Around the World in 80 Models: Alaska, pt. 2

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Hop on board as we continue our journey Around the World in 80 Models! We began our itinerary at Sketchfab headquarters in New York and are working our way through Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, South America, and North America. To catch up on past destinations, check out the rest of the Around the World in 80 Models series.

This week we rejoin Medeia Csoba DeHass and Alexandra Taitt in Anchorage, where they reveal the significance of this wood and stone scraper tool to the Yup’ik culture.

Anchorage, Alaska: Scraper

Our names are Medeia Csoba DeHass and Alexandra Taitt. Medeia is an assistant professor of anthropology and Alaska Native Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage, while Alex is a program specialist at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Alex created the scraper model for her MA project on the role of 3D heritage preservation of Indigenous museum collections. Alex’s work contributed to Medeia’s larger project on digital reparation of Arctic Indigenous collections to origin communities using digital 3D models.

For this project, we have been partnering with the Alaska Heritage Museum at Wells Fargo located in Anchorage, Alaska. The original, physical scraper is part of their collection, and the Director & Curator of the Museum, Tom Bennett, has been a fantastic partner in making collection pieces available to us for 3D modelling. We also partnered with the Social Science Program of Kawerak Inc, which is the regional non-profit Alaska Native Corporation for the Bering Strait region of Alaska. In Alaska, the great majority of Alaska Native communities have their own village corporation and also belong to a larger regional corporation that was created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. Julie Raymond Yakoubian, the Director of Kawerak Inc.’s Social Science Program has also been a dedicated partner in making our 3D models known in the communities of the Bering Strait region. To read more about this project, check out our Around the World in 80 Models post from October.

As with many collection pieces in museums, there is very little information available on how and where this scraper was made and used. It is a detailed piece made of a stone blade and a wood handle that are fastened together with twine. The elaborate details suggest this scraper was made for a particular person, and it fit her hand perfectly. It is a piece that was made with care and for frequent, comfortable use.

People use scrapers today, just like they use the semi-lunar knives, uluat. As Julie Raymond-Yakoubian points out in the video clip included in the annotation of the model, women are often emotionally attached to such working tools and take care of them when they inherit them. They are often displayed in homes and stories connected to them are shared either as part of teaching the younger generation about their proper use, or when reminiscing about the original owner of the piece. A scraper rich in details and made to fit a person’s hand is an extension of that person, and some aspect of that person is preserved in the tool through frequent use.

While this scraper is a beautiful example, it is also a working tool. Both of these facts are taken into consideration when the scraper is selected for projects such as 3D modeling or discussing Alaska Native heritage. Eva Malvich, the previous director and curator of the Yupiit Piciriyait Museum in Bethel, Alaska, also included the scraper in the items she chose to talk about when discussing Yup’ik material culture. The scraper’s function was to clean seal skin and other animal skin by removing the fat and meat from the inside of the skin. This is an important step in processing the skin, as without proper treatment, the skin will deteriorate quickly. As Ms. Malvich discussed, preparing the seal skin was a woman’s job, and curing it was a man’s job. This scraper evoked her childhood memories of watching her parents process seals and transform them to various items used in Yup’ik culture.

In many Alaska Native coastal cultures animals, such as seals, give themselves up to the hunters to feed humans. In exchange, humans must always treat the animal with respect, which includes offering fresh water to the animal when it is first brought to shore, using all parts of the animal without waste, and using clean and sharp tools for processing. Failing to respect the animal and all the resources it provides to humans will prevent the rest of its kind from returning to the hunter. Therefore, women took pride in the beauty and efficiency of their tools, as well as in keeping them clean and in good condition. Just as the tool was made for a woman by a male relative, the cleaning of the skin was her job, while curing the skin his. Then again, when the skin was cured, women took charge of it and sewed it into boots, gloves, coats and other gear that protected men while out hunting for seals. The scraper, such as this one, symbolizes a complexity of everyday life in Arctic Indigenous communities. It also demonstrates the local perspectives of gender having “constant potential for transformation” to use Barbara Bodenhorn’s words, and where female and male spheres of society complement and not compete with one other.

Sparse point cloud of the scraper showing all the aligned images used in the production of the model.

The scraper model was created from 113 photos using a Nikon D7100 and 50mm lens. In addition to the ambient light in the museum, we used external light sources filtered through a light box and a ring light to achieve accurate coloring. We created the model using Agisoft PhotoScan, by running two separate chunks of masked-photos for the top and bottom portions of the scraper and merging them at the end. Because of the unique features of the scraper, such as the finger holds, and string detail, the two chunks merged without any issues. Creating a clean model that captures the exact details of the handle and the stone blade was important as these are the features local community members would be interested in. These features carry locally meaningful information about carving techniques, material selection, perhaps even family ownership that can only be interpreted correctly with local community input.

To see more of Medeia and Alex’s models here on Sketchfab, check out their profile!

About the author

Abby & Néstor

Abby and Néstor are Sketchfab Masters.
Abby Crawford, Ph.D. is trained in and passionate about Roman Archaeology and works as a freelance artifact illustrator and 3D scanner in California.
Néstor F. Marqués is a virtual Heritage & cultural diffusion researcher, and an enthusiast of ancient Rome’s culture.

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