acknowledged.