Recovering the Past, Mending Discontinues: Archaeology of Yup’ik Masks at the Nunalleq Site, Alaska
In the course of the last eight field seasons, the Nunalleq archaeological site on the shore of the Bering Sea in southwest Alaska has produced thelargest pre-contact collection of Yup’ik material culture. The artefacts, which until recently had been locked in permafrost, date from around AD1400–1670. In the focus of this paper are primarily the masks and mask fragments recovered from the site. Remarkable in their number, size and variety of designs, the Nunalleq masks represent spirits, humans and animals embodying Yup’ik people’s ecologies and beliefs before any colonial encounters. Combining archaeological, ethnographic and oral-historic accounts, this paper discusses the continuity and change inYup’ik mask making tradition. Furthermore, it demonstrates how the community-based archeology project is able to bring forgotten stories back to life and help Native communities to reclaim their cultural heritage through revival of long suppressed craftsmanship.
Anna Mossolova is a PhD student at Tallinn University. She is studying the dynamics—continuities and change—in the mask making tradition of Yup’ik people in southwest Alaska over pre-contact and colonial times. The objective of her research project has been to (re)explore ethnographic and archaeological collections together with Yup’ik community members as well as to document the modern ways of mask carving by shadowing and interviewing contemporary Alaska Native mask-carvers. During the last 5 years, Anna has been doing her archival and museum-based research in a number of European and U.S. museums. In 2015-16, with the support of the Fulbright Program, she spent a year as a visiting doctoral student at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Also, since 2015, she has been actively involved in the Nunalleq archaeological project, working both at the dig site in the village of Quinhagak, Alaska as well as in the lab at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Read more about the project at http://nunalleq.wordpress.com.