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Pre-Contact Native Village in Alaska

Archaeologists Discover Pre-Contact Native Village in Alaska

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A team of archaeologists have discovered a Native village site in Northwest Alaska that dates from just before first contact and is one of the biggest archaeological sites discovered in the Arctic. Local residents hope the research will tell them more about their ancestors.

The researchers from Brown University, led by archaeologist Dr Doug Anderson, were exploring a site in Kobuk Valley National Park when they discovered large depressions in the ground where there would have once been houses, and a network of tunnels connecting them.

 “In some other areas here we’ve found maybe two houses that are connected by tunnels, but nothing like this,” Anderson said. “And in other areas those houses are really quite small compared to the houses here; these are gigantic houses.”

The dwellings are the size of a typical one-room cabin and dug about four feet down into the earth framed by spruce beams and poles with sod and earth walls and a fireplace at the centre.

It is believed the village was a regional capital with an estimated population of around 200 people. Through radio carbon dating, researchers found the village dates from the late 1700s or early 1800s, just before first official contact with explorers.

“They may have even been living here when the explorers first came into the Kotzebue Sound,” Anderson said. “There’s a little bit of metal and even some glass beads here before there was any kind of physical European contact.”

Anderson says his crew has a lot of questions about how the artifacts got there. Alaska Natives did not make glass beads or metal. So they had to come from the Outside. They may have come in through from trading with Asian tribes who crossed the Bering Strait or possibly through trading with Interior Alaska Native tribes.

The team of researchers still have many unanswered questions such as: What did they eat? How they travel? And how did they build the houses?

The latter question is particularly interesting considering that, curiously, they did not find any tools at the site so how they built the subterranean dwellings remains a mystery.

By April Holloway

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