Collection spans 50 million years

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By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com, 318-352-3618 ext 218

This is a close up view of the scrimshaw detail on the walrus ivory.

Human nature is to collect, preserve and keep things close to the heart. Some people collect figurines, family photos, historic weapons and sports memorabilia. David Milner of Natchitoches collects history.

His collection of ancient artifacts and finds from his travels is unique. Milner’s oldest artifact is a fossilized mussel shell estimated at 50 million years. He found the shells while having a pond dug on his property in Natchitoches Parish. Today’s mussels fit in the palm of your hand for the most part, but as evidenced by these fossils, they were once much larger.

David Milner holds two fossilized mussel shells found in Natchitoches Parish. They are estimated at 50 million years old.

Another of Milner’s finds is a mortar and pestle used by Native Americans to grind corn or grain. This was found near the old airport.

This mortar and pestle was used to grind corn and other grains. The rocks are both worn completely smooth from repeated use.

Many of Milner’s treasures come from his travels as a pipeliner. He spent over 20 years in Alaska on the pipeline at the North Shore. “That is as far north as you can get without going over the top of the world,” Milner said of Barra, Ak., home of Native Eskimos employed by the pipeline. He learned their culture and their value of the animals of the region. “They told me a story of harvesting a whale,” Milner said. “By law, they have to harpoon it the old fashioned way. They have to strike it 20 times before they can shoot it with a gun.”

The Eskimos used a block and tackle to winch the whale onto land. The one in their story was about 30-40 feet long and Milner said once they got it landbound, they would butcher it. The entire village took part in the process and shared the meat.

“They made muktuk, a fatty meat. They drained the oil from the meat and used it for lamps. The guys working for us shared some and the cook tried to microwave it. We couldn’t go in that room for a very long time,” he laughed.

The indention in this stone is from using sticks to create fire.

Milner had the opportunity to harvest a walrus while in Alaska. “The tusks are pure ivory,” he said. “The tusks were scrimshawed locally. That has to be done before you can own them.” As evidenced by this scrimshawed Eskimo, there is a craft and talent to the process. Scrimshaw is the name given to scrollwork, engravings and carvings done in bone or ivory.

Locally, Milner has also harvested some trophies. He took a 14-15 foot alligator from Old Cane River and had the hide tanned black. A second gator measuring 8-10 feet was tanned red. The tanned leather hides are soft and supple and easily rolled for storage.

Milner harvested this alligator in Old Cane River and had the hide tanned.

Milner said his collection of unique artifacts and finds comes with stories and memories. “You just never know what is out there,” he said.

Muktuk is the traditional Inuit and Chukchi meal of frozen whale skin and blubber. Muktuk is most often made from the skin and blubber of the bowhead whale, although the beluga and the narwhal are also used. Usually eaten raw, it is today occasionally finely diced, breaded, deep fried, and served with soy sauce.  

A close up of the alligator teeth. Some may not know the roof of the alligator’s mouth has indentions to accommodate the lower teeth.
Milner’s gator hides were tanned black and red. The black hide is from a 14-15 footer and the red hide is from an 8-10 footer. Both were harvested locally.
Detail of the tanned alligator hides