39th Annual Meeting – Objects Morning Session, June 3, ” The Alaska Fur ID Project ” by Ellen Carrlee and Lauren Horelick

For the final talk in the Friday OSG morning session, Ellen Carrlee, conservator at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, presented on the Alaska fur ID project, an online resource created by herself and conservation fellow Lauren Horelick (and partially funded by the FAIC Carolyn Rose Take a Chance grant) to aid in the identification of fur on both historic and Alaskan Native objects. This easily accessible fur ID website, posted in blog format (www.a­laskafurid.wordpress.com), presents a wealth of diagnostic information on nearly 50 Alaskan animal species including hoofed animals, rodents, hares, canines, felines, bears, weasels, and marine mammals. Ellen and Lauren gathered information from the fur ID literature and combined it with their own observations from visual and microscopic examination of a wide range of animal hairs. A variety of hair types from each animal were examined and documented as they can range greatly in characteristics. Guard hairs and underfur, for example, are quite different from each other, as are the hairs from different parts of the animal (e.g. from belly as opposed to legs).  On the other hand, they found that the sex, age, and season in which the fur was gathered had little impact on the micro-diagnostic features of the individual hairs. All of this information is available not only in text form in each entry on the website, but also in annotated photomicrographs and photographs of the animals in JPEG format that can easily be saved and used in your own reports and documentation. In addition, each entry includes the scientific name of the animal, the micro qualities of the hairs (shape, medulla size, medullary index, scale pattern, cross-section shape), macro qualities (color, banding, etc.), cultural uses, and information on how to differentiate the hair from similar animals (“troubleshooting”). Helpful tips for preparing slides included using Duco cement for scale casts and a cross-sectioning technique using artificial cork with a sewing machine needle.

While the Alaska Fur ID project was inspired by the Czech Furskin website (http://www.furskin.cz/), which presents diagnostic information on skin and fur together with SEM images, the Alaska Fur ID website is specifically tailored to aid those using primarily transmitted or polarized light microscopy to identify the sources of individual animal hairs. As someone who works with a collection that includes Alaskan fur objects, I believe this website will be extremely useful, and I hope that it will be a model for others interested in expanding the online resources for fur identification worldwide.

One thought on “39th Annual Meeting – Objects Morning Session, June 3, ” The Alaska Fur ID Project ” by Ellen Carrlee and Lauren Horelick”

  1. I think that this project is an outstanding example of what the FAIC Take A Chance grant is able to promote for our field. Congratulations to Ellen and Lauren for creating a terrific resource that we can share in.

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