Bad news from the bone yard

I overcooked the seal skull last night and it's fallen apart. I was distracted by making and eating our evening meal and forgot all about it. I'm very disappointed and annoyed with myself as I doubt I'll ever find another one. Here however are the brain and jaws which show the seal's dog-like carnivore teeth used for biting and tearing prey. The chickens enjoyed the brain and the rest of the soft tissues and meat. I wasn't tempted to try it - the smell became a little nauseating and was difficult to remove from my hands.

Of course, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with seal meat, it's sustained Arctic dwellers and polar explorers alike, as one of the few available sources of nutrition.
Seal meat is very dark, with a texture similar to steak. It has a rich flavour, rather like mild beef liver. It is very rich in protein, calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamin B-12.
The Inuit cooked their seal meat or else left to rot and ferment before eating it. The layer of fat under the skin was particularly relished. Antarctic explorers like Shackleton and Scott included seal blubber in their famously greasy stew known as hoosh.

The boiling of the skull brought to mind another and more disturbing incident in the history of polar exploration. The reputed/disputed first person to reach the North Pole was the American Robert Peary in 1909 (discounting his African-American assistant and the several Inuit men who supported him). Peary spent a great deal of time among the indigenous people of Greenland to the extent of fathering a child with a 14 year old Inuit girl. He exploited their good will and attempted to profit from trading links he established. He removed large meteorites which were their only source of metal. In 1897 Peary persuaded several Inuit people to return with him to America to be studied at the National Museum of Natural History. One of them was a 7 year old boy named Minik, accompanying his father. Most of the adults contracted TB and quickly died. There was intense competition among anthropologists for their remains: the bones and brains that could provide information about the anatomy of polar people. Minik's father also died and, along with the others, his body was dissected and then macerated to retrieve the skeleton for exhibition. However the boy was not told about this: instead a mock funeral was held, after dark, with a log in the coffin that he supposed held his father's body. When the truth emerged some years later Minik petitioned for the return of his father's bones which were on display. Denial and evasion by museum staff prevented the skeleton being relinquished and Minik died in the influenza pandemic of 1918 having failed to give his father's remains the appropriate last rites.

It was not until the 1980s that a book by Kenn Harper Give Me My Father's Body drew attention to the scandal and after negotiating a great deal of bureaucratic red tape, in 1993 Harper succeeded in having the all the remains returned to Greenland, where he witnessed the Inuit funeral ceremony for the individuals taken to New York almost 100 years earlier.

(Repatriation of human remains to their native place is now standard, if controversial, practice in many countries to the extent, it must be said, that some institutions are left denuded of material that might provide valuable genetic and archaeological information about human origins.)

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