A curious confluence of history, industry, and art can be seen in the skull of a rough-toothed dolphin, Steno bredanensis, featured in the special exhibition Whales: Giants of the Deep. The 19.5-inch-long skull is nearly covered with scrimshaw—engraved and pigmented images—of flowering trees, a butterfly, flags, ships, a turret, and a harlequin pattern along the mandible.

Scrimshaw developed as a pastime for whalers who had plenty of idle moments at sea on voyages that sometimes lasted for years. Broadly defined, the term refers to any artifacts and tools made from teeth, tusks, or bones of marine animals, including whales, walruses, and, as in the example above, dolphins (which a type of toothed whale). But scrimshaw is usually more narrowly associated with the delicate engravings on these same materials, augmented with black and sometimes colored pigments.

See more images and read the full story here.

Image credit: © AMNH/D. Finnin