Skip to content

Travels and marvels of Nunalleq’s beetles

June 21, 2016

Hello! It is the bug lady here. I thought that some of you may be impatient to know more about the insects we have been collected in and around Nunalleq from 2014 (see my first post here: As the insects and I are now back from a research trip that took us from Alaska all the way to Eastern Canada, I feel like it is time to tell you a little more about our adventures.

But before that, just a quick recap! Remember we have been collecting soil samples from the house floors, sod walls and other deposits in the archaeological site, but also from the surrounding peat bog in order to undertake different types of scientific analyses? (if not, see this post: ( I have now been able to recover from these samples the Coleoptera subfossils (bits of old beetles preserved in the soil) that we will use to reconstruct changing temperatures and ecological conditions at Nunalleq during the past few hundred years. In order to be able to decipher the clues these beetle subfossils hold about past environments and climates, it is necessary first to proceed by identifying to which species they belong. As the beetles I am dealing with are not complete like modern beetles, but rather a puzzling collection of pieces (disarticulated heads, pronota (thorax) and elytra (wing cases)), this can be a very challenging task. Thus, in order to identify these subfossils, I have to compare them with modern beetles from a reference collection.


Some of the beetle subfossils recovered from the Nunalleq samples. Can you see distinguish the heads and wing cases?

As you may recall, in 2014 I begun collecting modern beetles around Nunalleq to begin building a small reference collection and, with the help of Paul and field school students, I have also been able to collect many more specimens during the next field season in 2015. In order for this beetle collection to be of any use, it was necessary to find out to what species these specimens belonged to. Unlike the subfossils, these modern beetles are complete ─ with antennae, mouthparts and legs! This means they are more easily identifiable than the subfossils. I therefore set out to identify them, using identification keys and descriptions in entomology books, but also by visiting several entomological collections in Alaska and Canada. There, I was able to compare my specimens with those from the collections and to get some help from expert entomologists specializing in the study of beetles. You can find out more below!

Trap A facing SW (2)

An interception trap used to capture flying beetles in 2015.

After the 2014 field season, I visited the Insect Collection of the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, curated by Professor Derek Sikes. There, I pinned and mounted the beetles, in order to facilitate their manipulations and observation under the microscope. Thanks to the beetle collection, entomology books and knowledge of Professor Sikes, I was able to get many of the modern beetles trapped in 2014 identified.


Mounting beetle specimens from Quinhagak at the Museum of North University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

After having spent most of the following year and a half working in the laboratory and collecting more modern insects from Alaska, I was able to take the beetles on another trip, this time to Canada. First stop of this trip: the René-Martineau Insectarium of the Laurentian Forestry Centre in Quebec City, in order to visit Dr. Jan Klimaszewski, world expert on the Aleocharinae rove beetles (probably one of the most difficult to identify beetle groups, but also one that is predominant in archaeological samples). There, with the help of technician Caroline Bourdon, I was able to microdissect the modern Aleocharinae beetles. This allowed me to look, under the microscope, at the tiny parts that would finally allow me to tell to which species they belong: their genitals! Indeed, for many beetles, these body parts are the most diagnostic, having a particular shape or feature(s) that are characteristic of a species. Thanks to the discontinuous permafrost at Nunalleq, I was even able to recover some Aleocharinae genitalia from the soil samples. Therefore, with the help of Dr. Klimasweski, I was able to put a species name on some of the Aleocharinae subfossils from the site, which is a very rare thing!


Dr. Jan Klimaszewski (second from left) and his team (Philippe Fortin, Caroline Bourdon and Sylvain Roberge) at the Insectarium René-Martineau .

After saying goodbye to Dr. Klimaszewski and his team, I left for Ottawa, to visit the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes (CNC). There, I was welcomed by a team of coleopterists, each specializing in different groups of beetles and responsible for researching and curating a very large beetle collection. Working at the CNC is like working in a library of insects. There is a multitude of cabinets, each filled with a set of drawers that contains many insect specimens, each bearing labels with their species names and collection data (the date, place, habitat and manner in which each specimen was collected). Thanks to having access to this fantastic research resource and to the help of CNC staff, I was finally able to complete the identification of the modern beetles specimens collected around Nunalleq!


