In Iñupiaq, the language of the Iñupiat (the Native people of the North Slope of Alaska), the word nuvuk means tip or point. Nuvuk, once the United States of America’s northernmost village, was located at the tip of Point Barrow, Alaska. Captain Rochfort Maguire in HMS Plover spent the winters of 1852 and 1853 in adjacent Elson Lagoon. Maguire learned a great deal from the Iñupiat who were his neighbors (Maguire 1988). The ground of Point Barrow had been eroding for generations. Maguire noted that people told him that they had been forced to move the village to the location where he met them due to erosion at the old site, which they said was now under water. Of course, that older Nuvuk is long gone, and most of the Nuvuk that Maguire knew has vanished, too.
Most anthropologists believed that there was nothing left of archaeological interest at Point Barrow (Ford 1959:18; Stanford 1976:xi; J. Bockstoce, E. Burch, E. Hall, personal communications to G. Sheehan). Even Wilbert Carter, who excavated there in the 1950s thought it was Late Prehistoric at the earliest (Carter 1966.39).
It was against this background that the first report of human remains at Nuvuk was received in 1997. The salvage excavation of that grave, which contained the individual we called Nuvuk 01 and his grave goods, made it clear that there had been some people at Nuvuk much earlier. As additional human remains were reported every year, all of which, as far as we could tell from the salvage excavations done with the bluff about to collapse beneath us, were buried in a very similar way at a similar depth, it became clear that there must have been a fairly big settlement then.
In the years since then, it has become clear that the Nuvuk site not only had the Post-Contact/Recent residents of which Carter and others were aware, but that the recent occupation was preceded by use stretching back in an apparently unbroken chain to the last century of the first millennium AD, when Thule people lived there. Before that there seems to been a break in the occupation at Nuvuk, maybe because of an extremely stormy climate creating conditions which made the spit less than ideal as a place to set up house. Before this stormy period, there was some occupation by Ipiutak people, apparently centering on the fourth century AD. It seems possible that the early Ipiutak settlement was ended by an enormous storm event, which covered the entire spit with several feet of gravel.