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A cornucopia of finds in square 32

August 2, 2014

This is my first season excavating at Nunalleq, and so far I’ve been impressed by both the complexity and preservation of the site and by the curiosity and generous spirit of the people of Quinhagak. As a doctoral student at the University of Oregon, I study the intersections of gender and subsistence in pre-contact Alaska, and digging at Nunalleq has already given me a lot of food for thought!

For the past couple of days I’ve been removing a thick layer of burnt debris from above the house floor in Square 32. This task has become increasingly more complex as I happen upon charred artifact upon charred artifact, many of which have been fashioned from organic materials and are therefore extremely delicate. The first step in recovering these burnt artifacts is to gently reveal their surfaces and edges with the aid of fine digging tools and a wet paintbrush. These methods were especially useful in removing the dirt from a piece of charred grass basketry, two thin braids of burnt grass cordage, and a badly scorched bentwood bowl that I found in my square yesterday.

Removing these burnt artifacts from the ground is a particularly difficult feat, and one in which Rick aided me for the better part of this afternoon. Earlier in the day I had come down upon several large fragments of a burnt pottery vessel which were scattered across the western half of my square. After photographing the pottery fragments and mapping them with the total station, we set to work: gently lifting them from the ground, wrapping them loosely with cling wrap, and packing them carefully into padded boxes. We think that these clustered pottery fragments were originally from a single vessel, which Ana will try to reconstruct back at the lab in Aberdeen.

Pottery detail

Concentration of pottery fragments from a large decorated vessel in Square 32. The large ulu blade is on the top centre of the image. You can also see half of the base of a wooden bowl to the right of the trowel.

Not all artifacts in Square 32 are burnt—in fact, my favorite is a huge, pristine ulu, or woman’s knife. I imagine that this large and carefully polished tool would once have been a prized possession to its owner. I’d love to know what Nunalleq women of the past used a knife as large as this! This is also today’s Artifact of the Day!

I’m thrilled to be a part of the Nunalleq team this year. Every day at the site so far has held new excitement and challenges, and even though today was as cold and muddy as ever, the incredible finds in Square 32 kept a smile on my face through it all!


A very happy Anna S. holding the Artefact of the Day, a large ulu blade

Anna S.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Christina Young permalink
    August 2, 2014 06:29

    Anna S.,

    I didn’t realize you were at the site this summer! We will have to compare notes on experiences, etc. once we are back in Eugene. Let me know if you need or want some company on your way back through Anchorage as well. You can email me at! I’m glad you’re finding a plethora of artifacts, even if they are a bit charred. So exciting!

    Christina Young

    • Anna S. permalink
      August 3, 2014 04:01

      Hi Christina,

      So fantastic to hear from you! I thought I might have seen you in some site photos from years past, but wasn’t sure it was you–now I remember you telling me about your field school through Aberdeen. I’m having such fun so far! We’ll have to catch up on things when I’m back in Oregon this fall. I will be traveling back through Anchorage, too, and spending the night, so I’ll get in touch as the date approaches.

      Hope all is well,

      Anna S.

  2. Cheryl V. permalink
    August 4, 2014 05:57

    Such exciting work Anna, especially finding the ulu blade! The nature of your work is so intricate and requires such patience. I’m glad it’s going well.

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