Russia, America, and the Lands of the Bering Strait

January 21, 2011

Sometimes a Government publication is a window into a program that you never dreamed existed. Before opening my copy of Early Art of the Northern Far East: the Stone Age, I had never heard of the National Park Service’s Shared Beringian Heritage Program. It’s not a new program, either: according to the program’s Web site, it was “created in 1991, [and] resulted from a commitment by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev to expand United States and Soviet cooperation in the field of environmental protection and the study of global change.”

Now perhaps some of you are thinking, “Hold on there, Government Book Talk, what the heck is Beringia?” Thanks to that same Web site, I can state with confidence that “Beringia is defined as the land and maritime area bounded on the west by the Lena River in Russia; on the east by the Mackenzie River in Canada’s British Columbia; on the north by 72 degrees north latitude in the Chukchi Sea; and on the south by the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula.” This joint Russo-American geographic and cultural unit possesses unique natural resources and is the home of Native peoples with much in common. The program conducts research on the prehistoric Bering land bridge as well as the natural and human history of its animal and human inhabitants, informs the public about these discoveries, and translates Russian-language publications about the region.

Early Art of the Northern Far East is one of those translated works. I must admit that it’s really for specialists only – very much in the mode of such venerable series as Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology – but it is intriguing to see the variety of animal and celestial images that were sculpted or incised by Beringia’s earliest peoples. If you have a serious interest in cultural anthropology or prehistoric art, this is a valuable contribution to the study of  both. You can browse through it here, get your own copy here, or find it in a library.


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