(Siberian-Yupik Eskimo)

Scrapers (ikum) and Hide Softeners


Old Eskimo skin scraper with flaked chert blade (1-1/2” x 1-1/8” x 3/8”)

 and curved “pistol-grip” wooden handle (2-5/8” x 1-1/2” x 1-1/2”) showing two shallow finger hollows.

From Point Hope, Alaska.

Collected by F. A. Goodbrod (1894-1962), a mineralogist who prospected throughout Alaska in the early 1950s acquiring artifacts from the native inhabitants of Saint Lawrence Island, King Island, Point Hope, Kobuk River, Yukon River, Galena, and Nenana.

Ex: F. A. Goodbrod


Summary of Ethnographic Data

Reference: TEBIWA The Journal of the Idaho State University Museum

According to ethnographic data these scrapers were skin dressing tools necessary to the preparing of furs and skins used for clothing, boats, dog- harnesses, etc. The handles were of ivory (extinct mammoth or walrus), bone or driftwood carved to fit the hand of their user with indentations to receive the tips of the fingers and the thumb. The blades themselves were most commonly of chert or some other material of appropriate hardness found during the warmer months along the stream beds. These stones were then properly modified and wedged into their handles with grass, bits of hide or cloth.


During the skin dressing process the skins were scraped several times with the aid of this instrument. According to Murdoch (1892:294) women, who "appear to do most of the work," spread the skins out and thoroughly scraped them with this tool "which was grasped firmly in the right hand and pushed from the worker" to remove bits of flesh, fat, and water (Murdoch 1892:295). (Nelson [1901: 116] discusses a distinct division of labor concerning the dressing and tanning of hides.) With the smaller skins of hares, muskrats, and waterfowl, this can be done on the thigh of the worker (Murdoch 1892:295); the skins of larger animals such as reindeer, bears, or walruses were probably placed flesh-side up on the ground, snow, or some other hard support (Witthoft 1958:98 and Semenov 1964:90-91), secured in some manner, and then scraped. The skins were then treated, most frequently with urine because of its sodium chloride and lime content (Semenov 1964:90), rolled into a bundle with the hair side inward and kept in the house or kashim until they became sour and the hair loosened. The hair was then scraped off and the skin stretched on a wooden frame and placed outside of the house to dry. When dry, the skin was softened by breaking the grain, often with the use of a scraper and polishing stones. The eastern Eskimo also used their teeth for this softening process. Only when the hide became a soft, pliable leather was it ready to be worked. The use of skins was a very important and necessary part of Eskimo life and their preparation involved a tremendous amount of work.

Summary of Semenov and Wilmsenon Functional Analysis
Wilmsen has suggested (1968:159) that different angle sizes on the working edges of the tools are related to the different functions which the tools perform. After obtaining measurements from nearly 1500 Paleo-Indian specimens and a collection of 19 Eskimo scrapers, he observed that the edge angles of those tools used mainly in the preparation of skins fell within a 46-55° range, while those with steeper bits used for skin softening and heavy wood and bone working were clustered between 66-75° (1968:156-157). It is interesting to note that 65 percent of all tool tips and concavities associated with tools in his sample had edge angles in this latter steeper range (1966:157). For the Eskimo sample he noted a mean value of 59° on the retouched distal end (1968:159).

It is not only the angle of the edge itself that is indicative of the function which the tool served but also the shape of the tool and its condition. The essential shape of all of these end-scrapers used in the dressing of skins is semi-circular, allowing the actual edge of the scraper to be as sharp as necessary to function without the danger of lacerating the skins (Semenov 1964:88). The sharpness or bluntness of these blades, Semenov believes (1964:87), is the only real distinction that can be made between end-scrapers used for skin scraping and those used for skin softening.


Reference: TEBIWA The Journal of the Idaho State University Museum

Ethnographic Data and Wear Pattern Analysis:

A Study of Socketed Eskimo Scrapers

Original written by: Karen Nissen and Margaret Dittemore

Acknowlegments: T.R. Hester & R.F. Heizer






Jade Hide Softener-Bone Handle

Length: 6.0"

Ex: Del Roerick



Alaskan Scrapers come in a wide range of Lithic materials and colors.

This picture shows the Ventral Face (underside) of a group of Scrapers.

Note the fine flaking pattern on the hafted portion of the scraper



4.4" Complete Hafted Scraper with Modern Sinew

Lithic Comp.: Gray Chert

The Scraper and the Driftwood handle are matched pairs.



From St. Lawrence Island

Pistol Grip Scraper 4.9" Complete Hafted Scraper with Sinew

Lithic Comp.: Appears to be Basalt


From Point Hope

Pistol Grip Scraper 3.3" Complete Hafted Scraper with Modern Sinew

Lithic Comp.: Gray Chert

The Scraper and the Driftwood handle are matched pairs.


4-1/8" Complete Hafted Scraper with Gray Chert Blade: Original Baleen Sinew



Overall Length: 3.8"

Caribou handle w/ Grey Chert Scraper

Ex: Neil Neckland


EX: Marlin Marquart, Who's Who #7 in Indian Relics

LENGTH: 3.42"

WIDTH: 1.58"





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