International Scientific Conference "Archeology of the Arctic"
November 19-23, 2017

Old eskimo houses of the Ekven and Paipelsgak sites.

K.A. Dneprovsky

The state museum of Oriental Art, Moscow




The Chukchi Archaeological  Expedition of the State Museum of Oriental Art has been working in Chukotka since 1987. In addition to the famous Ekven burial site over the past twenty field seasons it has studied the old Eskimo houses in the archaeological sites Ekven and Paipelgak of the 1st millennium AD.

In Ekven settlement the expedition has completed the study of N-18 house which correlated with the period of the Birnirk and the early Punuk cultures existence. This was a two-dimensional structure erected on the surface which consisted of the a number of large structural elements: two different-sized connecting rooms with a common roof, a corridor type entrance, open platform with a heath  outside the walled territory, as well as several storage pits. The floors were tiled with large slabs, whale shoulder blades and logs. The walls were made from turf on a frame support. The frame consisted of vertical poles made from large whale bones and wood. A light roof made from animal hides was supported with poles. Inside the N-18 house we found various hunting gear items, numerous tools, kitchenware, decorations and ritual items made from stone, walrus tusk, as well as ceramic sherds. Because of the permafrost inside there were numerous very well preserved leather, whalebone and wooden items  which are normally quite rarely found in the archaeological sites materials.

On the Paipelgak settlement at the depth of 3 m in a 300 sq. m. excavation we found three living structures (structures 4, 5, and 6). The materials of all three structures correlated with the   Old Bering Sea culture (OBC-II) existence  period. They were overlaid with the later than the OBC Birnirk time structure, which consisted of rooms 1 and 2 connected with a covered passage. Room 3 was also located within a later stratigraphic and construction horizon than rooms  1,2,4,5 and 6. 

 The study of such a significant scale on a  settlement site in the permafrost was performed for the first time in the history of the Arctic archeology of the East of Siberia.   Paipelgak was the first well stratified archaeological site in Chukotka where one could see the Old Eskimo culture houses in their evolution. The Old Bering Sea culture houses in Chukotka and Alaska have been rather poorly studied. Therefore the study of a whole OBC-II "street" of three houses seems to be quite important for the Arctic archeology in general. Until now that period was practically known only by the burial sites materials. This adds even greater importance to the artifacts - sometimes the true masterpieces of the Old Eskimo art - discovered in the houses complexes.

In 2016 the expedition examined the Eskimo settlement Naukan which existed on Cape Dezhnev from the 15th-16th centuries and the life of which tragically terminated in 1958. On the whole the Naukan yarangas, part of which was lived in until the mid 20th century, were built in a perfectly traditional style and had very few principal differences with the houses in which the ancestors of that population lived in the Old Bering Sea or the Birnirk culture time in the 1st millennium AD.

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