For more than 10 years archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen have worked alongside the local community in Quinhagak to painstakingly recover and preserve everyday objects that indigenous Yup’ik people used to survive and to celebrate life.
Their work has been a race against the clock to recover artefacts before melting ice and raging winter storms reclaim the Nunalleq (Yup’ik for ‘The Old Village’) archaeological site.
Now the story of the project – and the 100,000 items they have recovered – has been turned into a downloadable educational resource which will help school pupils in Alaska and around the world learn about the Yup’ik way of life.
The unique conditions in this Arctic region mean artefacts which are more than four centuries old have retained a level of detail rarely seen elsewhere with grass baskets woven at the time Shakespeare was writing pulled from the earth with traces of green still visible.
Nunalleq: Stories from the Village of our Ancestors is an interactive educational resource for children which tells the story of the archaeological excavations of a pre-contact Yup’ik sod house in Quinhagak.
It is the latest step in the project which has also led to the creation of the community-led Nunalleq Culture and Archaeology Research Center and a number of artistic outputs.
Dr Charlotta Hillerdal is a lecturer in archaeology at the University of Aberdeen who has carried out extensive excavations at Nunalleq.
“The Nunalleq Project, now in its tenth year, is a collaborative project between the University of Aberdeen and the Native Alaskan Village Corporation Qanirtuuq Inc., and the educational resource has been made in the same collaborative spirit; a multivocal resource co-designed by the researchers and the local Quinhagak community.
“Nunalleq: Stories from the Village of Our Ancestors invites children to explore the different stories revealed by the archaeological excavation, and brings together narratives from archaeologists, Yup’ik Elders, young people from the local community, and Alaska Native artists.
“It creatively unites science and history with traditional Yup’ik ways of knowing and contemporary oral storytelling. The designer, Alice Watterton, has done an amazing job of recreating our work in a fun and interactive way.
“This resource will help not only Yup’ik children to learn about their past but can be downloaded by teachers around the world.
“This region is hugely significant in terms of climate change so there is much that can be learned about the future here as well as the past.”
Nunalleq: Stories from the Village of our Ancestors will be distributed to schools in the Lower Kuskokwim School District region of southwestern Alaska on USB drives in time for the new term in fall 2019.
It can also be downloaded at http://www.seriousanimation.com/nunalleq/.
To follow the project blog outlining work at Nunalleq visit the project blog Nunalleq 2019