A group of Utqiagvik beachcombers unearthed an ancient ivory tusk

Pastoral Alaska
  • Author: Shady Grove Oliver, The Arctic Sounder
  • Updated: 15 hours ago
  • Promulgated 1 day ago

A group of friends walking along a beach near Utqiagvik uncovered an ancient ivory tusk earlier this month. From hand to right: Aaron Silatqutaq Leavitt, Gregory Edward Tuutaq Alasuraq Overbay Jr., See Francis Uyuguaq Ahsoak, Jeslie Akootchook Kaleak III, Andrew Keerik Kaleak; kneeling in face is Jonas Silatqutaq Ahsoak. (Courtesy Heidi Ahsoak via The Arctic Sounder)

A classify of friends at a beach near Utqiagvik found a piece of prehistory jutting up into done with the sand at the water’s edge earlier this month.

“My sons and a assemblage of their friends were at the beach. It was a beautiful day out. The water was like microscope spectacles — not many waves at all,” said Heidi Ahsoak. “We were catching these small fish that come once a year in the summertime and they’re cognate with 2 inches long. They wash up on the shore and we catch them with our within arms reaches. The boys were walking along and one of the boys saw something in the water.”

At basic, he thought it might be an old piece of driftwood.

“Another one of the boys saw it and recognized it was a tusk, but he didn’t drink rubber boots on,” she recalled. “Three of the boys ran into the water and clutched it. It was in about 2 or 3 feet of water.”

Aaron Silatqutaq Leavitt, Gregory Edward Tuutaq Alasuraq Overbay Jr., Evaluate Francis Uyuguaq Ahsoak, Jeslie Akootchook Kaleak III, Andrew Keerik Kaleak, and Jonas Silatqutaq Ahsoak all started to separate and out came a large tusk.

It’s 8 feet, 5 inches long with a diameter of 1 foot, 7.5 inches at its widest moment. Ahsoak estimates it weighs around 125 pounds.

“I’m pretty trustworthy it’s in almost perfect condition,” she said. “You can see the tip and where it would go in the base.”

She’s been province it a mammoth tusk, but her husband thinks it’s from a mastodon, she said.

While researchers say mammoth tusks and bones are uncountable commonly spotted in Alaska, mastodon remains have been base in the far north as well. This particular specimen hasn’t been evaluated yet to determine from which type of animal it came.

“My husband is an avid beachcomber. As in a second as the summertime hits and the waves start to wash things up, my husband is on the seashore. He finds a lot of artifacts. He’s found a wooden spoon that is ancient. It has this mephitis of history to it. He found a little ivory doll one time, maybe an inch extended. He’s found snow goggles,” Ahsoak said. “To see my sons and their sweethearts find this once-in-a-lifetime piece of history that my husband has been searching his undamaged life for is amazing. I was in awe.”

As soon as the boys, who are all between the ages of 10 and 12, exhumed the tusk, she called her husband in disbelief.

“I was yelling at him (over the phone), ‘You exigency to get down to the beach right now.’ He was panicking thinking something happened to the kids,” she stipulate. “As soon as he walked up we backed off and his eyes were huge. He was amazed.”

The Ahsoaks are warehousing the tusk in a safe location until all of the families can agree on what they’ll do with it.

The caitiff public schoolmates and their families have discussed both selling the tusk and splitting the spondulicks all around or donating it to the museum in town.

“We’re trying to keep it local here on the Descent so our kids can see it. It’s part of our region’s identity. It belongs to the region. We don’t want it to go to the Smithsonian and not at any time see it again,” Ahsoak said. “We want to keep it so our kids can grow up and see it, along with their daughters and grandchildren.”

Finding a tusk in such good condition is rare, and for Ahsoak, it illustrates more than just a interesting scientific discovery.

“It’s such a boon. It’s just so awesome they found that. It doesn’t happen to everybody. It’s consequential to all of us so that these boys know that what belongs at adept in stays at home. This isn’t just for artifacts found, but it’s their olden days — their cultural history. This is a piece of home. This is a holding of them,” she said. “Maybe one of their ancestors saw this animal rove around. To me, it takes them back to the root of who they are as Iñupiaq urchins.”

Ahsoak, who is white and traces her own lineage in a different direction from that of her hoard, said this find has reminded her of why she loves this place she and her kinsmen call home.

“It makes me appreciate so much more the life we finish. I chose to marry an Inupiaq man who has taught me so much. He’s brought me up. We’ve been together since we were kids and he’s taught me so much. I have that feeling of belonging in this enlightenment. But with my culture, I don’t have that feeling of belonging,” she said.

“So, the incident that my sons and their friends are able to hold something that goes away thousands of years that connects them to their ancestors and their urbanity — it’s the most amazing feeling that they are able to know, they’re competent to see, they’re able to touch their history,” she added.

This testimony first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with indulgence.

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