Humanity & Melting History

A mask belonging to the Yup’ik people of Alaska emerging from the permafrost. It is one of more than 100,000 artifacts retrieved from Nunalleq, the site of a village that was attacked by rivals 350 years ago. University of Aberdeen

When I posted about this book yesterday I had the long arc of history on my mind all day, and now this:

As Earth Warms, Human History Is Melting Away

Climate change is revealing long-frozen artifacts and animals to archaeologists. But the window for study is slender and shrinking.

The Langfonne ice patch in Norway. Glacier Archaeology Program, Innlandet County Council

For the past few centuries, the Yup’ik peoples of Alaska have told gruesome tales of a massacre that occurred during the Bow and Arrow War Days, a series of long and often brutal battles across the Bering Sea coast and the Yukon. According to one account, the carnage started when one village sent a war party to raid another. But the residents had been tipped off and set an ambush, wiping out the marauders. The victors then attacked the undefended town, torching it and slaughtering its inhabitants. No one was spared.

For the last 12 years, Rick Knecht has led an excavation at a site called Nunalleq, about 400 miles west of Anchorage. “When we began, the hope was to learn something about Yup’ik prehistory by digging in an average village,” said Dr. Knecht, an archaeologist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. “Little did we know that we were digging in something approaching the Yup’ik equivalent of Troy.”

Their most astonishing discovery was the charred remnants of a large communal sod house. The ground was black and clayey and riddled with hundreds of slate arrow points, as if from a prehistoric drive-by shooting. In all, the researchers and native Yup’ik people who live in the area unearthed more than 100,000 well-preserved artifacts, as well as the singed carrion of two dogs and the scattered bones of at least 28 people, almost all women, children and elders. Several of them had evidently been dragged out of the house, bound with grass rope and killed — some beheaded. “It is a complex murder scene,” Dr. Knecht said. “It is also a rare and detailed archaeological example of Indigenous warfare.”

Until recently, the site had been deepfrozen in the subsoil known as permafrost. As global temperatures gather pace, permafrost and glaciers are thawing and eroding rapidly across vast areas of Earth, releasing many of the objects that they had absorbed and revealing aspects of life in a once inaccessible past.

“The circumpolar world is, or was, full of miraculously preserved sites like Nunalleq,” Dr. Knecht said. “They offer a window into the unexpectedly rich lives of prehistoric hunters and foragers like no other.”…

Read the whole article here.

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