Archaeologists rush to save Yup’ik treasures threatened by vanishing shoreline

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Rare Amber bead
Project Leader Dr. Rock Knecht shows a rare amber bead to Megan Cleveland, Mackenzie Forbes, and Emily Cleveland at the show and Tell for the Nunalleq archaeology site on Wednesday August 27, 2014, in Quinhagak. Erik Hill Alaska Dispatch News

Summary of Archaeologists rush to save Yup’ik treasures threatened by vanishing shoreline

An international team of archaeologists are racing against time and nature to excavate and preserve cultural artifacts at the Nunalleq site in Alaska. The site is located on the eroding coastline of the Bering Sea outside the modern Yup’ik Eskimo Village of Quinhagak in the Yukon-Kuskowim Delat region of Alaska. The Qanirtuug, Inc. village corporation partnered with the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) Department of Anthropology to undertake this massive rescue archaeology project.   Over the past five years more than 30 feet at the edge of the site have been lost.

It is the largest site of Yu’ik artifacts ever excavated and also includes the first ever Yup’ik house to be excavated. The site dates from about 1300-1640 A.D. when the site was burned and then abandoned. The site was well preserved in the permafrost until recently when the permafrost started melting due to rising global temperatures and the site began to erode into the sea due to rising sea levels. So far over 50,000 artifacts have been recovered, of which at least 5,000 are museum quality. Delicate and rare archaeological materials such as bone, wood and woven artifacts have been recovered from the site.

Begun in 2009, this project has involved archaeologist from all over the world; this year including team members from Canada, Australia, Portugal, Sweden, France, Lithuania, and the United States. The team has also been working closely with community elders to identify objects and record cultural histories. The village leaders, elders and scientists all work together to decide when to dig, how to preserve the site and what to do with the finds, as well as reburial of the dead.

This past Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 the team held a community open house for the whole village to see and touch the objects of their history. Archaeologists encouraged interaction with the objects. Community leaders feel this is helping in cultural revitalization and hope to have a cultural center to house the remains in the future.

Summary of Archaeologists rush to save Yup’ik treasures threatened by vanishing shoreline

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