Entomology technician Karine Savard looking at specimens from CNC beetle collection.

Thanks to all that I have learned during these weeks spent working with the best resources and renowned experts in entomology, I also made substantial progress in the identification of the subfossil beetles recovered from peat and archaeological samples. Soon, I will be able to share with you the interesting clues these small creatures hold about the lives and times of the people that lived at Nunalleq…

To be continued…

I would like to thank all the people who welcomed me in their workplace and were so generous with their time, helping me learn about Alaskan beetles and their identification: Derek Sikes, Jan Klimaszewski, Yves Bousquet, Anthony Davies, George Pelletier, Ales Smetana, Hume Douglas, Patrice Bouchard, Margaret Thayer, Karine Savard & Caroline Bourdon.


Claire est revenue à Aberdeen !

May 31, 2016

Claire, notre postdoctorante qui a rejoint le projet dans le cadre de la nouvelle collaboration franco-britannique Labex/AHRC, est revenue à Aberdeen cette semaine. Claire est spécialisée dans l’étude des objets fabriqués en os et en ivoire et a passé cette semaine dans le laboratoire de paléoécologie humaine, travaillant avec Edouard, notre doctorant et archéozoologue associé au projet. Claire et Edouard ont consacré la semaine à l’exploitation des oiseaux, combinant leur expertise pour apporter de nouveaux éléments sur les technologies et activités de subsistance passées. Parmi les espèces chassées, ils ont mis en évidence une chasse aux cygnes, oies, canards, goélands et cormorans. Les os de toutes ces espèces, avec une préférence marquée pour les plus grandes, portent des traces d’exploitation liées à la production de pointes et d’aiguilles. Les photographies jointes montrent des matrices de production retrouvées sur le site, mais aussi un outil pointu et deux pointes en os d’oiseau insérées dans une hampe en bois.


Bird explotation at Nunalleq

Claire, Edouard and Kate

(see sister-post for English-language version!)

Claire returns to Aberdeen!

May 31, 2016

Claire has returned to Aberdeen for another visit as part of the new AHRC/Labex collaboration. Claire is a specialist in the study of tools made from animal bone and ivory, and has spent this week in the human palaeoecology laboratory, working with Edouard – project PhD student and zooarchaeologist. Claire and Edouard have spent the week focusing on bird exploitation, combining their expertise to get insights into past technology and subsistence. Among the hunted species they have identified swans, geese, ducks, gulls and cormorants at the site. Interestingly, the bones of all these species bears the marks of exploitation for producing points and needles, although the biggest species were used for this more frequently than others. Photographs show the waste products of bone technology production (debitage) and also a pointed tool, and two bird bone points inserted in a wooden shaft found at the site.

Bird explotation at Nunalleq

Claire, Edouard and Kate

Nunalleq project members speak at Community Archaeology seminar in Aberdeen!

March 7, 2016

As some of you will already know, Mike Smith recently paid a visit to Aberdeen in order to meeting with Rick and the team, to see artefacts from Nunalleq during conservation and also to attend an international seminar on Community Archaeology. The workshop, called ‘Community Archaeologies in Practice: Global Perspectives’, saw university researchers and community members from Japan, Alaska and Scotland came together to share their experiences of doing community-based archaeology across four unique research projects: Nunalleq, Rebun Island (Hokkaido), Bennachie (Aberdeenshire) and Rhynie (also in Aberdeenshire).

Community Workshop

The seminar took place in the Sir Duncan Rice Library in Aberdeen, and included community archaeology participants from around the world.


