Wonderful Things

"Can you see anything?" Henry Carter was asked in 1923 as he peered into King Tutankhamun’s tomb. “Yes,” he replied, “wonderful things.” This column explores other wonderful things—intriguing artifacts or technologies that give insight into coastal cultures.

The Hunter’s Designer Shades
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Yup’ik hunters wore visors decorated with beautiful charms and designs.

The Secret Language of Salmon Skin Coats
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From keeping one dry to securing a life partner, these ancient garments served many purposes.

The Ugly Mermaid
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Long before Mary Shelley dreamed up Frankenstein, Japanese fishermen were cobbling together the ugliest mermaid monsters you’ll ever see.

Two Sides of One Mask
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A painted wooden clam mask celebrates the home and history of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

Little Boats Made of Driftwood and Sealskin
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Building small-scale replicas may have been a way for Aleutian boatbuilders to pass on skills. It also preserved history in miniature.

Art and Accounting in the Age of Whaling
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Hand-carved stamps helped whalers keep track of their catches and assess the success of their voyages.

The Little Man Who Soared
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On Haida Gwaii, indigenous artists carved portraits of the strange newcomers who landed on their shores.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Mask, It’s Puffin Man!
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The past and future are in full flower on Kodiak Island as an indigenous culture reclaims its artistic roots.

The Man Who Became the Rainbow
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A rare mask represents a human-spirit transformation in the origin story of the Yagán people of Patagonia.

The Feather Cloak of Captain Cook
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When Captain Cook and his crew landed on Hawaii to restock their provisions, the island’s high chief gave the cloak off his back to the British...

Fish Helmets Don’t Save Lives
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Kiribati’s porcupinefish helmets were more about drama than defense. 

A Parka and a Fashionista
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Designers for the Paris runways have nothing on the seamstresses of the Bering Sea’s St. Lawrence Island.

May the Crosh Be With You
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Forget that lucky rabbit’s foot; try a fish bone instead.

Traversing the Seas
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For centuries, sailors used this low-tech tool to navigate the world’s oceans.

A Little Game of Thrones
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There are no dragons, but fierce kings and anxious queens are depicted in these rare medieval chess pieces uncovered on the Isle of Lewis.

Bird-Bone Needles and Sinew Thread
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Artful kakpik (a needle case) carved from ivory or bone carried sewing tools essential for Arctic survival.

The Captain and the Punch Bowl
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Those were the days—when booze and pottery cemented social relationships.

Navigating a Sticky Situation
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People from the Marshall Islands created beautiful, unconventional charts to navigate across the sea.

The Girl with the Shimmering Eyes
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A mysterious 19th-century Haida carver breaks artistic ground and creates a rare, and stunning, portrait.

True Blue
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Far from its origins, a new pigment appeared on an Alaskan island and made an artistic splash.