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Entries from March 2018

Collections Highlight E43311: Gut Skin

By Haley Bryant

Gut skin is a common material found in circumpolar collections and was used commonly for clothing items. Most gut skin items, like this kapitaq or parka, are made from seal intestine that has been processed and stitched together with sinew thread to form a water-tight seal. Gut skin parkas do a very good job of repelling moisture, making excellent raincoats. This particular sample of gut skin may have been rolled and stored to be turned into a parka in the future, or packed in a backpack to be used as a tarp. Gut skin is very light and thin, so while a gut skin item was still being used its owner had to take care to maintain it and never let it dry out and tear.

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Collections Highlight E201158: Seal Retriever

By Haley Bryant

Seal hunting has historically been a large part of the economy in Arctic and Subarctic communities. As you may imagine, hunting seals comes with all sorts of challenges! Communities throughout the Arctic have had to innovate some ingenious methods of pursuing, killing, transporting, and processing seals such as harpoons with long throwing lines, seal floats, seal drags, and this floating Seal Retriever (or qayux^). This retriever would have been used to snag and retrieve the body of a seal that had been shot before it could sink and be lost. This Seal Retriever was collected by Miner Bruce in Alaska, and accessioned by the museum in 1899.

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Collections Highlight E45157: Doll


By Haley Bryant

The attire this carved doll is wearing is pretty different from many of the dolls, such as this one, in our collections which are often wearing parkas and robes very similar to typical full sized garments. According to Yup’ik elders, doll outfits tend to mimic the styles of dress of the village their makers live or lived in and the decorations on the outfit mimic family-specific decoration styles. This doll, on the other hand, is meant to be an effigy of a “Rev. Marine Sailor” according to the catalog information. The interesting design for the hat and the colorful cloth, likely a trade good, signal that this doll is different! While we don’t have information about who made the doll, or why, we know that it was collected near Sledge Island in Alaska and donated to the museum by Edward Nelson in 1880.

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Collections Highlight E46140: Ice Scoop

By Haley Bryant

The basket-like head of this mitiŋŋiun, or “Ice Scoop”, would have likely been fastened to a long wooden handle and served as an important fishing tool. After trekking out onto the ice, fishermen carve holes in order to fish through the ice. This ice scoop would be used to clear ice chunks from the newly-formed hole! According to information gathered by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in collaboration with Inupiaq community members, “When ice-fishing with a traditional stick reel and hook, the fisher moves the line up and down with one hand and holds an ice scoop in the other to clear the hole. When a fish is caught, the scoop handle and stick reel are used together to wind up the fishing line, which avoids having to touch the freezing wet line.” Inupiaq elder Marie Saclamana remembers her grandmother going out to fish with her ice scoop, ice pick, and a backpack. This particular ice scoop, collected near Port Clarence, Alaska, was donated by William H. Dall and Tarleton H. Bean and accessioned by the museum in 1880.

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Collections Highlight E44064: Muskrat Tails & Sinew Thread

By Tiffany Priest

To the untrained eye, this object may at first look like it is made from part of a plant. In fact, I thought it looked similar to raw vanilla beans. However, it is made of muskrat tails and sinew! The catalog indicates that muskrat tails and sinew thread were used for making small nets. A muskrat is a semi-aquatic mammal that is often hunted by humans for their meat, fur, and as a recreation activity. The animal could be roasted, boiled, smoked, or dried for consumption and the tails could be eaten as a snack! Muskrats are an important source of meat for many cultural groups, but their fur and skin are also used to create a variety of tools and clothing.

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