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Nunalleq: Stories from the Village of our Ancestors

July 28, 2018

Hi folks, Alice here checking in for my much overdue blog post this season (sorry Charlotta!). For the past year and a half I’ve been working on developing an educational resource for the site aimed at elementary schoolkids to share the story of the Nunalleq Archaeology Project. It runs like a computer program so when it’s finished you will be able to download and install it like an app on your pc.

The resource communicates the analytical and interpretive processes of archaeology and traditional knowledge through engaging interactive diagrams, reconstructions and animations. Complimentary to traditional Yup’ik modes of inter-generational teaching, rather than using anonymous text as the core medium, children will hear the voices of the archaeologists, elders, craftspeople, contemporary Yup’ik artists and local schoolchildren responding to the artefacts, reconstructions and stories from the site.

…But as you might expect, being a reconstruction artist I’m more of a visual person so it’s easier if I just show you!


The homescreen of the education pack showing a reconstruction of the sod house.

Clicking the icons on the homescreen takes you to different pages where you can explore inside the house or out in the landscape, you can even visit the archaeologists’ desk here in Quinhagak (by clicking the trowel icon on the midden pile, of course – because archaeologists learn from people’s trash, right?).


The ancestors. (Character design by Tom Paxton, creature design by Alice Watterson)

We were lucky to be able to work with John Anderson who is our resident programming whiz and made all the buttons and interactions work! And character designer Tom Paxton who designed and animated the ancestors, and sketched up some icons for our “talking heads” who offer insights, stories and information throughout the interface.


Voices from Quinhagak: Grace, John, Charlotta and Rick. (Character design by Tom Paxton)

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be working with local Quinhagak photographer (check out some of her work from last weeks Nat Geo photo camp!) and all round ideas-machine Crystal Carter to conduct ‘sound-bite’ and storytelling sessions with elders and young people in the village to begin to gather together some of the many voices that make this project so special.

Here’s a wee word from Crystal herself about her involvement with the project:

“Ika’yuraaqa Alice-aaq  mani caliurall’rani elagel’riit ilalirluki Nunallermi. Makunek wani ciuliaput piliallrit qanruciiqatgen yuuyaraamek, piciryaramek, alerquutnek-llu. Wangkuta mani nunami aulukuurluta ciuliampta pisqaaput cat’ tamarmeng takaqlluki. Nutaan pitaa’put arca’qartuq. Kitak wangkuta nanger’tellta wangkutnun ciuliamta pisqut’ngaan.”

“I’m here working with Alice on the Nunalleq project. The archaeologists digging and discovering our people’s history have definitely helped us creating a bridge to link back to our way of life, customs of life, and rules of life. With each discovery, stories and answers unfold from generations to generations. Our ancestors have passed on many values of life through what they’ve had before us and how they made use of everything that was available to them. Tells us they had respect to the lands animals, plants, waters, creatures, skies; life. We shall unify and stand for what we’ve inherited from our ancestors.”

Below is an example of how we imagine these voices will integrate into the education pack…


Entrance to the sod house, inside the reconstruction you can click on each artefact in the scene to bring up 3D models for closer inspection.


The artefact viewer with talking heads who will offer insights or stories about each object.

Working on the reconstructions for the site was fantastic, it’s rare that I’m able to dress an interior entirely with artefacts excavated from a site, usually there’s a lot more conjecture about what should be inside but at Nunalleq I was overwhelmed by the preservation of the material culture. I also spent some time at the British Museum earlier this year 3D scanning some of their Yup’ik clothing collections, meaning that we can make the link for children between the fragments of leather, grass and fur on site to what they would have originally been.


A view of the interior of the sod house, once again all the artefacts can be brought up in 3D.

Of course, the story of life at Nunalleq isn’t just confined to the walls of the sod house, every time I’ve talked to an elder or one of the other archaeologists about an artefact the explanation takes us out into the wider landscape. In order to represent this we designed three themed pages: one takes you to a seasonal camp on the tundra (below), another to ride a dogsled in the frozen wintertime and the third out to sea in a kayak surrounded by seals.

As you’ll see in the video below, all of the backgrounds are looped animations to make you feel as though you’re looking into a little window of activity.


The season wheel which facilitates conversations about the science of faunal analysis at Nunalleq to find out what people were eating 500 years ago, and subsistence life now.

Something you might notice about the season wheel (above) is that the months are named in Yup’ik, this is something we’re aiming to do throughout the interface together with spoken Yup’ik wherever possible. Another reason I’m delighted to be working with Crystal because let’s be honest, though I try, my Yup’ik is embarrassingly poor!

The ArchaeologistsDeskScreen

The archaeologist’s desk – right here at the Culture Centre in Quinhagak!

The final page I’ll give you a sneak peek of is the archaeologist’s desk which focuses on the scientific analysis of the material from Nunalleq and tells the story of the dig itself. It contains fun wee interactives including a diagram explaining how a sod house was built and a microscope to examine objects in more detail. It also has a wee film sharing a bit about what it’s like to be an archaeologist at Nunalleq…and demonstrating what happens if you ruin one of my timelapses – I’m looking at you Jonathan!
We will keep you updated as the education pack develops!


8 Comments leave one →
  1. Stefan Janik permalink
    July 28, 2018 17:43

    A fantastic modern way to interprit, remember and pass on to the young.

  2. Colleen permalink
    July 28, 2018 22:01

    Will you be using parts of the oral histories already recorded in 2014 when Quinhagak elders described material recovered that summer and spoke about cultural and subsistence practices?

  3. Lynn permalink
    July 31, 2018 17:18

    So exciting! Great job


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