From kip to leather: revisiting the reconstruction of the traditional technology of material processing among the Altai people (early 20th century)
VESTNIK ARHEOLOGII ANTROPOLOGII I ETNOGRAFII ¹ 2 (57) (2022)
Based on the analysis of literary and archival sources, all stages of hand currying of animal skins, representing the full cycle of technological processes of their transformation into leather among the Northern and Southern Altaians, are reconstructed. The main materials about the work of the Altai tanners are drawn from the sources of the 1930s — the time when traditional leather currying was a mundane task in every family of cattle breeders or hunters. The main techniques of manual processing of hides and the basic stages of their transformation into leather are considered. The purposes and results of each stage of the technological process in the production of leather material are shown: preservation, soaking, grounding, dehairing, impregnation with special solutions for the purpose of fermentation, tanning, softening, and smoke-drying of the skin. Like other pastoral and hunting peoples, the Altaians sewed fur clothing and footwear, for which purpose they used a composition made from fermented crushed liver and brain of animals to loosen the “bakhtarma” (the reverse side of the skin) and preserve the hair on the skin. When currying sheepskin, the Teleuts, who were engaged in agriculture, used grain crops for the same purpose, preparing liquid dough for impregnation and tanning of the skin. Following the currying, the hide (skin) was smoke-dried. Soaked in fat and smoked skin did not harden in the rain and snow, and in summer its smell repelled mosquitoes and parasites. The result of laborious and time-consuming operations carried out by the ancient Altai tanners was the mastery of the technique of producing rawhide and tanned leather, as well as the manufacture of suede, which were used for the production of traditional clothing, footwear, objects of worship (shamanic drums) and everyday life. The southern Altaians even in the first third of the last century preserved the ancient tradition of sheepskin softening by fingernails. Women used their teeth to soften tough rawhide. One of the wooden implements for leather softening — edrek (Rus.: myalka), widely used in the cultures of nomads of the steppes and taiga, — still existed, according to the findings of archaeologists, among the early nomads of the Hunno-Sarmatian epoch (2nd c. BC — 5th c. AD). The results obtained by the study can be used to popularize the knowledge about environmentally friendly technological methods in the production of leather and peculiarities of local Altai traditions in the manufacture of hides by hand.
Keywords: Altaians, rawhide, scraper, tanning, tannins, smoking skins, chamois.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Article is published: 15.06.2022
Diachenko V.I., Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), RAS, Universitetskaya nab., 3, St. Petersburg, 199034, Russian Federation, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4423-1359