Last year there were barely any snow in Quinhagak, and this year threatens to be the same. The school kids in Quinhagak miss it so much they made a video about it – and made it to the news. Merry Christmas for Quinhagak. I hope the kinds in Quinhagak will get a white Christmas
Summer 2014 was an exciting time for Nunalleq excavation’s public engagement and education team in Quinhagak. While Quinhagak itself was excited to receive their new principal Peggy Price, we too were excited to start working with her and the school. Without hesitation we were welcomed to visit classrooms run by the new 6th grade teacher Heather Vogwill, new 5th grade teacher Melanie Richmond, and the new high school science and math teacher Vincent Villella.
The outreach and education team was fortunate to have Scottish author Kathleen Jamie help lead two of the education outings at the school. We visited the 5th and 6th grade classrooms with a creative writing project in mind. Melia Knecht, with her curatorial expertise, brought with us a few of the artefacts recovered in this field season; an antler with carved caribou on it, a stone fishing lure, a harpoon point, a hafted ulu, an ivory seal amulet, and the head of an unusual doll (or figure). These artefacts were brought in to show students what is currently being found in excavation as well as to hopefully inspire some creative storytelling. The students were led to imagine what life was like 500 years ago in the village of Nunalleq. After some writing exercises and storytelling by our education team, some of the students continued on working on their stories. In the end (thanks to Heather Vogwill and her class) we were supplied with 14 original pieces of creative writing, accompanied by artwork, inspired by the artefacts. These stories were featured at the show-and-tell event for the excavation. I was very impressed and proud of the skill that all of the students showed in their work on these pieces. I have chosen one to feature on the blog here, due to her creative writing piece and her confidence to share an oral creative story in class.
Below is Marita Tunutmoak’s (6th Grade) story:
Five hundred years ago…
I was helping gather black berries for Eskimo ice cream. My parents told me to go with Chimaraq because he likes to bring grass baskets to the hill, he brought two of them, and I was half way there to finishing gathering black berries. I saw Evil Mr. jinxii then I said, “Chimaraq, tailuci, AMBII!” and when he held it I said, “Chowa,qaa?!” and Chimaraq said, “knaam” it was made of wood and we put it back and we brought an adult with us and when we came back, it was gone. After we went on the other side of the hill, there was a small door and I opened the small door Chimaraq said, “Nengqeralria, AMBII close it!” so I refused and I went in the door and I saw Evil Mr. Jinxii, alive and it said, “Kaithpait?!” so I said, “Waqaa J!” and I seen he had sharp teeth so I ran back to the village and Chimaraq was confused when he was running with me and we brought back berries and he said, “What’s the matter?” So I said, “I saw a little person with sharp teeth!” And when Evil Mr. Jinxii went to go on the berry house there was lesser berries, he got really mad, so he went to the village and said, “Who went to the black berry hill?” and me and my sister got scared. So my sisi went to go see who was that and she said, “Why?” Jinxii said, “its my berry house not yours!” so I said it was me, Nengqeralria. And jinxii took me. It was a week there was here holes 000 so I chose the middle every one was happy to see me again.
A few days later I was invited by Vincent Villella to speak to the high school math and science classes about science and technology in archaeology and of
Nunalleq. In one class, that had recently been learning about the scientific method, we chatted about how the scientific method is applied in archaeology and what ways scientists investigate our research questions on site and in the lab. Once again artefacts from the excavation joined me at the school, this time a bit of ancient Yup’ik technology: a stone ulu blade, arrow end blade and socket, a stone spear head, and a stone drill bit. I was glad to see that some students were interested in learning more, for I saw them at the show-and-tell event later that day.
This is just the beginning of archaeologists working with the students and staff of Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat. More collaborative projects will be developed in upcoming months for my return in Quinhagak January, February, and March of 2015.
Not only are we academics back in Aberdeen since a couple of weeks, we’re also just back from Istanbul. There, at the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) large yearly conference, several people from the Alaska team presented papers on Nunalleq. Charlotta spoke on community archaeology and Yup’ik heritage, Kate spoke on subsistence patterns based on what the isotopes from the human hair samples are telling us, Ellen, PhD student working with faunal material from the site and a familiar face at the excavations, spoke about her research on dog-diet and how it compares to human diet, and Thom, also a PhD-student working on residue analyses of pottery spoke about his results from the Nunalleq pottery (the pots were all used for marine mammals and fish storage/cooking). Several other members of the Alaska team were also present at the conference, Rick, Ana & Paul, our plant-machro postdoc who stars in a few weeks, but they were all presenting research from different projects.
We also had time to explore the ancient, vibrant and beautiful city of Istanbul and some of its historic sites, and sample some delicious Turkish food.
Yesterday Rick & Charlotta, the last remaining archaeologists in Quinhagak, closed the last lid of the last container of artefacts, left them in a huge stack (of 52 coolers & boxes to be precise) awaiting shipping to Aberdeen and the post-ex lab, got in the plane and left the village for this year.
Good bye Quinhagak A toast to a successful season
Rick, Charlotta & Véro give a tour of the site as it was before closing for the season – to be opened up again in 2015.
Rick, Charlotta, Véro
After yesterday’s marathon of backfilling, we are nearing the end of the field season here at Nunallaq.
Many of the team have already left, the few who remain will be gone soon, too.
There is a definite chill in the air in the mornings and evenings – we will leave the good and hospitable folks of Quinaghak to the coming autumn and winter, and hope the coming storms don’t do to much damage.
For the non-archaeologists of our readers, backfilling is the process of taking the dirt that you have excavated out and putting it back into the squares that you’ve excavated. Although this seems like a bizarre way to end a season of digging, it is essential for preservation of the site, particularly at a coastal site such as Nunalleq, with higher sea levels, coastal erosion and winter storms. These are the essential steps to surviving backfill!
Obtain all required equipment, such as tarpaulins, shovels and buckets. This first item was found to be lacking this year and a hasty trip to the hardware store for tarp acquisition was required… twice.
Have a Yup’ik crew of super heroes provided by Qanirtuuq Corporation. Roy ‘site Dad’ Mark and the Soda Crew as they were affectionally known were integral to finishing backfill in one day and we simply could not have done it without them. They not only provided their muscle but also a healthy dose of Beavis and Butthead laughter and four six-packs of various sodas, a much needed sugar injection for tired backfillers.
Enhance break-time snacks. In addition to the sodas we also brought thirteen single packets of Oreos to site. Along with lunch and other snacks these featured prominently in the day’s diet.
Keep up morale and maintain tempo with good music. This also helps to rein in sanity which after a few hours of bucket filling can go slightly astray. Today this meant a battle for musical dominance with three i-Pods blasting music across the site.
Proper personal preparation. It is important when out in the elements in Alaska to be prepared for all eventualities. This can include, horizontal rain, blinding sun and clouds of biting insects… sometimes all in one day. Thankfully today Nature was good to us and provided a lovely sunny day and clouds of non-biting insects. However, if one is not properly prepared improvisation must occur such as string suspenders to keep up loose trousers and braided rope belts to hold waterproofs in place.
Listen to your fearless leader. He will guide you in this epic final task of the field season.
Shout for your burly Lithuanian when help is required. He will be willing to relieve the physical burden from two women single handedly. This comes in especially handy when energy is waning just before lunch.
Always be in possession of a cheery disposition. It will serve you well and when tempers are short a spoonful of sugar (soda/Oreo) will help the medicine go down.
Be aware that there are times where relaxing is appropriate.
Always have a healthy attitude towards being ridiculous.
Photos by Jessica Pepe
Celeste & Ella