The Jochelson Collection: An Adventure to Moscow to study artifacts from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska

Author: Virginia Hatfield, PhD


Jochelson image

Figure 1. Vladimir Jochelson from American Museum of Natural History, December 2015, http:// 70point8percent.

In September of 2015, I journeyed to Moscow, Russia to examine Aleutian artifacts collected by Vladimir Jochelson (Figure 1). Jochelson visited the Aleutian archipelago during the Riaboushinsky Expedition of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society, to Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands that he led from 1909-1911. The sites excavated during this expedition span the Aleutians and included three sites on Attu, two sites on Atka, four sites on Umnak, three sites on Amaknak, and one site on Hog Island, as well as sites in Kamchatka not discussed herein. These findings from this expedition have been published as Archeological Investigations in the Aleutian Islands (1925) through the Carnegie Institution and republished under the same name by Maschner and Reedy-Maschner (2002). The artifacts are currently curated at the State Historical Museum located on Red Square (Figure 2). My review of artifacts was an attempt to inventory the items in the collection and provide photos and measurements of the stone and bone artifacts that comprise the collection (Figure 3). Unfortunately, permission to photograph the artifacts was contingent on not publishing the images without consent and a fee; thus, none of my photos are presented here. I also was not able to document 100% of the collection due to time constraints.

State Historical Museum Moscow

Figure 2. State Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia (from info/museums/state-historical-museum.aspx)


Figure 3. A sketch of a biface from the Jochelson collection.

Colleagues Olga Krylovich and Arkady Savinetsky (Figure 4) of the Laboratory of Historical Ecology, Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, took time out of their busy schedules and we were able to measure and describe as much as 70% of this collection—an array of complex multi-component tools used to hunt birds and sea mammals and for fishing. These include chipped stone hafted projectiles, hafted knives; groundstone ulus; and bone harpoons, spears, and darts, as well as bone and ivory ornamental items.

Documentation of this collection will contribute to our understanding of both chipped stone and bone/ivory technology used in the Aleutians. The artifacts from Attu in the western Aleutians, Atka in the central Aleutians, and Umnak, Amaknak, Hog Island in the eastern Aleutians span the Aleutians. Although images and descriptions were published by Jochelson and provide invaluable ethnographic-based functional interpretations, introducing metric measurements and technofunctional analysis (how these items were made and used) will allow this assemblage to be incorporated into the research conducted by Dixie West, Kirsten Nicolaysen, Breanyn MacInnes and myself in the Islands of the Four Mountains as well as current research by other members of the Aleutian Islands Working Group.

I greatly appreciate the assistance of Natalya Shishlina and Irina Sumina of the State Historical Museum for their warm and gracious assistance. It was a wonderful and invaluable experience allowing me to visit my colleagues at the Lab of Historical Ecology, learn a great deal about Moscow and Russia, as well as add to my understanding of Aleutian material culture.

Fig 4

Figure 4. Arkady Savinetsky (left) and Olga Krylovich (right)


Jochelson, Waldemar 1925 Archaeological Investigations in the Aleutian Islands, Carnegie Institution of Washington publication, 367, Washington D.C.

Maschner, Herbert D.G. and Katherine L. Reedy-Maschner 2002 Archaeological Investigations in the Aleutian Islands. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.


3 thoughts on “The Jochelson Collection: An Adventure to Moscow to study artifacts from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska

  1. I enjoyed Virginia Hatfield’s summary of her visit. Does anyone know if contemporary objects were collected by Jochelson? I refer specifically to the bentwood hats on pages 87 and 88 and the grass cape on page 86 of “Treasurers of the Kunstkamera: Aleuts: How they Were Seen by V. Iokhel’son”–if not these items may have been lost forever. Thanks!

  2. Was there any attempt to collect the “names” of individuals indigenous to the area? Guides other European “settlers” and travelers?

    • Joanne, Thank you for your post. Do you mean the names of individuals, family names? Do you mean did the Euro folks from the 1700s to 1900s record the names of Unangan ancestors? There is no single answer, at least partially because every visitor to the region had personal idiosyncrasies in what they wrote in their journals and different professional or persona purposes for being there.

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