Recreating the last garefowl: the chronotopic materialities of species extinction and recreation
(University of Aberdeen)
Gro Ween (University of Oslo)
Paper short abstract:
This paper discusses the extinction and recreation of the garefowl as a case of chronotopic materialities. In juxtaposing stories of the last garefowl and the prospect of the recreation of the species, the paper asks how materialities bind actors across space and time.
Paper long abstract:
The last garefowl, or great auk, died on the Icelandic island Eldey, in 1844. Three locals, employed by a private collector keen to secure an example of a bird on the path to extinction, ended the lives of the last two birds and destroyed their remaining egg by accident. A hundred and thirty years later, a public campaign in Iceland, raised enough money for the 'nation' to be able to buy a specimen of the garefowl, stuffed, at an auction in London, outbidding wealthy collectors in the process. Despite this public arousal, the specimen has, for much of its time in Iceland, been in storage. Recently a model of the stuffed garefowl has been the star attraction at natural history exhibition in Iceland. Meanwhile, entrepreneurial scientists, and their moneyed backers, plan the recreation of species from salvaged DNA. This paper describes the multiplicity of responses to the death, its material loss, the stuffing, the exhibition and possible recreation of the great auk. Through a period of almost two hundred years, the great auk existed as an absence, or present absence, enacting artistic, economic, political, cultural and scientific values. In the process the great auk has bound together a number of actors, in complex ways, across time and space, exhibiting the chronotopic possibilities of materials even in their absence, the loss.