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Archaeological site discovery offers Kotzebue a chance to explore its past

Jillian RogersThe Arctic Sounder

A local Elder in Kotzebue recently stumbled across the remnants of prehistoric qargi -- community house -- in South Tent City on the outskirts of town and the National Park Service is seizing the opportunity to involve the whole town.

A collaborative project between the NPS, Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corporation and the Kotzebue Elders Council is set to begin this weekend, said Mike Holt, an archeologist and the cultural resources lead with the NPS Western Arctic Parklands in Kotzebue.

Arġaġiaq Willie Goodwin of Kotzebue made the most recent discovery during construction work at the airport, though the relics were originally revealed in the ‘60s, Holt said.

The rediscovery is a chance for NPS to work with the local corporation, which owns the land that the dwelling was found on, as well as the general public.

The project includes workshops, public archeology days and community artifact exploration.

“The program will connect the tribes’ cultural heritage to archeological processes,” Holt said. “Our mission is to connect Kikiktagrukmiut with their ancient heritage.”

The project will enhance public awareness and appreciation of historic preservation, while giving participants a glimpse into archaeological field and laboratory methods.

The village corporation requested assistance and technical expertise from the NPS to preserve, display and interpret any artifacts that may be identified from this traditional use area, in accordance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Throughout July, a series of workshops and field schools hosted by park staff at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center and at the site of the artifacts will “enlighten community participants in theories and processes used by professional anthropologists to meaningfully contribute to the archaeological record, as well as to illustrate the role of historic preservation in understanding the connections between past and present cultures,” Holt said.

Workshops are scheduled for the public to attend before they head to the site for field school.

Public participation and agency collaboration to this extent isn’t new for the NPS in Kotzebue, but it hasn’t happened in a while.

“We have similar missions,” Holt said. “Our mission at the National Park Service is historic preservation and through this we hope that people gain a greater appreciation for historic preservation and how people adapted and thrived in this area.

It’s a win-win for all parties involved.”

Qargi are large, stone-ringed communal structures used in the late prehistoric era and used as a communal structure.

The project will allow archeologists to grasp a better understanding of how people in the area lived and adapted to their changing world.

Here are the dates for workshops and field school.

Archaeology Workshops

Northwest Heritage Center:

Saturday, July 12 from 3 – 5 p.m.

Monday, July 21 from 7 – 9 p.m.

 Community Excavation Field School

Qargi at South Tent City

Saturday, July 19 and Sunday, July 20 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

 

Fieldwork for the NPS will also continue along the coast in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve this summer to survey and perhaps excavate archeological sites that are being threatened by coastal erosion.

Another NPS study this season will look at visitor use, and research use, impacts in the parks on cultural resources.

KIC did not return calls for an interview by press time.

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.