Skip to content

Winding down

August 4, 2019


The 2019 season at Nunalleq is winding down here in Quinhagak. This year our field work included local survey and testing of sites rather than our usual large scale excavation. Our focus this year was on cataloging finds from the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The hard working lab crew cataloged more than 18,500 artifacts this past month. I’ll be spending the next couple weeks entering the information into a computer along with archiving our previous season’s photographs and other records. So far the catalog includes more than 90,000 entries. By the end of next summer we will be well into the six figures.


Making a kayak…

August 3, 2019

67639743_2650367668331485_4991604463060910080_nTraditional kayak makers bent their kayak ribs using their teeth to crush the wood grain. Dick Bunyan was photographed using this technique in Hooper Bay. Human teeth marks are clearly visible on many of the kayak ribs and other bentwood artifacts from the Nunalleq site, as in this example from c. 1600.


Surveying for sites

August 2, 2019

This summer’s field season has been focussing on post-ex work, treating and cataloguing artefacts, rather than excavation. However, the area around Quinhagak has also been surveyed to look for new sites, one promising site was located on the Arolik river front.

68441940_2650171038351148_5601163947039260672_nThe Arolik River site testing crew on our only rainy day this summer.

Several new late prehistoric and historic sites were mapped and tested this year, however none of them so far have had the remarkably well-preserved deposits of preserved organic materials found at the Nunalleq site.

Nunalleq in The Conversation

July 31, 2019

We have forgotten to tell you that our own Alice has written a pice on Nunalleq and Quinhagak for The Conversation. Enjoy 🙂

Cataloguing artefacts

July 25, 2019

Have you wondered how the artefact cataloguing process is going in our lab? Tess will take you through this 3-step procedure in one minute.

Hardworking Elves

July 24, 2019

Sorry for being out of touch for the past few weeks – a combination of no wifi and being busy in the lab has limited our ability to update the blog! I arrived in Quinhagak on July 1st, and since then we have mostly been doing lab work, with Jonathan surveying (he will give an update on that!) In the lab this summer we’ve been cataloguing the artifacts, meaning we are giving every artifact (from 2017 and 2018 field seasons) an individual number that Rick will then enter into the computer along with its specific provenience information. By the end of last week, we finished labelling the wooden artifacts, which totalled 16,400. Our average per day was 1,093 artifacts. Now we have also gone through the bone and have begun cataloguing the lithics.



Crew at work


Every day in the lab we each catalogue around 200-300 artifacts


Vermeer-style Meta


“Lab girls” working on their nails (lol)

The tundra reveals its secrets…

July 9, 2019

Greetings from sunny Alaska! Spirits are very high here at camp despite the horrendously warm weather, and we are all very much looking forward to an amazing field season here at Quinhagak.

My name is Jonathan Lim. Regular readers of this blog may recognize me from previous field seasons manning the total station, or from that time “Batman” Watterson helped me to drain my tundra-hole. The excavation at the Nunalleq site has been a huge part of my life since 2015, and I am thrilled to be taking on a more active role with updating this blog and with planning our fieldwork this summer.

I will be a DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford starting this October, and my research interest is in “archaeological prospection”, which is loosely defined as the fine art of finding undiscovered archaeological sites using traditional and electronic techniques. Unfortunately, given the devastating effects of climate change in the region, there is now an urgency to discover new sites and investigate them before they are lost forever. Although our emphasis this year will be on cataloguing our collections, I will also be carrying out an archaeological survey of the surrounding tundra with the help of our intrepid volunteers and field school students!

A sod house

A reconstruction of a sod house at the Alaska Native Heritage Centre, with me for scale.

However, before such a survey can take place, it is often necessary to visit known archaeological sites to get a sense of what these abandoned settlements may have looked like in the landscape. To this end, we made a flying visit yesterday to Agaligamiute, a historic Yup’ik sod-house village of 94 people recorded in the US census of 1890 near the mouth of the Arolik River. It was probably abandoned shortly after this date, and its former location is recorded on USGS maps from the 1950’s.

We parked our van near Nunalleq and made the short hike to down the beach in the sweltering heat. Upon our arrival, I was taken aback at how… flat everything seemed. At eye-level there was not a single visual indication that this was once a thriving village of almost a hundred people. However, our drone footage and satellite imagery told a different story…

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0003.JPGsatellite(Top) A drone photograph showing the former location of the village. Vegetation changes in circular patterns may represent the remains of sod-built structures. (Below) The same vegetation changes are visible on high-resolution satellite imagery.

This really drives home the difficulty of archaeological prospection in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Ground surveys are essential, but they must be augmented with information from a variety of sources, including aerial photography, satellite remote sensing, and local knowledge and oral histories.

We also stumbled upon something quite baffling a short distance north of Agaligamiute. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we found an almost perfectly square 2.5m x 2.5m pit that was 30cm deep. The journey back to camp was enlivened by a heated discussion as to what this hole represented. I must confess that the word ‘aliens’ was brought up more than once. Thankfully, village Elder John Smith would come to our rescue as he has done countless times before, suggesting that the pit represented the remains of a fish storage cache, much like the ones he had seen in his childhood.

Yesterday was a most auspicious start to what I hope is a season of exciting new discoveries out in the tundra. Thanks for reading, and do check back soon for updates on our progress! I would also like to use this opportunity to thank the Keble Association and Prof. Raoul Franklin of Keble College for funding my research and travels this summer.


Photo by Jonathan Lim