An Experimental Approach to Soaking Caribou Antler

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area

Tags: caribou, traditional knowledge, antlers

Principal Investigator: Blair, Willa (1)
Licence Number: 17086
Organization: Binghamton University
Licensed Year(s): 2022
Issued: Jul 12, 2022
Project Team: Mia Cucci, Quinn Robinson, Emilee Smith

Objective(s): To open up the possibility that soaking antlers in water may have been used to quicken or make the tool-making process easier.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.5301.

The research team seek not to prove that soaking antlers in water was a definite part of the tool-making process, but rather to open up the possibility that it may have been used to quicken or make the process easier.

The antlers are obtained from Reindeer Tours, from Palmer, Alaska. They have been shed from the Caribou. After obtaining the antlers, the next step of the experiment is to use a saw to break them into four sets of three antler pieces, 12 pieces total. These groups represent time soaked: a control, 1.5 weeks, three weeks, and five weeks. The team then document each antler’s weight, diameter, circumference, and length. The water is kept at 10°C and the salinity levels are kept at 3-5 ppt, both in accordance with a detailed Canadian technical report of the region. After the pre-set time is complete, the antlers are removed from the water. To observe how much water potentially permeated the antlers, the aforementioned factors are once again measured. Although the Gwich’in people used flint tools, the tools themselves were metal carving tools as this study is simply an exploration into the possible alteration of the antler composition, so the tools themselves need not be kept authentic. On testing day, one experimenter labels each antler group with a different symbol so that the carvers would not know which time-group they were working on until after the fact, making it a blind experiment. Each experimenter carves one antler from each of the groupings and privately documents their observations. This helps to avoid any influence from the other experimenters. To cut into the material, the experimenters use the carving tools to attempt to shave off long, thin pieces; by taking off thin layers they could better observe when the antler ceased to feel wet and therefore could get a sense of how far the water permeated. They carve for ten minute intervals. Once completed, they compared their results with each other to study correlations or differences. A microscope will also be used to study the spongiosa (the spongy center of the antler). All of these factors will then be analyzed in a holistic manner.

The research team reached out to the Gwich’in Tribal Council who directed the team to get the license. The team was also informed that, if a research agreement is completed, the team will be able to reach out to a number of Gwich’in carvers. The hope is to talk to them about their expansive knowledge of the process; the team will not disregard their expertise nor does the team want to ignore the tradition of carving that continues today. This communication will take place around the carving stage of the process, but because the team do not want to do anything without the consent of the tribe the team will also make sure to receive their approval on the rest of the process.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 11, 2022 to August 25, 2022