Friday, April 9, 2010

Salty Guts and Books

Demo for the Historic Sites Association
On Wednesday evening, I did a flintknapping demonstration for the shop managers from the Heritage Shops across the island.  It was a good chance to talk to the front line staff selling my products and get feedback from them on what they like and don't like about the product.  I think the demo also helped them understand exactly how a flintknapped arrowhead is made and will help them explain the product to customers.

Today, I'm getting ready for the ground stone Family Fun Program at The Rooms, which takes place this Sunday from 2-4 pm.  Yesterday, I spent a bit of time knapping, received a couple buckets of rhyolite to use for some exclusive products for the Burnside Heritage Foundation, and hung the hooded seal guts out to dry in the sun.

Salt crystals forming on the bladder
On Wednesday, I noticed some white patches had started to form on the bladder and intestines and my first concern was mold, but they were just salt patches that formed from soaking them in salt water before inflating them.  I wiped them off with a damp rag.  While they were strung up I peeled off some of the dried connector tissue.  It was flaking off like paper at first, but in one spot it tore the intestine.

Tear in the drying intestine
The gut is more fragile than I had thought.  It looks a little like flypaper, but it seems about as strong as heavy tissue paper.  I thought it might be fragile because of something I read about drying the intestines in the warm summer sun, but I didn't expect them to tear quite this easily.  I'll have to keep that in mind for whatever project I wind up using them on.

 There's a passage in Arctic Clothing of North America - Alaska, Canada, Greenland that explains what's going on:

stretched gut
85 feet of seal intestine out to dry
Women prepared the intestine by washing and soaking it for several days, scraping the inner and outer surfaces, then stretching and inflating the intestine and letting it dry....  The drying process was accomplished in one of two ways.  In the northern regions, especially on St. Lawrence Island, the intestine was allowed to dry in cold, dark, windy weather for a considerable amount of time. This would cause the intestine to turn white. Intestine prepared in this manner was often referred to as 'bleached gut' or 'winter gut', and was very flexible and durable.  The intestine tubing was then cut lengthwise and opened out to form long narrow bands. These bands of intestine were then stitched together horizontally or vertically to create a parka....  In Southwestern Alaska... Preparation of the intestine was the same as in the northern region, but because of the less harsh weather with more daylight and warmer temperatures the intestine turned yellow in colour, and was thus referred to as 'summer gut'.  When dry the summer gut parka was less flexible and would tear easily.  But when wet, the gut would become soft and flexible and conform to the wearer's body.

Seal gut parka in Homer, Alaska
It sounds like I'm making 'summer gut'.  There are a few interesting images around the web of gut parka's.  Heather Pringle wrote about our work with the intestines last week and has a few nice images on her blog: What to Wear on an Ice-Age Sea Voyage.   And Travis Shinabarger has an amazing flickr photostream of seal gut parkas in museums in Alaska.

Disclosure:  I try to reference the books that I quote on this blog by linking to a site with more information on that particular book.  Often that ends up being a bookseller like Chapters or Amazon.  This week I enrolled in the Amazon Associates program, so in future blog posts, if you follow a link to a book that I reference and wind up purchasing it, then I get a percentage (6%, I think) of the purchase price for the referral.

When I'm writing a new post there is a little window next to the editor that lets me search Amazon and make easy links in the blog.  They can be normal looking text links like this to the Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 5: Arctic, individual photos, or text boxes with an image (below).  I'll probably use all three from time to time, so I just wanted readers to be aware of this change.

Netsilik Eskimo

Photo Credits:
1: Andrea MacDonald
2-5: Tim Rast
6: Travis Shinabarger
7,8: images from

1 comment:

  1. That Arctic Handbook is amazing. Every Anthropology/CRM firm in Alaska should have one. (And probably does.)


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