The diverse audience of undergraduates, postgraduates and staff along with professionals and other members of the public were treated to moving presentations on the challenges and benefits of linking communities and academic researchers. Mike’s presentation was very well-received, and he gave a great account of the Nunalleq project from the community’s perspective. It was great meeting you in Aberdeen Mike!

Jeff (c/o Kate)

Team Nunalleq says ‘Bienvenue’ to it’s newest recruits!

February 24, 2016

The AHRC Care for the Future theme has not only provided financial support for our this project over the last few years, but has also provided fantastic thematic support and great opportunities to meet and network with researchers in similar areas – both within the UK and beyond. Now, thanks to a cross-country funding scheme (with French scheme LabEx, Pasts in the Present), we are now able to welcome three new researchers to the project from Nanterre, Paris, who will help drive a new research strand on the connection between animals, subsistence and technology at Nunalleq.

The AHRC-LabEx collaboration will run from February 2016 until February 2018, and brings with it two post-doctoral researchers from Nanterre – Claire Houmard, and Yan Axel Gómez-Coutouly, as well as Head of Laboratory, Isabelle Sidéra.

And we have wasted no time in getting started! Claire – an expert in bone technology – has just returned to Paris from Aberdeen, where she spent 10 days studying the collections with Rick and Edouard, and talking archaeology with Mike who was also visiting Aberdeen at the time.

Nunalleq needles and stone drills

And Claire has already proved her worth – convincing a sceptical Rick to let her take a look through some of our sieved material promising to find needles. She found not one, but two delicate bone needles! These are our first needles from the site, and are a tiny but very welcome addition to the assemblage. Great work Claire!


Our regularly readers might have noticed something slightly different about the last post – it was written in French as well as above in English. As part of our new collaboration, we shall be aiming at posting in French now and again. All blog content shall continue to be posted in English primarily, but – when posts concern the AHRC-LabEx consortium specifically – we shall endevour to post in French as well (being careful not to exhaust our translators, Claire and Edouard!).




L’équipe de Nunalleq souhaite la bienvenue à ces nouvelles recrues !

February 24, 2016

Le projet de l’AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) ‘Care for the Future’ a non seulement apporter un soutien financier à notre projet depuis ces dernières années, mais aussi offert de nouvelles opportunités et un soutien fantastique pour permettre la rencontre et la mise en réseau de chercheurs britanniques et étrangers travaillant dans des aires géographiques similaires. A présent, grâce à un projet de collaboration financé par l’AHRC et la France (LabEx “Les Passés dans le Présent“, Nanterre), nous avons pu accueillir trois nouveaux chercheurs dans notre projet, qui aideront à mener une nouvelle recherche de qualité dont l’objectif est de lier animal, subsistance et technologie à Nunalleq.

La collaboration de deux ans AHRC/LabEx vient de débuter en février 2016. Elle permet d’intégrer deux chercheurs post-doctorants de Nanterre – Claire Houmard et Yan Axel Gomez-Coutouly, sous la direction de leur directrice de laboratoire Isabelle Sidéra.

Nous n’avons pas perdu notre temps ! Claire, experte en technologie osseuse, vient tout juste de passer un séjour de 10 jours à Aberdeen pour étudier les collections de Nunalleq avec Rick et Edouard, et a parlé archéologie avec Mike qui s’est aussi rendu à Aberdeen au même moment pour une journée thématique sur l’archéologie en lien avec les communautés.

Nunalleq needles and stone drills

Claire a déjà convaincu Rick, sceptique au départ, de trier les refus de tamis à la recherche d’aiguilles. Elle en trouva une, puis deux, puis une troisième entière ! Ce sont les toutes premières aiguilles trouvées sur le site. Bien que très petites, elles sont délicatement fabriquées et tout à fait bienvenues pour compléter la collection. Bien joué Claire !

Kate (translated by Claire, and Edouard)

Nunalleq: New Narratives from ‘The Old Village’

February 22, 2016

AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council)  has published a photo gallery with pictures from Quinhagak and Nunalleq. Enjoy the Narratives from the Old Village.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 829 other followers