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Nunalleq kayaks

January 16, 2017

Kayaks and boats have naturally been an integral part of life at Nunalleq – the sea-close, sea-mammal-hunting and fishing community. We have not (yet ;)) found a kayak, but many kayak ribs, and other small kayak pieces, many of which have been reused for something else. It’s hard to remember when one sees the abundance of wooden artefacts from the site, but wood was a rare and valuable commodity at nunalleq, and thus many wooden pieces had several ‘lives’. Many of the ‘stick-dolls’ we find have been kayaks in their previous life. We have also found fragments of kayak paddles.


We haven’t recovered any complete kayak paddles yet from Nunalleq, but have dozens of fragments, enough to reconstruct what a 17th century Yup’ik kayak paddle looked like. They had a knobbed sub-rectangular handle and single, pointed blade about 15 cm wide. Paddle blades tended to have a flat diamond shape in cross section, although some were completely flat on one side. The kayak paddle handle was the weak point, often splitting with the grain or just snapping off. These were replaced by carving a new handle knob and threading it back on the paddle stem. You can see traces of the original painted design on the paddle blade below.

In addition to the full-size kayaks, we also have recovered kayak models, that can give you an idea of what the full scale kayak could have looked like.


Kayak models, complete with boatmen and accessories. This is just a sample- there are many more miniature kayaks that range in size from 2 cm to 40 cm long. These were probably toys but ceremonial use is also possible. From Nunalleq, c. 1600.

Pictures taken by Rick Knecht

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