TEA Banner
TEA Navbar

26 June, 2001

Paglagivigin We Welcome You


We arrived in Wales today around 2:30 P.M. The weather cleared enough to take off from Nome, even though it was still very cloudy. We were on a 9-seat plane. It was exciting even though we were in clouds for awhile. This was my first time on such a small plane. We are staying in an official building called the Dome. We celebrated our first dinner by Chef Julie. I have a feeling we will be eating well the entire time in Wales.

A little history of Wales, Alaska: Wales is located on the western tip of the Seward Peninsula. It is 110 miles northwest of Nome. The people are of a Kinugmiut Eskimo culture. They lived a subsistence culture, one of hunting, fishing, trapping. There is also a reindeer herd in the village. The animals and fish hunted are whales, walrus, seals, salmon, moose, caribou, and reindeer. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, subsistence is the traditional taking and uses of food, fuel, shelter, clothing, tools, etc.

The only way to access Wales, by air and sea. There is a light beacon approximately 3 miles up the coast from the village. This beacon helps all ships passing through the Bering Strait. There are three strong currents in the strait. This beacon is the most northwestern point in the Western Hemisphere.

There is one school in Wales, students go from k-12. There are approximately 60 children in the school. Four graduated last year from the school.

There are two important organizations in the village, the Corporation and the IRA office. There is also a mayor. It is a village with laws just like any other U.S. village, town, or city. People vote, go to school, and live according to our laws. It is different in the Corporation and IRA office have a great deal of influence on what goes on in Wales. We are living in the Dome, which is a public building. Every part of the village, for example owned homes, are part of the Corporation. We are excavating on Corporation land. Anything we find in the excavations belongs to the village of Wales. We will be returning all artifacts, fauna, lithics, and ceramics someday. It will then be up to the Corporation to decide what to do with all of the findings. There is a village store in which to but all groceries, food items, some clothing etc. You can buy clothing, some food items at the IRA office. You would also buy tokens for the washeteria at the IRA office. There is also the whaling captain who has an important job and stature in Wales. All of these offices make up the running of the village. There are no police in the village. If needed they would be flown in for service to the community.

We were very fortunate to view a rehearsal of the upcoming traditional dance on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was great. There were 4-7 men who played the drums. Their drum is a traditional drum. They strike the back with the different beats and they sing as they play. There seem to be different dances for the girls and women, boys and men, and together. Each dance is telling a story. I think these stories are about whale hunting, hunting in general, food gathering, and tales as well. This is the second dance in 57 years. I certainly hope this will once again become a tradition. By the looks of the people practicing, I think they also want this to be a yearly occurrence.

Now, why are we here? Why am I here?

Why are we here? What do we want to find?

Dr. Roger Harritt from ENRI, University of Alaska, Anchorage is in charge of this expedition. He first came to Wales in 1996. It is thought that Wales was the largest Eskimo village in Alaska at contact. The British came in 1854 looking for the Franklin expedition. It was later thought that Franklin was in the Eastern Arctic, a long way from Alaska! Henry Trollope was the first to describe Wales.

They knew Wales was important because of the size of the village. The first excavations were in 1926 by Diamond Jenness. He was trying to find the origins of the Eskimo cultures. I think he is the "father  of Alaskan Archaeology." The next person to arrive was in 1936, by Henry Collins. He established presence of Thule culture from Greenland across to Alaska and to Siberia. There was a relationship between Birnik and Thule. In 1930-1931 he was aware of the differences of the Thule Culture. Before the Thule (900 years ago) was the Birnirk culture (1,600 years ago). There are two places that we will be excavating. Collins excavated at two sites, the Mound and the Hillside. We will be working there. THIS IS THULE (TRULY) EXCITING!!! After Collins, no one worked here because of a few reasons, World War II, and the Depression. Radiocarbon dating was invented in 1950. Collins radiocarbon dated the materials from Wales in 1957 and said his material was Birniark (1,600 years old).

Pre-contact actually means before the Russians and Europeans came into contact with the people in Alaska. The Russians came in the late 1700 s. Trollope came in 1854 looking for Franklin. In 1980, the National Park Service named Wales a historic site. They started excavating again in 1998. Now, what again are we trying to find out? We are trying to find out about the development of the Eskimo Culture, and the importance of whaling in the society. There was no evidence of whaling 2000 years ago. Why weren't the people hunting them? Well, a few reasons, at that point they may have not had the technology, they needed manpower to hunt such a large animal. They needed whale harpoon heads and harpoons to hunt. Approximately 1,400 years ago the people in the St. Lawrence Island, the Punuk Islands, and the Siberian coast were starting to develop the technology to hunt whales. There is evidence in the findings of the harpoon heads, the decorations, and the art. They have also found large whale bones, as well as communal houses that held up to 80 people. Changes in the technology of the harpoon heads appeared with the Birnirk people on the islands and Point barrow. The transition led to Wales.

This is why we are here.

Now, why am I here? I have learned a tremendous amount in a few days, not only from Roger, but also the rest of our team. In future days, I want to write about what the other members of the team are doing in their field of archaeology. I hope to learn and to be able to teach my students about archaeology and its importance. I also want to learn about the people of Wales and their culture. Communicating between my school and the school in Wales would be great.

John is in front of the Dome, which will be our home for the next five weeks.

Contact the TEA in the field at .
If you cannot connect through your browser, copy the TEA's e-mail address in the "To:" line of your favorite e-mail package.