Fur or food? Native American use of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) on the Oregon coast prior to European contact and extirpation
Indigenous peoples on the Pacific Northwest Coast have shared coastal landscapes with sea otters since time immemorial. Sea otters were driven to near extinction in the 19th century fur trade, and despite reintroduction attempts, remain locally extirpated in Oregon. Renewed interest in sea otter reintroductions to Oregon has prompted study into the precontact sea otter population. Oregon archeologists agree that tribal ancestors used sea otters, but detailed studies of use, including whether sea otters were processed for pelts, dietary consumption, or alternate purposes have not been systematically pursued. This study presents a zooarchaeological cutmark analysis of sea otter remains (NISP = 2992) from two Late Holocene archaeological sites in northern Oregon: Palmrose (35CLT47) and Par-Tee (35CLT20). Analysis of cutmark patterns on sea otter bones (NISP = 899) indicate that sea otters were primarily skinned for their pelts, and additional processing activities are proposed and discussed, including meat removal for dietary consumption, cleaning of bones for tool manufacture/obtaining sinew, and possible feeding of domestic dogs. These results affirm tribal assertions of deep-time human-sea otter relationships and use on the Oregon coast prior to extirpation.