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Where archaeology and oral history meet

August 17, 2012

Quinhagak is situated by the Kanektok river which means ‘the new river’ or ‘the new river channel’ – referring to the ever-changing character of the river, but the Nunalleq site is closer to the Arolik river. The old river channel of the Arolik is only some hundred meter south of the site. When we asked no one really knew the meaning of ‘Arolik’, but when searching for land records Warren found an explanation for the name. Arolik means ‘ashes’ and is a reference to the abandoned ‘burnt village’ supposedly situated near the river mouth. This is very exciting news for us, as we are excavating something that very much looks like a burnt village – close to the old river mouth of the Arolik.

More references to the burning of the village are found in oral history. Yup’ik lore tells about the bow and arrow wars that took place in the mid 17th century. According to legend the wars started with “an eye for an eye” after an incident with two boys playing. In local history the village of Arolik was attacked in summer, everyone in the village was killed and the village burned. Some mothers dressed up their boys in their finest garments and offered them to the attackers in hope that they would be spared, but the attackers killed them even so. Some people tried to hide in the tunnels, but they were found and killed and the dead were thrown in the lake. “So it was that the Kinak worriors wiped out the entire village of Arolic” (told by Charlie Pleasant of Quinhagak in Yupik Lore. Oral tradition of an Eskimo people). It is fascinating how well this story matches the archaeology of Nunalleq. From the ‘side room’ excavated in 2010 the burnt house has been dated to c. 1650. The house was evidently destroyed in a fire, and the many arrow points found in the burnt (roof) level of the house suggest it was a violent event. The few human remains found outside the house suggest the same. Amazingly enough oral history and archaeology come together to write the story for us.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Jeff permalink
    August 17, 2012 11:58

    Hey guys – looks like another superb season. Great pics of all the goodies. Good luck with finishing up on your tight schedule. All the best from rainy Perthshire!

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