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Nunalleq Labrets

June 8, 2020

Rick continues his work on documenting the collection. Here you can see some of the Nunalleq labrets (lip plugs) documented in his pictures. An abundance of labrets have been found at Nunalleq, and they were made in a wide variety of different materials and styles. You can see the range of variety in the picture below,

Labrets 1

Labrets can tell you about peoples personal identity and affiliation. These wood labrets have been decorated with stylized seal faces – we believe they tell a family story. The distribution of these within the sod house complex excavated at the site suggests that they represent membership in a single clan or extended family.

Labrets 2

A conversation with Josh in the Delta Discovery

May 26, 2020

Joshua Branstetter, the man behind ‘Children of the Dig’ is interviewed in Delta Discovery about his experience in making the documentary, with contributions from his daughter, Ellie.

Rick on lockdown in Quinhagak

April 23, 2020

The Uni communications team asked for an update on the project progress – and Rick obliged. Here’s the story they wrote.

It’s been picked up by one newspaper so far (that I’m aware); the Penarth Times.

Enjoy the read!

More from Rick’s desk…

March 9, 2020

Labrets, ornamental lip plugs, were commonly worn by peoples on the Bering Sea and the Pacific Rim and we found hundreds at the Nunalleq site. Most were made from wood but we also recovered examples made from various stones, as well as ivory and antler. This set of labrets was made from serpentine. They may have been used by higher status individuals, with the raw material perhaps obtained through long distance trade.



Ivory artefacts from Nunalleq

March 5, 2020

Here are some pictures from Rick’s work with the collection in Quinhagak – displaying the amazing artistry of the Nunalleq inhabitants.


An ivory toggle in the form of an owl with the rear flippers of a seal, representing an animal in the midst of transformation. This close-up view shows some of the tool marks left by the carver. Traces of adhesive in the eye sockets suggest that this piece originally had inset eyes of perhaps a different material. Length about 1.5 inches

ivory toggle

This ivory toggle was probably used as a tie on a woman’s belt. It may represent a spirit being or perhaps a human/bird transformation. It is depicted with a pair of large labrets and the eyes were originally inset with bright pyrites, the remnants of which have now oxidized


This walrus ivory bust is less than an inch high, but is detailed enough to show a pair of large labrets below the lower lip. A large hole drilled in the back of the head admits light that illuminates the eyes slightly, even indoors. In daylight in fact the eyes glow bright red.

Climate change forces Alaska Natives to hunt for new ways to survive

March 4, 2020

A reminder of what the changing climate means for Yup’ik communities: Climate change forces Alaska Natives to hunt for new ways to survive

Nunalleq 2020

March 2, 2020

Rick has been stationed in Quinhagak working with the collection since October:

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My work station in the collections room at the Nunalleq Culture and Archaeology Center.

We will be looking for volunteers this summer to help with cataloging. Experience is helpful but not necessary. June 15-July 15.

‘Surfacing’ by Kathleen Jamie

November 4, 2019

Scottish author Kathleen Jamie visited Quinhagak and Nunalleq during the excavation some years ago, and this year her book Surfacing – an essay collection taking its starting point from her experiences in Quinhagak. Anchorage Daily News has recently published a review of the book. And this is what The Guardian is thinking.


‘Children of the Dig’ officially selected for the Red Nation Film Festival

October 7, 2019

‘Children of the Dig’, has been officially selected for the 24th Annual Red Nation Film Festival, playing November 1-14th in LA. RNFF is the largest Native Film Festival in the US, and has been working for 24 years to give a voice to Native stories and Native storytellers, and break down racism and stereotypes in the film industry.

And if you’re in LA November 1-14th, come support Children of the Dig and all the other great films playing at the fest.

Red Nation Film Fest in Variety

Josh says: Thank you to everyone giving our little doc so much love these past few months. It’s warmed my heart and lifted up the whole team. All we want to do is share Quinhagak’s beautiful, true story, and help people see why it’s so special. Thank you.

‘Children of the Dig’ joining the 44th Annual American Indian Film Festival

October 2, 2019

‘Children of the Dig’ continues to spread the word on Nunalleq – this time in AIFF.

From Branstetter Film: Proud to announce our documentary, ‘Children of the Dig’, will be playing at the 44th Annual American Indian Film Festival. AIFF is the longest-running Native American and First Nations film festival in the world, and has served as a showcase for Native American stories in the industry for 44 years.

Thank you to AIFF for helping to share the story of Quinhagak, Alaska – and their efforts to save more than 60,000 Yup’ik artifacts from a quickly eroding Alaskan coastline – with the world.

And if you’re in the San Francisco area October 26th through November 2nd, make sure to stop by and support ‘Children of the Dig’ and all the films playing at the fest.