The smell of old seal oil in the afternoon…

… can be a bit overpowering.  I chose one of the bags of frozen samples from Utiqiaġvik to thaw out for the lab tour after the Saturday Schoolyard talk.

The talk went well, with a very large turn out.  Afterwards, a fair number of them came by the lab for a tour.  And then I opened the bag.  It was from Mound 8, and was described as containing fish bones and perhaps artifacts embedded in seal oil.

Provenience tag from the bag.

Provenience tag from the bag.

It was rather smelly to say the least.  The oil made up most of the matrix, with a consistency like cold greasy peanut butter.  Not only that, the most obvious contents were wood chips and hair, which weren’t too exciting.  Most folks didn’t feel like hanging around too long.  Since it was my birthday & there was a party at my house, I didn’t finish the bag.

Today I got back to work on it for an hour or so.  It still smelled, I guess, but I think the smell of old seal oil is sort of nice.  It’s the smell of archaeological sites, and they are places I like to be.  The couple of extra days had let the oil warm up and it was a little easier to work with.

Contents of the bag.

Contents of the bag.

I found a number of interesting things, including a fish vertebra, some fish scales, a number of hairs, some bone fragments, and of course, wood chips.  When I was labeling the bags, I realized it had been excavated by none other than Kevin Smith, now at the Haffenreffer, exactly 32 years and 3 months ago.

Fish vertebra

Fish vertebra

IMG_0852

Grass?

IMG_0853

Bone fragments

Tomorrow I’ll do some more.

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One response to “The smell of old seal oil in the afternoon…

  1. What a fun surprise to read this this morning! The phrase “the smell of old seal oil” at the start had me nostalgic, and brought back a sense of that smell, before I read any further. Then I was surprised to realize you were talking about a sample from Utiqiagvik rather than Walakpa…and Md 8. And then I saw the label and was whisked back to Barrow, my first summer in the north, and a day five days after my 23rd birthday when I must have been clearning out deposits near the qataq of that amazing house. Thanks for the memories, Anne!

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