Remains discovered in Kivalina, Alaska are more than 1,000 years old

Barrow, Alaska (AP) 9-09

Construction workers doing excavation for Kivalina’s new wastewater treatment plant unearthed the skeletal remains of three people believed to be members of a tribal group that lived in Alaska more than 1,000 years ago.

Archeologists won’t be certain how old the remains are until radiocarbon dating is done. They believe they belonged to members of the Ipiutak, a tribal group that lived in Alaska from at least about 500 to 900.

Artifacts found with the remains show the elaborate, stylized engravings on ivory and artistic motifs that were characteristic of the Ipiutak, the Arctic Sounder newspaper reported.

“It’s a very significant find,” said Peter Bowers, principal archaeologist with Northern Land Use Research, a Fairbanks-based firm studying the site. “Prior to the discoveries this summer, there was little known about the prehistory – prior to white contact – of the specific Kivalina locality.”

The discovery shows that Kivalina, in northwest Alaska, was occupied by humans much earlier than previously thought. It also provides some new information about a group whose range and numbers only now are becoming known.

The number of the Ipiutak is a matter of speculation among historians and prehistorians. Ipiutak remains were first discovered in Point Hope in the 1940s. More have since been discovered on the Alaska side of the Bering Strait in Cape Krusenstern, Deering, Cape Espenberg, Barrow and, now, Kivalina.

“It seems to be a prehistoric population that was functioning quite well on both the Siberian and the Alaskan side up until 900 AD,” Bowers said. Finding out what happened after that is “one of the mysteries we’re trying to solve and the reason this is important.”

City administrator Janet Mitchell said the remains were being kept by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium until the excavation was complete – in case more turned up. After that they will be given to the Episcopal church in Kivalina for burial, their plots marked with a simple cross and a plaque reading “unknown.”