Work in Skins Worldwide In-Class Activity

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View exercise overview

Exercise ID: 2.41
Class size: Any
Level(s): I II
Source: Produced by HRAF

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Single subject specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Work in skins
Region selection: open (student choice)
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Student chooses from entire collection
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable:

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? No
Assignments for students to complete in groups? Yes
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Christiane Cunnar, Alissa Jordan, Human Relations Area Files

Adapted from Teaching eHRAF Exercise Hide Working and Tanning Leather by Christiane Cunnar

Download In-Class Activity PDF



In this exercise, you will compare  methods, materials, and tools used by societies across the world to work in animal skins

Exercise Details

Time: 40 minutes

Materials Required:

  • HRAF Access
  • Worksheet and pen or other materials for recording answers

Student Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this assignment, you will be able to:

  • explain and analyze cross-cultural differences in technology for working in skins across multiple culture groups
  • describe the material traces left by various stages of work in skins
  • analyze how technologies for work in skins reflect a culture’s access to different natural resources
  • describe the social context of work in skins across multiple societies
  • gain experience in team based secondary data collection and analysis techniques
  • construct effective and efficient search strategies in eHRAF in order to retrieve data relevant to a specific topic/assignment.


Methods of Work in Skins Reveal Ecological Relationships


The materials used for softening and preserving hides as well as dying them reflect a culture’s access to different natural resources.

Cultures located in coastal areas or in proximity to waterways, such as the Yakut of Siberia, often use fish products such as fish oil or fish liver as softening agents to process hides.

The Tarahumara of Mexico use tree products such as pulverized oak bark for tannins, the Pawnee of the northern Plains (now Nebraska) use elm bark, and Toivo Immanuel Itkonen (1984) reports that the Saami in Northern Europe made red leather by using alder bark, mixed with ashes and warm water.


Assignment Part 1

In groups of 5 members, have each individual select one word or term from the list below.

List of agents used in hide work in and dyeing


Brains (from animals) Fish
Liver Salt
Oil Bark
Fat Lime
Butter Water


  • Execute the search
  • Each individual should now conduct an advanced search for OCM subject “work in in skins” in combination with the chosen terms from the list.
  • While researching their materials, each group member should fill in a data table (example below)


Society Name How Material is Used Special notes
Society A


●        Applied to hides before tanning (Efuwozor 2016) By women, in large groups of 40 (Dane 2016). Gathered by children (Ellis 2010).
Society B ●        E.g. Applied to hasten the tanning process (Ellis 2010)

●        Also used to soften leather (Cane 1990)

Applied by men, with tanning work done by women. Secretive process of aquiring it (Cane 1990).


Assignment Part 2

As a group answer the following questions for each material. (5 minutes for each material)

Question #1: What common steps, access, or spaces are needed to acquire this material across multiple societies?

Assignment Part 3

As a group select the two tables with the most detailed information about materials. As a group, discuss and answer the following questions for both materials.

Question #2. Is there a gender, class, age group, or population subset, most likely to be using this material? Explain. (5 minutes)

Question #3. What evidence would the harvesting and use of this material leave in the archaeological record? (5 minutes)


Resources: Assignment Rubric, Tips, References

The assignment rubric can be found in the attached PDF.

Further reading

  • For more exercises and teaching resources related to human societies past and present, explore Teaching eHRAF.
  • For a more detailed version of this particular exercise with additional questions and activities check out Exercise 2.4 Hide Working by Christiane Cunnar.
  • Check out the Advanced Search Tutorial for detailed instructions on conducting searches in eHRAF World Cultures.
  • For information on hide working practices in the archaeological record, check out eHRAF Archaeology.