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National Geographic Photo Workshop

July 17, 2018

This week Erika, the photographer who took the pictures for the National Geographic article on Nunalleq, and five of her National Geographic colleagues are running a photography workshop for Quinhagak youth this week, and the young photographers came visiting the site.


It will be exciting to see the results at the end of the week!

On site we are continuing digging – the very last occupation next to the very first. Several dolls were found in the younger house.

The two dolls of the picture are both unusual. The first one is made of caribou antler – almost all our dolls are made out of wood. Traditionally a frowning face represents a female – and if you look closely you can see a a face on her body – this may represent the yua, the soul or spirit inside. The second doll has delicately carved features and is pained with red ocher. The groove around the face suggest this doll used to have hair, fastened to the head by a string through the groove.

37268370_2014384285263163_2098353306647658496_nThis tiny earring made out of ivory was found in the screen by Hannah. It came from one of the house floors in the older house. This particular house floor is located in the southwestern corner of the house. This room leads into the centre of the house via a walkway – and a puddle. This part of the house is always wet, and Hannah has to bail several times a day, even when its not raining. The interesting thing is that this not seems to be a new problem. The nice house floor(s) in the corner always ends close to the puddle where the fill instead turns very mossy and soddy. It is tempting to think that this is due to the wet conditions, and people at Nunalleq were trying to contain the water in moss and sod before installing the boardwalk.

Artefact of the Day July 16

July 17, 2018

The artefact of the day is a beautifully carved ivory fish lure which may represent a baby poke. Lures like this would be used in ice fishing to bring fish close enough to be speared.


It was found by Anna in one of our last house floors – which means the first occupation at site.

Nunalleq from above

July 17, 2018

37267246_2012145178820407_5995111292459810816_nWork continues at site, and more and more of the sterile natural is appearing on the old trench. This means we are very close to the very first human activity at site, and we’re starting to catch a site of the original foundation features – dug outs for installing the first boardwalks and floors and the first sod blocks resting on the natural clay.


House floor with part of the boardwalk preserved. The wall in the upper part of the picture is lined by a row of post holes, two posts are still intact. House post would have been pulled out when they were no longer wanted, to reuse for other constructions, as driftwood logs were a valuable commodity in this treeless area.

Despite the century separating the two houses we are now simultaneously excavating, some features are remarkably similar.


This is a drone image showing the northeastern part of the trench, where you can see two entryways. They are separated in elevation by a meter, and in time by over a century. We are looking at the latest and the earliest occupation on the site in this picture- the older house is to the right. Although they belong to entirely different structures the two walkways were constructed in the same angle. We believe this is due to environmental factors – they are facing away from the prevailing direction of Bering Sea storms.

Artefact of the Day, July 14th

July 16, 2018

The artefact of the day is a complete bentwood vessel. It was found on the charred floor of the burnt house in our western trench. An evidence from the last occupation when they the house was attacked c. 1670.


Week 2 in the Nunalleq Lab

July 16, 2018

This past week, we were happy to have volunteers from the Sierra Club join us in the lab and help us clean freshly excavated artefacts. The volunteers took turns working out at the excavation site and spending one of their days with us in the lab. It provided a great opportunity for them to experience both field and lab work. We appreciated their help, as there were many more artefacts to clean this week then last week. At the same time, Amanda and Elli were working in the field, keeping all the new finds organized and lifting and packaging the fragile artefacts from the site for safe transport to the lab.

In the lab, Georgia, Kostja, and Sierra Club volunteers clean artefacts.

Another busy and productive week for the lab crew!


Artefact of the Day (Friday) the 13th of July

July 15, 2018

The artefact of the day is a complete child’s bow made out of a strip of baleen. Notches on the staves suggest that it may have been backed with braided sinew. It was found in the ‘new’ house – the last phase of occupation at Nunalleq.


Baleen artefacts and house footprints

July 15, 2018

Heading out to site in a full van…

On the last day at site for the Sierra Club we made some pretty remarkable finds. A child’s bow made of baleen was found in the old house (you can read more about this on the ‘artefact of the day’). Another unusual baleen artefact was found in the ‘old house’.


A piece of plaited baleen basketry. This is a unique find at the site, it is the only baleen basketry we have. It is generally assumed that baleen basketry is a post-contact craft, something that is clearly disproven by this artefact.


The Sierras last day of digging

In the eastern trench we have now reached the earliest (last from our perspective) occupation levels, and we are starting to see the original footprint of the house. A ‘new’ house floor appeared under a sod wall, giving our oldest house a cruciform shape – typical for a Thule house. For some reason this layout was changed later on in the house’s life, when a wall was built, and a side room removed.


Archaeology in action

We have also started working on the last (earliest) house floors in the northwestern corner of our old trench, where we have had what might be the last properly preserved boardwalk in the house.


Boardwalk between two sod walls

This is a passage way between side rooms we believe.


Anna on the maybe-last boardwalk

We were hoping to get a nice drone picture of the boardwalk, but it was far too windy for the drone to fly, so Rick used the old fashioned method to get an image from above…


Rick and Michael performing ‘take picture of boardwalk in wind’


Anna planning

Two weeks excavation have produced an abundance of artefacts that have been cleaned and treated by the lab crew. During the large crewed Sierra week we have even had lab crew in the field lab – Elli and Amanda have been in charge of artefacts in the field.


 Elli, Amanda and Frances with freshly cleaned artifacts in the conservation lab at the new Nunalleq Culture and Archaeology Center. Frances is a conservator from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory who has volunteered to run the lab this summer. Elli and Amanda are archaeology students from the University of Aberdeen.