QUINHAGAK, Alaska — Eight years after archaeologists began excavating an ancient village outside of the Alaska city of Quinhagak, a small group of tribal leaders and excavators are racing against time to save what they can.
Volunteers this summer worked to recover relics from Nunalleq, the site of an ancient Yupik village. Archaeologist Rick Knecht said in a worst case scenario, the site, situated on the Alaska coastline, could be swept away this November — though it most likely will last another five years.
Permafrost has preserved the artifacts, which were discovered when that permafrost started thawing. It’s now getting slushy — hence the race against time.
The dig’s volunteers each discovered an average of 100-200 artifacts a day this summer that give insight into Yupik history during a time of war, Knecht said. They include Yupik masks dating from the 1500s, he said.
Some of the relics are up to 700 years old, KYUK.org reported (http://bit.ly/2xd0Fr7 ).
Knecht first visited Nunalleq in 2009, when local corporation president Warren Jones sent him pictures of several artifacts that Quinhagak residents had discovered along the beach outside of town.
Nunalleq is a short hike from Quinhagak. About a dozen volunteers are digging at the site.
Excavators discovered the people who lived in Nunalleq were killed in a massacre.
“We could tell that they were dragged out of the house while alive,” Knecht said. “They’d been executed face down in the mud.”
The carnage found at Nunalleq is the first archaeological evidence of the Bow and Arrows War, and it provides the massacre with its first date. Knecht says it happened around 1670 — long before the area was colonized.