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Salmon at Nunalleq – best preserved ever!

August 7, 2015

Today I had the privilege of excavating a context under the walkway removed yesterday. In my unit were all sorts of animal bones – caribou antler and cut long bones, dog, duck, small seabird, muskrat, and lots of salmon.  Even though their cranial, pectoral, and pelvic bones often don’t survive in archaeological contexts, Nunalleq’s spectacular preservation carries over into salmon bones too. In this photo are bones I pulled during excavation or while screening.  Some of the large vertebral centra probably come from king salmon….Salmon Bones -  from all parts of the body - from Square 90Salmon Bones – from all parts of the body – from Square 90

To the right, are closer views of salmon vertebral centra that have been reduced into disks.

IMG_0163 IMG_0184

 To the left, is an earring of fossil ivory that I found yesteday; it has three concentric rings incised into its face. I cannot help but think that the salmon vertebrae, with their concentric rings, are part of the inspiration for this style of earring. Perhaps the prototypes for this type of earring were salmon vertebrae…. Yes, I admit to speculating….

There are at least three individual salmon represented in the first photo. I know, because I sorted the elements into lefts and rights… for basipterygia, there are three sets!



Because so many different elements are represented, including fin rays and ribs, it appears that people were storing whole salmon. Perhaps they were fermenting fish? Plenty of grass was found above and below the salmon bones… was this used to aerate the fish during the fermentation process? In his 2007 book, Frank Andrew, Sr., writes:

“They placed loose grass at the base of the hole as matting as well as moss….The hole should not be dug past fertile soil.  If the hole is dug in fertile land it will be good for fermenting fish….I always put fish underground to ferment.” (p. 153)

Madonna L. Moss, August 6, 2015

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