The Nunalleq Site Fieldwork Blog

Collection of amber beads from the Nunalleq Site. Source: Nunalleq Blog.

Collection of amber beads from the Nunalleq Site. Source: Nunalleq Blog.

One of the benefits of running this blog is I get to decide what counts as Northwest Coast Archaeology, and today I’m including the amazing Nunalleq site in SW Alaska. Strengthening my claim this belongs to the NW Coast is that the indispensable Dr. Madonna Moss of U. Oregon has been working there lately – which makes it NW Coast, right? Q.E.D.  Anyway the project has been running for about five years, and their blog for three, so there is lots to read up on, and see.  The site, lying in Yup’ik territory, contains deposits (house and otherwise) up to around 2,000 years old and has been rapidly eroding of late.  What started as a salvage project quickly turned into a major effort as deposits of incredible richness were encountered, with preservation enhanced by frozen soil/permafrost.  I’m currently in a fairly remote spot with slow internet and bandwidth constraints, so I am just going to link to a few highlights of the blog and let you explore the rest.

Boardwalks at the Nunalleq Site.

Boardwalks at the Nunalleq Site. Source:

  • This 2014 news item from the Alaska Dispatch News gives a great overview of the site including video and photo gallery. It’s from the blog’s page of links to press coverage. That page also leads us to this article, which reveals the project budget is 1.7 million dollars (!) and comes from the U.K. (!!), where project co-lead Dr Rick Knecht is now based at Aberdeen – his page contains scholarly links to Nunalleq as well. The other co-lead, Dr. Charlotta Hillerdal, also at Aberdeen, has a few youtube videos posted which I have not yet watched.
  • This video from 2013, Nunalleq: The Old Village, also does a great job of setting the scene at the site.
  • Speaking of videos, I also really liked this one, in which community members reflect on the archaeological dig and what it means to them and their community.
  • And, speaking of the community, this is a nice post showing how archaeology is being used as a focus for teaching in the local school.  There is a wonderful story and art from a 6th grader, Marita Tunutmoak, featured.
  • If the picture above of the amber beads intrigued you, then following posts tagged with “Artifact of the Day” will be worth your while.  Finding hafted ulus is apparently routine, true excitement being saved for Walrus Transformation Masks.  This cache of tools is also spectacular, and this Net Needle may be of interest to the Hakai group, who recently found something similar, only much older.
  • OK, I can’t help myself, this fossil mammoth tusk, ancient even when the site was used, is also a cool find, perhaps brought to the site as raw material for ivory carving.  The Yup’ik have stories about these mammoth remains, they “were animals that lived under ground, and borrowed through the earth. If they accidentally came out to the fresh air they died, and that’s why they were sometimes found – dead – in the earth.”
  • The boardwalks shown above, which criss-crossed the site, are very interesting, especially in an area not known for its trees.  This considerable labour investment in keeping dry underfoot is notable.  I mentioned this elsewhere in this blog when discussing the images by Webber at Yuquot and by Alexander in Bute Inlet – apparent boardwalks and platforms in that picture of an active midden and village.  It’s something to keep in mind for us further south than Nunalleq, I think.
  • And, Madonna herself authors a few posts, such as this one on mysterious mussel remains and this one on salmon – not to mention the one describing “perhaps the most powerful” artifact she has ever found.

Anyway, this is all getting a little long and is only meant to say congrats to the Nunalleq team of bloggers, the lead archaeologists, and the entire community for sharing so fully their amazing research.  I fear this is a bit of a harbinger of climate change though, as rising sea levels worldwide may well be eating into hundreds of thousands of coastal archaeological sites in the next century.

A cluster of dart shafts. The U-shaped piece is a wooden mask. A serpentine labret was also found here. Source:

A cluster of dart shafts. The U-shaped piece is a wooden mask. A serpentine labret was also found here. Source:

7 responses to “The Nunalleq Site Fieldwork Blog

  1. Thanks for all of this Quentin. The University of Aberdeen group headed by Rick Knecht and Charlotta Hillerdall is doing an amazing job! I was there in search of herring bones (see my UO blog and I didn’t find any…yet….


  2. Hi Madonna, thanks for bringing the Nunalleq blog to my attention when I called for other fieldwork blogs the other day (and if anyone else lurking knows of others, then forward them along, qmackie at gmail).
    I just updated to link to Charlotta’s profile as well, which I neglected to do. It’s to the credit of the blog that it is so multi-authored and to the credit of the project that it’s a little hard to figure out who is who – appears democratic at least ….

    Interesting recent post at your blog on sewing salmon spines at Nunalleq.

    And speaking of herring – twoeyes is up here on Quadra.


  3. Couldn’t open at work as spyware detected.


  4. Here’s a bit of an update on the transformer mask mentioned above:
    It notes that Dr Knecht will be giving a public talk if you are in Southwest Alaska…..


  5. Handynummer Orten

    The site was occupied just before and during with the Little Ice Age around 1400 AD and data from the site will be important to our understanding of past climate change. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is an area three times the size of Scotland, yet its prehistory remains very poorly known.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. there is another very cool video of the excavation and context produced by PBS digital studios and embedded on Madonna’s blog here :


  7. Thank you, Iain, for pointing this out. You might like to see the handful of dog bones that show up on my green gloves (very briefly) in the video. We founds lots of dog in the site, which was very interesting…. MM


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