Archaeologists rescue 700-year-old melting village in Alaska
A group of archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen have been racing to save the remains of a 700-year-old village site in Quinhagak, Alaska, which has been preserved under ice for centuries, but which is now exposed to the elements following the melting of permafrost.
The team have already recovered hundreds of immaculately preserved artefacts that have been kept intact following centuries underneath the permafrost, including 60 wooden dolls with the original paint still on it, leather, fur, ceremonial face masks, carvings of legendary sea monsters, plants, even 400-year-old grass that has been frozen in time.
The scientists have had to work extremely quickly because it is the first time in 700 years that the artefacts have been exposed to the elements.
“The soil is held together by the ice, so when the ice melts the soil becomes very vulnerable to marine erosion,” said Dr Rick Knecht, the project leader. “Since we started in 2009, the shoreline has retreated a full 10 metres. This is happening all around the arctic and because these were coastal people, the archaeological record is lost with it.”
One of the more surprising findings was strands of human hair, believed to be leftover from a haircut, strewn across the floor of a well preserved house. This discovery also means that the scientists can conduct an analysis and discover more about the diet of the original inhabitants, the Yup’ik people.
Little has been known about the Yup’ik people, who live in an area of north America three times the size of Scotland. They originally moved there between 1300 and 1650, covering the Little Ice Age – a period of rapid global climate change during the early 15th century.
“The artefacts evoke the memories of some and arouse the curiosity of others. They inspire stories that could otherwise not have been told…, as well as increase our own understanding of a fascinating Yup’ik past independent of colonial practices,” said Dr Charlotta Hillerdal.
“As an archaeologist it’s great to see how archaeology can become a part of a living heritage, and witness the power these artefacts holds as cultural objects.”