Project IRENE Using optical scanning to digitize ethnographic field recordings on wax cylinders

Impact and Audio

Due to the culturally sensitive material of the content on these cylinders, and out of respect for the contemporary descendants of many of the performers on the recordings, access to the majority of the audio being digitized is currently restricted. Accordingly, the much of the audio produced by this project cannot be shared on this site. Audio is being made available to scholars and community members through the California Language Archive


Ishi, the Last Yahi

Ishi (c. 1861 – March 25, 1916) was a native Californian from the Yahi tribe, and the last surviving member of his culture. "Ishi" is Yahi for man, and was the name given to him by Kroeber and his colleagues. Ishi became acquainted with Alfred Kroeber in 1911, after being discovered in Oroville and brought back to San Francisco. 

During his time at the UC anthropology museum, he was recorded on 148 wax cylinders totaling 5 hours and 41 minutes. As the last member of his tribe, his wax cylinder recordings are important tools for researching the lost Yahi language. 

Cylinder Audio

Listen to recordings that have been created:

o An excerpt from a recording of Ishi describing fishing, Cylinder 14-1679 (1911)

A filtered version, enhanced with audio processing software 

o An excerpt from a recording of Ishi describing gambling, Cylinder 14-1694 (1912)

A filtered version, enhanced with audio processing software


Image: Ishi, Full Face, 1914, UC Berkeley Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology

Thumb ishi swimming
Thumb ishi group
Thumb ishi orpheum