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Climate Change in Quinhagak

May 24, 2019

The AFP team focussed on climate change, and the effects in Alaska and for the Alaska Native communities.

This nice article from Phys Org is featuring Willard Church and other voices from Quinhagak.

And an AFP piece focussing on climate change from Napakiak and Quinhagak. Warren Jones and Grace Hill are talking about their experiences of a changing climate.

Quinhagak, Nunalleq and climate change in the (French) press

May 24, 2019

There has been a few news articles lately on Quinhagak, Nunalleq, culture and climate change. Behind them is a French journalist team from Agence France-Presse (AFP) who visited Quinhagak in April.

It’s in French, but you can read some of them here: Franseinfo and Le Journal de Montréal .

And watch this nice film featuring Rick, Warren and the Dance group: Geo (from AFP) you can watch the English version here (facebook is the only place where I can find it, apologies)

In memory of Stephan Jones

May 8, 2019

We are deeply sorry to announce that Stephan Jones, a long-time member of our extended Nunalleq project family passed away this past week. Stephan was our good friend, colleague and a long-time supporter of the Nunalleq project. Stephan worked in many support and leadership capacities in Quinhagak and most recently as the Director of Quinhagak Heritage Inc. and manager of the Nunalleq Culture and Archaeology Center. Stephan was full of good ideas for the future of the Culture Center and we will do our best to carry on and make them happen. We will always remember Stephan for his kindness, his optimism, his intelligence, and his amazing cooking skills. He will be sorely missed by all who were lucky enough to know him.


Picture curtesy of Stephan’s mum, Lynn

Two weeks in Quinhagak

May 1, 2019

Alice here, just checking in with an update on the Nunalleq Education Pack now that we’re nearing the official release! I’ve just returned from a very productive 2 weeks in Quinhagak setting up the local school (Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat) with the first installation of the software and doing some user group feedback with the children and teachers. As the production team is based in Scotland most of the year we had spent the run up to my trip anticipating and planning for every possible issue we might encounter, from incompatibility to performance and unexpected bugs. John, our programmer was on call ready to build patches and bug-fix from afar if I needed anything – needless to say I breathed a huge sigh of relief (and might have also punched the air and “woop!-ed”) when it installed and ran on the first laptop, then the second, then the third, and so on with no problems at all, phew!

That same afternoon I met with the teaching staff to introduce myself to the people I hadn’t met yet, explain a bit about the education pack project and pass round a USB drive so everyone could install it to have a play themselves. Dora Strunk (who, for the record, is an absolute force of nature and not only had me to stay with her family for this trip but helped coordinate me meeting everyone I needed to) let me loose on a few of her classes to get some students exploring the program.


Doing some user feedback in Dora’s classroom: Shantae and her classmate listening intently to elders talking about fall camp in the education pack.

Now, I know I’d said I was anxious about the software installing in the first place, but that was nothing compared to my angst watching the first class play with the program. Unlike most adults, who have your feelings in mind – kids will 100% tell you if they don’t like something, there’s no sugar-coating it! For 45 minutes there was near deathly silence save for the clicking of laptop pads and the muffled sounds of voices from headphones around the class. The bell rang for the end of class and as laptops were being cleared away the questions started: “Did you really dig all of those things up down at the beach? Everything? Here?”, “I want to know more about this or that…”, “How did you make the 3D artefacts?”, “Was that so and so talking? I know them!”, and my favourite, “I think I want to be an archaeologist now too”.

The mask painting was by far the most popular activity page, a close runner up was our season wheel and the dressing for ice game. The films and videos were a great hit too – which was especially nice because many of the short films included within the interface were either made by or feature the work of the kids themselves and the local community.

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Above: Some screenshots from the education pack, users can click objects in the reconstruction to bring up 3D scanned models of the artefacts and click on the character heads to hear from village elders, archaeologists and other people in the community.

So we’re off to a great start! Next was feedback with the teachers (who had a week to get to grips with the program) where we discussed how they might use the resource in their classes. There were loads of suggestions of where it would be relevant, from anticipated places like history and science class, to pleasant surprises like Yup’ik language, health and social studies.

This all happened in the first week of the trip which was perfect because it meant I was free for the second week when the annual LKSD Dance Festival was being hosted in Quinhagak! Around 18 schools flew in for the 3 day event which involved cultural activities and traditional skills workshops through the day and dancing all evening. Visits to the Nunalleq Culture Centre were added to the agenda and Stephan (who heads up QHI and snapped all the pics) and I hosted masses of kids and teachers visiting each day. Seriously, masses! We’ve never seen so many people through the doors since the opening back in August, and many of the dance groups from other villages were so incredibly excited and moved to see the collection and be face to face with the dolls and masks which was super cool to witness.

