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Dating an umiak frame from the Birnirk collection, Museum of the North, University of Alaska


Project start
Project end
Type of project
Project theme
Society, economy and culture
Project topic
Culture & history

Project details

Science / project summary

This is a small project to fund Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating and a pilot study of wooden boat frame fragments from the University of Alaskas Museum of the North Birnirk collection; Birnirk is an early Inuit civilization of the north coast of Alaska. In the spring of 2012 the PI identified six umiak fragments from the Birnirk site (Barrow, Alaska) as fragments of a single boat assemblage. 19 additional boat fragments originating from the same and adjacent excavation units have a strong probability of belonging to the same boat and this project would test these fragments to determine whether they are from one or several structures. The significance of these findings is that skin boat frame assemblages are extremely rare in the circumpolar archaeological record; in situ fragments such as those described, in such quantity and from what appears to be fairly early origin, possibly as early as 1300AD, makes these fragments potentially the oldest known umiak frame assemblage in the Arctic. The project will determine whether the fragments are from the same umiak and has the potential to place the structure within a larger chronological and cultural context and ultimately provide insight into early Arctic boat engineering and seafaring.