Indigenous Arctic Fish Skin-A study of different traditional skin processing technology. Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists Journal. Vol. 105 issue 2.

Elisa Palomino, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London, UK  

Lotta Rahme, Lottas Tannery, Sigtuna, Sweden, The Craft Laboratory,  University of Gothenburg, Sweden  

The use of fish skin for the construction of garments is an ancient tradition shared by Arctic societies along rivers and coasts. The specific Arctic groups with historical evidence of fish leather production are the Alutiiq, Yup’ik and Athabascan of Alaska; the Nivkh, Nanai and Ulchi Siberian peoples; the Ainu from Hokkaido island, Japan and Sakhalin Island, Russia; the Hezhen from northeast China; and Icelanders.

The Arctic indigenous peoples have maintained a strong relationship with the environment, developing a subsistence lifestyle depending on marine animal resources for food and clothing. To a population dependent upon the sea for its daily livelihood and food, having the right clothing was of greatest importance. Fish skins were used as a protection against wind on parkas, boots, mittens and blankets. Traditional tanned fish skin artefacts have lasted remarkably long in museums by not using any chemically active principles.

The aim of the research was to identify the biochemical logic of the traditional tanning process using natural principles with a very low environmental impact in order to introduce them in a near future to contemporary industrial tanning, reducing the supply of chemicals, the environmental impact, generating cleaner water and less CO2. To evaluate the process, samples of fish leather were undertaken using skin processing technology based on traditional knowledge from Arctic indigenous communities. The results were compared to those of commercial contemporary chrome and vegetable tanned fish leather from the Icelandic tannery Atlantic Leather. Traditional methods used in this study include processing with bark, brain, urine, oil, corn flour and mechanical softening.