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A few snaps of the eventful few days showing groups of dancers from other villages around the Nunalleq Archaeology and Culture Centre with Stephan. Note my “can anyone guess what this is?” face!

Also, top marks for one of our youngest visitors from Quinhagak who came to the culture centre with her class then returned after school with her friend who hadn’t been and proceeded to give a tour complete with fun facts remembered about the artefacts.


She added, “and if you have any questions you just ask Alice!” Stephan thinks we have a new Culture Centre young ambassador, we were barely needed!

And of course – the best thing about the dance festival was getting to see the Quinhagak Dance Group perform the song they wrote about the excavations at Nunalleq again!


So what’s next? Well following a few meetings in Bethel with the LKSD (Lower Kuskokwim School District) office and some exciting chats in both the Bethel Cultural Centre and the Anchorage Museum we’re in the process of planning for distributing the Nunalleq Education Pack to schools in the YK Delta region and possibly wider in time for the new school year beginning after this summer. There will also be a download link coming soon to the blog so anyone anywhere in the world can download and install the program on their own pcs or macs! We will keep you posted and are very excited for everyone to get their hands on a copy 🙂

Massive thanks again to Dora, Larry and Lonny Strunk for welcoming me into their home for the trip, to principal Peggie Price and all the teaching staff at the school for accommodating me in their classrooms and giving feedback and of course to absolutely everyone in the community and the rest of the archaeology team who have contributed to the co-design and content of the education pack over the last 2.5 years – we really can’t wait for everyone to see it!

– Alice

To (temporarily) loose a Narrative

April 27, 2019

A few weeks ago Rick and Charlotta were interviewed by a journalist from Live Science about Nunalleq. He had a list of questions, but during the interview it became clear he was very intrigued by the evidence for a violent attack at the site that we discovered in 2015. Now, we haven’t written much about it here on the blog, out of respect of the dead, but also because, frankly, we think that it is far from the most interesting story of the site – and we have always had a bit of a fear that this violent episode – which was just one day in the life of the people at Nunalleq, could overshadow the far more important stories.  The story of  a Yup’ik village, thriving for generations on the Bering Sea, and how their descendants in Quinhagak have worked to recover, preserve and share their archaeological heritage.

On Monday Live Science published their story – and sadly it’s headline was all about the dead:

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“Massacre” was never a word any of us used before for this event. It’s a snapshot from a war between villages that have been preserved at Nunalleq – and there’s evidence that the people living at Nunalleq were both victims and perpetrators of this war. (This time period is referred to as the Bow-and-Arrow Wars in Yup’ik oral history – if you want to read more about it we recommend Anguyiim Nalliini/Time of Warring: The History of Bow-and-Arrow Warfare in Southwest Alaska by Ann Fienup-Riordan and Alice Rearden). 

Now “massacre” is a word the tabloids really like – you might have seen the headlines this week “Alaskan war”, “knifing in the head”, “blood-thirsty tribesmen”… the list goes on. For the moment we have lost the narrative to the sensationalist press. Just remember that the real story of Nunalleq is so much stronger, more intricate, fascinating and beautiful than these journals would have it – and keep following that story 🙂 

Culture in Practice – the Quinhagak Dancers

April 17, 2019

57393047_2445005672201020_4741683631821422592_oThe Quinhagak dancers practice in the Nunalleq Culture and Archaeology Center. The group is entirely organized and run by Quinhagak youth; most of them have grown up with the Nunalleq project over the past ten years.

57094458_2445016592199928_3073612226335080448_nMembers of the Quinhagak dance group take a close look at the Nunalleq collections. Having the artifacts here in the village has an impact that goes above and beyond any of the scientific discoveries we have made over the years.

Hunting at Nunalleq

April 13, 2019

These are complete wooden arrow shafts. Nock ends on precontact Yup’ik arrows are oval in cross-section for a better grip between the fingers. Most arrow shafts show signs of being painted in red, black or a combination of those colors. The arrow points have a conical pointed base that plugs into a hole on the business end of the arrow shaft. That way different point types can be plugged in depending what type of game animal presents itself. The broken ends of arrow points are still embedded in several of these shafts. We find arrows in many sizes including small ones for children.


Below are toggling harpoon heads. Finely made from caribou antler, these were designed to toggle, or turn sideways inside the seal after it was hit. The slots at the end held a sharp triangular slate endblade. If you look closely, you’ll see a broken endblade still remaining in one of them. The harpoon head on the far right is a preform, lost or discarded before the final touches could be added. Very similar harpoons are still used by seal hunters in Quinhagak today, although modern versions are made from metal.


Ivory and bone fish lures were used as jigs to lure fish to the surface where they could be speared or dip netted. This one is made from walrus ivory and elders say that it probably represents a young northern pike.