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Igliqtiqsiugvigruaq: the village excavated but never pronounced

by Bruno Van de Casteele

August 18, 2013

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Donate Recently, a news item appeared in the Arctic Sounderabout an arctic village that made me think about Brian's Skeptoid episodeAngikuni Lake. The village was habitedbefore Europeans came to Alaska. It's name is even more interesting than its discovery:Igliqtiqsiugvigruaq.

Try saying that aloud! And I thought the volcano that blocked European air trafic in 2010,Eyjafjallajökull, was complicated to pronounce...

Anyway, the two stories are not related (they are about 3000 km separated from one another), but it shows again that real science is much more interesting. The village at the Kobuk river and its abandon was known in oral history. Results from the excavations, led by Doug Anderson from Brown University,have shown that this happened between 1790 and 1810. There were also traces of western goods (metal), but it is not known if they came from Siberia or Canada.

Some more interesting mysteries are in need of a solution. The village could house about 200 people at least, but early results from ground penetrating radar have raised that potentially to 400. Also, a couple of houses are really big. But oddly enough, the article reports that no shovels have been found. Also, no caribou bones, so the villagers would have had to survive on fish. It's not known also why the village was abandoned, although one story relates that "the fish were taken away" (there is also an effort underway to record these stories). In any case, it is odd that such a large village existed with only fish as a food source.

The dig itself is almost over, because excavating more would cost too much, and become complex due to overlapping structures. That is of course regretful, but even more so because the site is slowly eroding. The river is changing its course and will, in a couple of years, have eroded the site of the old village.

This isn't a sad science story though. In the end, a lot of information has been gatheredand will now be worked upon. Indeed, it is not uncommon in archeology that final results appearyears or even decades after the initial dig. The find itself is interesting for many reasons (e.g. there was an excellent collaboration with the community), and there's still plenty of things to do.

Like trying to pronounce the name of the village for instance ...

Note: I will be attending theEuropean Skeptics Congressin Stockholm, Sweden. The congress takes place 23-25thAugust. Anyone interested in having a “Skeptoid blog meet” during that time, just drop me a mail brunovdcon the gmail servers.

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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