Working on a project right now to come up with a reference key for Alaskan furs. Got the idea when I began working on a child’s parka made of a baby caribou, with some trim that seems like mink and a sunburst ruff that appears to be wolf and wolverine. Also tried to pin down whether some fur tufts on a gut hat were wool or baby seal and it turns out they are probably cotton! Certain things about the pelt, such as length and density of guard hairs, plushness of the underfur, markings, etc are visible to the naked eye. But another realm of information is available by examining the hairs under the polarized light microscope. The appearance (or absence) of the medulla, the medullary index, the cuticular scale pattern and changes in these things along the length of the hair are quite interesting. I am not yet sure if I will be able to pinpoint certain similar animals, like caribou from moose or mink from marten, but it might be possible. And there is considerable information about what range each animal has and which cultures tend to utilize them. The beauty of this project is that the animals used are finite. I’m making a list of them, and have samples of about half so far. I’m not sure the right way to disseminate this information once it is gathered. I like the peer review process offered by publications like JAIC, but a website would really allow the most extensive use of images, which are really helpful. I have a wonderful Olympus BX51 PLM, but need to get a camera for it to start building up a library of images. I’ve mentioned the project to the 4 major US grad programs and might take on an intern this summer to push the project to the next level.
ID of Alaskan furs intro