Under construction August 2011
Many kinds of feathers are used on Alaskan artifacts, particularly those of Native manufacture. Most commonly, feathers are seen as appendages on masks or as fletching on hunting tools or weapons.
2. POSSIBLE CAUSES
The most common white stuff we have seen on Alaskan feathers is insect debris (such as cocoons and frass) or mold. This is most often seen in association with feather damage consistent with insects eating the feathers. Pesticides are also a possibility. The Alaska State Museum has hundreds of taxidermy bird mounts that have tested positive for arsenic. Some of these mounts may close to 100 years old. Most bird mounts added to the collection since 1970 were preserved with a freeze-drying technique, but these are at risk for insect infestation.
One mysterious case of “white stuff” involves a hunting tool that displays a sticky, branched fibrous-looking mold. The item came into the collection in 2003 in excellent condition, displaying no mold or “white stuff”. The mold appears irregularly on feather fletching, string lashing, leather lashing, bone, ivory and wood parts. Could it be growing from some sort of coating that was sprayed on the artifact? The most perplexing part of this mystery is that the artifact has been in a controlled collections storage room inside a cabinet with temperature and relative humidity well below what would be expected to support mold growth. We hope to work with intern Crista Pack when she returns to the University of Delaware to investigate the cause of this peculiar “white stuff.”
4. EXAMPLES IN ALASKA