KODIAK — Two hundred years ago, dentalium shells came to Kodiak on an exhausting kayak-powered trade route from Southeast.

They were so highly valued that a pair of the thin white tusk-shaped scaphopods were worth a squirrel-fur parka in trade.

On Saturday in the Alutiiq Museum's rotunda, they were far easier to find.

As part of a workshop hosted by the museum, about 20 people gathered to craft earrings from the shells, using wire, beads, hooks and other decorations.

Dentalium earrings are sold in the museum's store today, but centuries ago, they likely looked a bit different. Instead of sterling silver wire, imagine sinew thread, said museum employees conducting the workshop. Instead of plastic or glass beads, imagine hand-made beads of amber, ivory or stone.

Earrings first appeared on Kodiak Island about 2,700 years ago, made from local materials. When Russian traders arrived, glass beads began to decorate the ears of Alutiiq people.

Dentalium shell earrings, because of their rarity and price, were an easy way to transport a large amount of wealth and likely indicated significant social position, according to Russian accounts.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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