The effects of climate change—rising sea levels, less protective ice cover, and thawing permafrost—threaten archaeological sites across the Arctic. In 2009, a small Yup’ik community in southwest Alaska initiated a rescue archaeology project to save their cultural heritage from being washed away to the Bering Sea. So far, the site named Nunalleq (ca. 1400–1675 AD) has produced the largest pre-contact collection of Yup’ik material culture. Amongst perfectly preserved artefacts recovered from the thawing permafrost soils, there are masks and mask fragments that shed a new light on the tradition of mask-making prior to colonisation. The knowledge and skills involved in Yup’ik mask making have been almost forgotten in the region for generations due to the abolition of this tradition by Moravian missionaries in the early 1900s. The local community members view the Nunalleq masks not as artefacts but rather as gifts from their ancestors that remind them how to celebrate life and survival. For the community today, these masks—and the Nunalleq heritage in general—have become endowed with new cultural meaning as symbols of decolonisation and healing.
This spring the seminars make up a series titled Permanent Transience: Heritage, Memory and Forgetting.
The seminar will also be livestreamed on Zoom:
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Meeting ID: 693 2242 3190