The Archaeology of Herring in Alaska – revisiting Hidden Falls to find something new…

lower teeth from Pacific sleeper shark from Hidden Falls, photo by V. Butler, scale in mm

As it turns out, acquiring herring bone specimens from repositories is much more of a challenge than I anticipated. But I am extremely grateful to Scott Shirar at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, who has been repeatedly sending me samples from which I can find suitable herring bones for aDNA testing from Hidden Falls.  It is humbling to see my own handwriting on labels more than 30 years old! In sorting through one bag in the search of herring, I recently found 12 intact teeth. I took them to Portland State University where Virginia Butler was kind enough to photograph them, as shown here.  Through Torrey Rick at the Smithsonian, his colleague Vic Springer identified these as from the Pacific sleeper shark, Somniosus pacificus. So the residents of Hidden Falls, Alaska, were using this species, previously unidentified from Hidden Falls, or from any other site in southeast Alaska. Pacific sleeper shark can range very deep (to more than 2000 m!), or they can be found stranded in a tide pool. How Hidden Falls residents used this species remains unknown. But this case helps demonstrate how much there is to learn from curated collections. Sincere thanks to Scott Shirar, Virginia Butler, Torrey Rick and Vic Springer!


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