Nuvuk (Point Barrow, Alaska)

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.

7 thoughts on “Nuvuk (Point Barrow, Alaska)

  1. This will probably be the proper blog for anyone who desires to be familiar with this subject. You recognize a terrific deal of its practically not effortless to argue on hand (not too I really would want…HaHa). You really put a new spin more than a subject thats been written about for a long time. Amazing stuff, just superb!

  2. Hi

    I am writing an article about the changing climate in the Arctic and am especially intrigued by the Ipiatuk who seened to have the most developed of the various cultures in the region.

    I read about shiploads of their artefacts sinking and of a national plan from 2006 to recover them.

    I couldnt trace anything happening since then and wondered if you are able to update me?

    Tony Brown

  3. I don’t know if I’d call it a national plan, more like someone’s pipedream. There is not a lot of data on where the barge sank, shipwrecks in the Alaskan Arctic in general are very hard to find, even if you know where they ought to be, and if they are in less that 100 feet of water where there is sea ice they may have been pulverized.

    A bit curious as to why you consider the Ipiutak to have the “most developed” culture of the region? Just the fancy art? After all, the descendants of the Thule folks are here and the descendants of the Ipuitak don’t appear to be, unless they were totally assimilated by the Thule.

    1. I would like to contact you via snail mail – to let you know what an all-volunteer Archiving Crew has done at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology with the Walakpa collection there! Please advise

  4. I am a gradate student at the University of Tulsa, Archaeology. I see that you are utilizing high school students in your digs…do you have any positions open for work?

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