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Ice age comes to Hamburg

dpadpa 7/11/2016 By Caroline Berdon

Children's coats made of fish bladders and some of the oldest figurines in history are on show at Hamburg exhibitions showing cultures that hail from the ice.

A woolly mammoth, complete with tusks, forms the largest exhibit at an ice age exhibition at two Hamburg museums that aims to depict life in the last ice age and more recently, in the frozen landscapes of the Arctic.

The smallest exhibit is a sewing needle made from a bone of an Arctic fox. It measures just a couple of centimetres.

These unique exhibits are from an ice age archaeological site on the western bank of the Don, one of Russia's major rivers.

Corpulent, naked women figurines carved from ivory, bone or stone, which measure just a few centimetres, are among the oldest artefacts of figurative art in human history, says curator Michael Merkel.

The mammoth, lion or wild horse were other popular motifs for the ice age artists.

Alongside Venus figures from St Petersburg's Kunstkamera, Russia's oldest museum, Hamburg's Archaeological Museum is also exhibiting items from the Hamburg area dating back 14,000 years, including weapons and tools made of stone, bone and antlers.

For the exhibition, Hamburg's Museum of Ethnology is focusing on how 19th-century people mastered life in the polar region.

"How does one live in this climate marked by the cold, the vast expanses and the fact that it's dark for half the year and light for the other half?" curator Carl Triesch says.

He points out that the indigenous peoples, including the Sami in Finland, the Nganasan in Russia and the Inuit in Canada, adapted well to these difficult conditions.

"They would be unable to live out their culture under different climatic conditions," Triesch says, noting that the consequences of global warming are particularly severe for Arctic cultures.

The exhibition is arranged around themes, such as keeping reindeer, hunting polar bears and fishing, rather than on ethnic population groups.

One of the exhibits is a parka dating back 100 years, sewn from seal intestines so that water cannot penetrate. The same is the case with a children's anorak made of fish swim bladders.

Clothes made of polar bear fur and reindeer skin are on show along with the figurines the hunters wore as lucky talismans - "out of respect for the animals the entire carcase was used," says Triesch.

The ethnology side of the exhibition also takes in shamanism. "Shamans mediated between people and the spirit world. They could communicate with spirits to resolve problems," curator Katharina Sueberkrueb.

Among the more spectacular artefacts is a Yupiit mask from southwestern Alaska, which shows a "helping spirit" riding on a beaver. "The masks were intended to symbolise the Shaman's visions," Sueberkrueb says.

The founder of Surrealism, Andre Breton, was so astonished at the mask that he exhibited it at a Surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1936. Auctioned off after the exhibition it ended up in the possession of the Museum of Ethnology.

The exhibition runs until May 2017.

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