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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

Quinhagak artefacts in KTVA Alaska

January 16, 2017

KTVA Alaska is reporting on Nunalleq and the new Cultural Centre and museum that is being set up

Hunting gear from Nunalleq

January 6, 2017

For years Rick has been working like a madman in the lab to, with the aid of conservator Julie Masson-MacLean and a dedicated group of students and volunteers, curate and catalogue all the artefacts from the six excavation seasons at Nunalleq. Here are pictures of some of the fully treated artefacts that will soon go back to the new cultural center in Quinhagak.


Toggling harpoon heads. These are all made from caribou antler and were designed to toggle, or turn, inside the sea mammal to prevent it from escaping. Sharp triangular endblades made from ground slate fit into the slots at the end. One harpoon point (2) still has a bit of the endblade remianing.




Toggles for attaching harpoon cords to the main harpoon line. Many are carved into the shape of sea mammals. Hunting gear was often beautifully made to show respect to the animals.


The harpoon or dart shaft was kept from sinking by an attached float made from hide or a bladder. These are the inflator valves used to blow them up. Two (2 &3) still have their wooden stoppers intact. They are made from antler, bone and walrus ivory.


These small objects are also part of the hunting equipment. The bottom row are harpoon rests, lashed to the deck of a kayak to keep weapons from rolling off. The top row are finger rests, tied to a lance or harpoon to make it easier to throw by had if necessary.


Throwing boards, or atlatls. Used to throw darts and harpoons from a sitting position in the kayak.


Bow staves. Wooden bows made at Nunalleq were short, recurved and very powerful. When they broke they tended to shatter. On some of these pieces you can see the shadow of the braided sinew lines on the back of the bow that were added to increase its strength.


Harpoon and arrow endblades were sharp, so they were contained in wooden point sheaths like these. The two halves were lased together to form the sheath. We found these by the hundreds in all sizes. These examples are complete with both halves, and you can see the shadow of the lasing on the outside surfaces.

All pictures are taken by Rick Knecht

A glimpse from the lab…

November 26, 2016

Nunalleq artefacts in the lab in Scotland. These and many more will be coming back home to Alaska next year.

Carving workshop – last day

July 6, 2016

The last workshop, that started after the village 4th of July parade, was well attended by young carvers, and some very nice pieces were made – those inspired by the old artefacts from the collection as well as artworks sprung from imagination. Instead of writing about it, we will just show you a photo gallery from the event 🙂

Happy 4th of July from Quinhagak!

July 5, 2016


Carving workshop day 2

July 4, 2016

IMG_1221Another incredibly beautiful day in Quinhagak, which of course means the workshop was competing with more appealing outdoor activities – but Bryan was back eager to continue his boat-building projects. Claire continued – and finished her antler harpoon  – with some final advice from John on how to make the holes (‘you need to find a nail’), and Anna started working on a toggling harpoon – replica from one in the collection.We chose to move the workshop outside so we could enjoy the sun while carving. Carl and Brayden also joined the carving crew on this fabulous afternoon.

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They also put their effort into carving kayaks. The boys put their boats to the test in a pan of water, and they sailed very well.


Which will win?


Anna’s toggling harpoon – with original in the background

Soaking the antler in water before carving makes it much easier to work, and Rick also experimented with boiling the antler, which worked even better.


Proud carver

However, when the antler dries out it becomes hard again very fast. These trials made us think that carvers probably had several projects going in the same time, so they can rotate between carving and soaking – working on one prong while the others rest.

After carving for hours, our hands were hurting and our concentration waned – so we put our tools down and went for a swim. Yet another beautiful day in Alaska!