#88 - I Am the Walrus

Posted on Thursday, March 25th, 2021 at 9:46 am by LaLonde Jewelers

I recently saw something on TV about an ancient shark’s tooth that was fossilized. They mention that it was the host vegetation, that surrounded the tooth that had caused the color and depth of impregnation to the tooth. Some of these teeth had been in the ground for millions of years.

This reminded me of the walrus tusk that I was familiar with in Alaska. Walrus have been around for a long time. It may have died naturally or possibly speared by a Native Alaskan and was able to hobble off and die on a distant stretch of beach. After it died and decomposed one of the things that would survive would be their tusks. Now these tusks would get buried in the sand, and vegetation would impregnate the tusk and depending on the length of time would calculate the depth of fossilization. Sometimes it would be only a short distance into the tusk and other times a complete fossilization would occur. The natives and whalers would scan the shores after a storm to see if any of the tusk were exposed because of the shifting sand in the storm. I knew folks with seaplanes who would investigate this very thing in the now modern times.

Happy Jack Scrimshaw

Because of the Endangered Spices Acts during the 1970’s and 80’s any walrus tusk coming out of Alaska had to be signed by a native Alaskan. A few times when I would come across an old tusk, I would go down to the Native Center on Fourth street and see one of my native friends to sign the piece so I was able to leave Alaska without incurring a fine.

I never thought that the Government really enforced these rules until Senator Ted Kennedy was leaving Alaska with an unsigned tusk and got arrested. Guess he did not know who I knew.

In the early days of whaling in the later 1800’s, the European captains were more focused on making money than worrying about animal rights. There was one of the most famous Native Alaskans, Happy Jack. Happy Jack could not read or write but learned how to carve walrus tusk and whale teeth.

Happy Jack and His Wife

Happy Jack lost a leg to frostbite while he was out on a hunting trip, so a European Whaling Captain exploited him and took him around the Pacific showing people how the art of Scrimshaw and carving that was done. At the time he was one of the most famous Native Alaskans.

Happy Jack (Angokwazhuk) was to visit many different places from Seattle, San Francisco, and Polynesia, but was never more at home that his beloved Arctic wilderness, where reading and writing never mattered.

Written by Dan LaLonde, G.G., G.I.A.
Lalonde Jewelers & Gemologists
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