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An Outsider’s Perspective

August 20, 2013

I came to Quinhagak 5 weeks ago to spend my summer working for Qanirtuuq Inc, the native corporation here. The last three weeks were spent working on the archeology project with the rest of the crew and I have been asked to share my experience. Being from Texas, going to school in the North East, and only just having finished freshman year, many people’s first question is ‘how did you end up here’, a remote native village in western Alaska, of all places? Looking back, I barely know the answer. I was looking for an internship working outdoors, and preferably related to environmental science. I was recommended to a friend of a friend, who had worked in Alaska, and he recommended me to someone else, and before I knew it I had book a flight to Quinhagak. As an intern for the corporation I have been cleaning up old fishing camps, working as IT help, and doing other odd jobs. The main purpose for my stay in Quinhagak, though, is studying the erosion of their coastline due to climate change. We have data of the erosion line from 2010, and now 2013, and hope to take more regular measurements to track the land loss. The effects of climate change is being felt by more and more people worldwide, but it is northern climates that are feeling it the most. In just the past three years, parts of the coast have eroded as much as 7 meters. To help visualize, that is roughly the width of an official football (soccer) goal, or the length of one and a half Toyota Corollas, a huge change for such a short period of time. This is extremely relevant to the archeology project; in fact it could be the single most important factor for the creation and continuation of this project. The site we are currently excavating is a rescue mission: excavate it now, or this amazing record of ancestral life will be washed out to sea and lost forever. Every artifact found is an artifact saved.

I started working with the dig as soon as the archeologists arrived, and learned about a field previously foreign to me. I’ve been digging and troweling, learning what to look for, how to create a grid and the greater importance of the site, but I was surprised to find another strong relation between this project and climate change. One of the goals of this research is to look at how these ancient peoples, who lived during the little ice age, were affect by climate change. This takes into account changes in diet due to species migration under new climate conditions, and changes in lifestyle to accommodate for the different weather and climate patterns these people now had to live through. From studying the past, the project hopes to give a prediction for the future. The conditions of warming at the end of the little ice age were quite similar to the trends we are experiencing now, so the changes, especially in availability of certain species, could be very similar. I understood studying the past for the pursuit of knowledge, as well as for the protection and preservation of culture, but the thought of such an immediate connection had not occurred to me. It is fascinating research, and I look forward to seeing the future of the project.

Kent

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