Archaeology Magazine

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Tlingit War Helmet Discovered

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tlingit-War-HelmetSPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS—While selecting objects from the Springfield Science Museum's collection for a display on Northwest Coast cultures, anthropology curator and archaeologist Ellen Savulis came across a large, ornate object described in the catalogue only as an “Aleutian hat.” But the piece, carved from a large piece of wood and accepted into the collection sometime after 1899, looked nothing like Aleutian hats, which were made from thin pieces of driftwood. Suspecting the artifact was instead a helmet of some kind, Savulis contacted Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, for help. After seeing photographs of the piece, Henrikson had no doubt that it was a war helmet made by the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska. Only 95 of these war helmets, which are decorated with clan emblems, are known to exist today. Its carving style dates the artifact to before the mid-19th century, when the appearance of firearms among the Tlingit relegated helmets to ritual use.