Nunalleq 2017: Archaeological Excavation and Conservation Lab

 

The University of Aberdeen Department of Archaeology is partnering with the village corporation Qanirtuuq, Inc. and the Yup’ik village of Quinhagak on a large scale archaeological project. Archaeological sites, as well as the modern infrastructure in the region, are threatened by melting permafrost and rising sea levels along the Bering Sea. This field season we will be excavating the earliest occupation phase of the Nunalleq site, a 14th-18th century pre-contact Yup’ik village with exceptionally well-preserved organic remains. Beginning in the 2017 season, we will also be processing the finds in a Quinhagak-based lab.

We invite applications from all interested people for a place on the excavation or in the lab. You will gain field experience in the Alaskan bush and be part of an exciting research project, working in close partnership with the Yup’ik descendant community to save their threatened heritage.

You can find out more about the
Project by reading the Nunalleq blog.

Nunalleq is the name of an archaeological site in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of Southwestern Alaska. Nunalleq, meaning the ‘Old Village’ in Yup’ik was given its name by Village Elders.

The University of Aberdeen Department of Archaeology is partnering with the village corporation Qanirtuuq, Inc. and the Yup’ik village of Quinhagak on this large scale archaeological project. The site has been researched since 2009, and previous years’ excavation has revealed a multi-period pre-contact village dating between 14th and 18th century. Due to permafrost the level of preservation is extraordinary, and the archaeological collection after five seasons of excavation are now one of the largest ever recovered from Alaska.

The goals of this project are to:

  • Generate new information about the pre-contact history and culture of the Yup’ik people by recovering artefacts and other materials from actively eroding archaeological sites.
  • Evaluate the impact of rising sea levels on the cultural resources in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and develop locally based expertise and facilities to address those impacts.
  • Create new educational and economic opportunities for the people of Quinhagak and surrounding region.
  • Provide training and experience in community-based archaeological research for a new generation of scientists, land managers and community leaders.
  • Produce data about human adaptations to past climate change that will be relevant for local decision makers dealing with the effects of global warming.
  • Develop a local archaeological repository, cultural centre and museum where the archaeological material will be housed.

 


This field season we will be excavating the earliest occupation phase of the Nunalleq site (GDN-248), a 14th-18th century pre-contact Yup’ik village with exceptionally well-preserved organic remains. Beginning in the 2017 season, we will also be processing the finds in a Quinhagak based lab. By the end of 2018 the archaeological collection, now housed at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, will have been returned to Quinhagak, and the conservation work of the finds from this season’s excavation is marking the beginning of this process.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is an area three times the size of Scotland, yet its prehistory remains very poorly known. Our excavation at Nunalleq is the largest ever done in the area and the material we recover will give us the first detailed look at the prehistory of this very significant culture area.

Artefacts and features at the Nunalleq site are spectacular and abundant. The combination of permafrost and moist soil conditions have preserved wood, fur, bark, claws and other organic materials and are giving us an remarkably clear view of pre-contact Yup’ik culture. At least 80% of the artefacts we recover will be made from wood and will need special care in handling and recording. Digging at this site will demand a good deal of care and attention to detail.  It is also likely to produce some of the most remarkable finds of your archaeological career.

This year (2017) we will continue excavation on a semi-subterranean multi-period turf house. Based in previous years’ excavation, we expect to find the earliest occupation phase of the site, and will continue to explore the architecture and organisation of the house. Careful mapping of all the finds will help us determine what kinds of activities went on in various areas of the dwelling. Soil samples taken during the excavation are analysed, and microscopic plant and insect remains are used to further our understanding of subsistence, activity areas, and organisation.

Working with our partners in Quinhagak, we combine locally based traditional knowledge with academic research methods to reconstruct the prehistoric roots of modern Yup’ik culture. The artefacts are the property of Qanirtuuq, Inc. and will be on loan to the University of Aberdeen while they are being conserved, catalogued and analysed.


A find processing and conservation lab will be set up in Quinhagak for this season. Here work on cleaning, conserving and cataloguing finds will start as soon as they come in from the field at the end of the day. The wide range of materials, from grass baskets, over wooden artefacts and fragile pottery, to lithics, require different methods of cleaning and conservation. Experienced lab staff from Aberdeen will be working with the material, together with Quinhagak residents. The lab personnel will also be preparing material for the annual community workshop, or ‘show & tell’ where some of the finds will be on display.


Our field season is short and the archaeological site is eroding quickly; therefore we will work a six-day week with Sundays free. Typically, breakfast is served at 7:30 am and the van will begin transporting people to the site at 8:30. Before you leave for the day you will need to have your gear packed; rain gear, extra clothing, bug repellent, field notes, water bottle, camera and whatever else you need for the day. You will also have to pack your lunch & snacks for the day. We will eat lunch on site and pack up to leave at 6pm at the earliest. Days will be long and physically demanding, so please be prepared for hard work! Occasionally we will leave earlier if the weather becomes especially difficult, however we will usually remain in the field in light rain. Some days we may stay late depending on work progress and weather, so always prepare enough food for an extra late afternoon snack. A tent shelter and toilet facility is located near the site. In the worst weather we may remain in camp and do laboratory processing of artefacts and samples. Evenings after dinner include a short briefing about the research, finds of the day and our plans for tomorrow. There will also be occasional evening lectures. The rest of the evening is free time.


