Artifact of the Week: Great Auk Bones

CALO 2567 (158)
Great Auk (Pinguinis impennis) bones from Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Variation in Great Auk eggs and plumage by F.W. Frohawk, R. Dieck, H. Klönne, and Brune Geisler 1903.

The Great Auk is an extinct, flightless bird that stood about 2 1/2 feet tall. The prehistoric and historic inhabitants of the Outer Banks hunted these penguin-like creatures for their meat, oil, feathers and down, and bones, and harvested their eggs.

These particular faunal specimens were identified by SEAC zooarcheologists while analyzing materials excavated from prehistoric and historic midden deposits at Cape Lookout National Seashore (CALO).

Relatives of this species, including little auk or dovekie (Alle alle), razorbill (Alca torda), and guillemot (Uria sp.), were also found in the CALO middens.

An avian aside…

The mainland dwellers “down east” sometimes referred to the inhabitants of Harker’s Island and Shackleford Banks as “Loon Eaters”!

Loon (Gavia immer) specimens have been recovered from prehistoric contexts at CALO. Though edible, the loon is not regarded as the most palatable fowl. An article by the pisciculturalist Fred Mather published in Forest and Stream on July 31, 1898, had this to say about his experience On the Eating of Loons:

The Great  Northern Loon

“…if a man wants real hard chewing, with a flavor of raw fish, let him tackle an adult loon. That bird could not be picked; it was skinned, and in its stomach there was a catfish recently swallowed, one partly digested, and the bones of another. The triggers of the pectoral fins of the catfish were set, but the stomach of the loon did not seem to be troubled by that fact.”



If you’re thinking that you might try loon instead of turkey this Thanksgiving, find a couple of choice historic recipes…

Here and Here

Learn more about the Great Auk’s extinction at 

the John James Audubon Center 



  1. The Great Auk has taken a new life 🙂 We wanted to honor the Auk herein Iceland! You can read about the Great Auk campaign we did in the link supplied below. All in good fun! 🙂


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