The Alaska Fur ID project: A virtual resource for material identification

Ellen Carrlee and Lauren Horelick


The Alaska Fur ID Project, online at, is a free internet resource developed at the Alaska State Museum. The website provides a reference set of images and data for more than 50 Alaskan animal furs used traditionally or commercially, as well as a compilation of practical observations and techniques for analysis. Both guard hair and underfur were examined for many clues, including maximum length in millimeters, diameter range in microns, medullary index, presence/pattern/appearance of the medulla, pigmentation in the cortex or medulla, banding, scale pattern and its change along the length of the shaft, and cross-sections. Slides mounted with Cargille Meltmount and scale casts taken with Duco cement were examined under polarized light microscopy (PLM). This paper explains the design and methodology of the project as an example of a regional material identification dataset. It also discusses the possibilities and limitations of fur identification by this method. Many previous attempts to use microscopy for hair identification have suffered from the challenges of acquiring and disseminating good quality images as a reference set for the user, as well as limiting them selves to certain measurements while overlooking others. The project utilizes simple design and vocabulary to be accessible to many users, including museum conservators, archaeologists, biologists, forensic scientists, and students. An index, glossary, and annotated bibliography assist the non-specialist user.

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