Housing will be in a large Quonset style building in the village of Quinhagak. Beds and foam mattresses are provided, however you should plan to bring your own air mattress along with your sleeping bag.

Breakfast and dinner will be served in camp and lunches will be packed and eaten in the field. There are a few showers with hot water and laundry facilities are located in the village a short distance from the accommodation. Camp staff will prepare dinners but you should be prepared to help out as needed with camp chores as they arise. We will also have a rolling schedule for doing dishes etc. This is not a hotel but a community-based research project and we are there to help make it a success.

Expect occasional foul weather, mosquitoes, and outdoor toilets, there will also be abundant wildlife and one of the best fishing streams in Alaska on your doorstep. Ask questions; camp staff will give you good advice about staying safe, warm and comfortable. Fresh salmon will be on the menu.


For the 2017 field season students and volunteers are expected to arrange and pay for their own round trip airfare. Sunday services are less frequent, so it is advisable to arrange for arrival on a Saturday, if you plan to arrive on a weekend.

Book you tickets to Anchorage, then to Bethel, the hub-city for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Please not that staying overnight in Bethel is expensive, and that it can be hard to find accommodation. It is therefore advisable to arrive in Bethel in the morning or early afternoon flight, so you can be sure to catch a plane to Quinhagak the same day. Likewise, make sure to book your ticket back from Bethel in the afternoon to give you time to fly from Quinhagak in the morning. However, the best laid plans… please be aware that weather can sometimes interfere with travel schedules, so prepare to be flexible.

You fly from Bethel to Quinhagak with Yute air (http://www.flyyuteair.com/) or Ravn (https://www.flyravn.com/). You can book your tickets ahead, or purchase your Bethel-Quinhagak tickets in Bethel.  It costs c. US $ 400 to fly return Bethel-Quinhagak.

Upon arrival in Bethel airport you will jump into the Yute/Ravn Aviation van, which will take you to the Yute/Raven airstrip. From Bethel you will board a small plane to Quinhagak where you either will be met at the airstrip, or take the aviation van into town – asked to be dropped off at the Corporation building.

Email your travel itineraries to Charlotta (c.hillerdal@abdn.ac.uk) when you have booked your tickets, so we know when to expect you. If there are any changes to your travel plans, make sure to contact us by email and/or cell phone (see contact information).


The advanced field school is open to applications from students in archaeology, anthropology, or heritage studies presently affiliated with a university. You can apply for a place in the excavation or the conservation lab, or both. Regardless of your primary choice, you will be given opportunities to work in both the lab and the excavation. There are a limited number of places available, with priority given to motivated and experienced applicants.

  • The cost for the field school is 600 USD per week. This includes room, meals and local ground transportation.
  • Returning students will be given a discount of 100 USD per week (500 USD/week).
  • We ask that participants commit to a minimum of three weeks.

Applications should include a cover letter stating the reasons for applying and a CV detailing any relevant experience.

Please send applications to c.hillerdal@abdn.ac.uk or r.knecht@abdn.ac.uk before June 1st 2017. In your email, please let us know the date when you would like to arrive and for how many weeks you intend to stay if accepted.

 


If you have an interest in Alaskan archaeology, artefact conservation or community heritage work, you are very welcome to join our crew as a volunteer. You can volunteer both in the field and in the conservation lab. No experience is necessary. Volunteers will be given assignments according to their abilities. There are a limited number of places, with priority given to those who can demonstrate a genuine interest in archaeology/heritage.

  • The cost for volunteers is 1000 USD per week. This includes room, meals and local ground transportation.
  • We ask that volunteers commit to a minimum of one week

Applications should include a cover letter stating the reasons for applying and a CV detailing any relevant experience.

Please send applications to c.hillerdal@abdn.ac.uk or r.knecht@abdn.ac.uk before June 1st 2017. In your email, please let us know the date when you would like to arrive and for how many weeks you intend to stay if accepted.


Project Leader

Dr. Rick Knecht

Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, University of Aberdeen

 

Project Oversight

Warren Jones

General Manager, Qanirtuuq Inc., Alaska

 

Site/Field School Director

Dr. Charlotta Hillerdal

Lecturer in Archaeology, University of Aberdeen

 

 Site/Field School Co-Director

 

Dr. Véronique Forbes

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Université de Bordeaux

 

Project Scientific Coordinator

Dr. Kate Britton

Senior Lecturer in Archaeological Science, University of Aberdeen