Figurine made of walrus tusk

At one point, the distance between the USA and Russia is only 4 kilometers. Not far from it lies the autonomous region of Chukotka

Somewhere on the peninsula, this palm-sized figure - a man? a woman? - was carved from a walrus tusk

Walruses gather by the thousands off the coast of Chukotka in August. Only few people can be found

For centuries, they have tenaciously resisted others attempting to claim to their land, the search for gold, ore and the Northeast Passage

Object data

Date of production: 19th century; collected by whaling captain Höck. Acquisition by the museum: purchase from Mrs. Dörries junior in June 1891


Chukotka, Russian Confederacy


Walrus tusk




L 10.4 cm, W 3.9 cm, D 2.6 cm

Inventory Id:

A 2749

Also called walrus ivory, this very durable material comes from the canine tooth of the animal. Walrus teeth grow back over their entire lifespan and can grow up to 50 cm long.
Between worlds

We know very little about this barely palm-sized person made of walrus tusk. Was it once a child's toy? Or a shamanic object? It is impossible to tell from the information in the museum archives. But such small figurines, representing people or animals, were often made for strangers who came to the country: Whalers, miners and later, tourists.

The Providenyia fjord on the south coast of Chukotka, 1910

Though these figures may seem endearing and cute, they tell of an interaction that was largely driven by the eagerness to exploit natural resources. At first, only fur-bearing animals and whales were hunted. But later the “hunt” moved on to the exploitation of natural resources, such as silver, mountain gold, tin and tungsten. As recently as during the Soviet times, this meant that the citizens of Chukotka were forced to give up their nomadic life, move to settlements and adapt to a new lifestyle. Today, the autonomous region belongs to the Russian Federation.

Providenyia Bay, 2003
This small figurine is one of hundreds of objects that a Danish whaling captain collected in Chukotka between the years of 1888 and 1890. Whether he received it as a gift, simply took it with him or paid for it is not known. He later sold the entire collection to Friedrich Dörries from Hamburg. Initially, Dörries was a gardener, though we would call him an insect nerd today. He travelled the world in search of rare species and was sometimes accompanied by his two brothers who worked as taxidermists. Later, he became a zookeeper at the Hagenbeck’s Zoo in Hamburg, where he built an insect house. His family sold what they called the "Chukchi Collection" to the museum in 1891 for 400 marks.
Chukotka is approximately twice the size of Germany. The few citizens, of whom there are about 50,000 left, live between the old world as hunters and fur traders and the new world marked by snowmobiles, modern consumption and digital connection.

Children ride their dogs to school, where they are taught on computers. Family fathers leave their villages made of containers and go to the ocean, where they hunt with harpoons. In summer, when swarms of mosquitos rise from the swampy earth, the temperature along the coast of the Bering Strait can reach up to 20°C. The coastline is located just north of the timber line, in the arctic desert and tundra. In winter, temperatures can fall below –36°C.

Between 2018 and 2019, the Russian photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva took a series of photographs in the north of the Chukotka Peninsula. It took her about a month to reach each Enurmino village — by plane, helicopter and boat.

The following pictures are part of the series.

Arbugaeva, herself born in Siberia, has long been fascinated by speculative images of the region, by "how vivid the Arctic is in many people's imaginations without ever having been there."
  • Photo 1: Larin, Ivan Emel'ianovich. Bukhta Provideniia: Russian Federation Kamchatka Krai, 1910. [Chukotka: Publisher Not Identified, to 1929] Photograph.
  • Photo 2: Gotlib, Artem, Contributor, Sorin, Aleksandr Vladimirovich, Born 1965, photographer. Bukhta Providenii︠a︡. Russian Federation Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Bukhta Provideniya, 2003. Photograph.
  • Photo 3: Gotlib, Artem, Contributor, Sorin, Aleksandr Vladimirovich, Born 1965, photographer. Russian Federation Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Bukhta Provideniya, 2003.
  • Photo series: © Evgenia Arbugaeva,
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