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.


NSF Sponsored Research in the Aleutian region since 1961

Caroline Funk | University at Buffalo

Funding for work and research in the Aleutian region comes from many federal, state, and private sources. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of the larger sources of funding and the searchable online NSF awards database is a good source for information about the diversity of work performed in the region ( Last week I made a quick “Simple Search” on the search term “Aleut*” in award titles and abstracts. This query gave me a list of 314 active and expired awards from 18 separate NSF organizations since 1961 – totaling $256,082,759. Probably my quick search did not capture all funding awards related to research in the region, but it does provide a snapshot of the kinds research funded over the past three or four generations of scholars.

The greatest funding dollar amount has come from the Division of Ocean Sciences (~ $182 million). The greatest number of awards is from the Division of Earth Sciences (139).

NSF divisions table

The list of NSF programs – rather than the large-scale NSF organization – that awarded lead funding on the projects provides better insight into the subject of the awards. More than half of the total funding amount for the region was expended on one large project – ARRV – CONSTRUCTION. The Petrology and Geochemistry and Arctic Social Sciences programs have funded the greatest number of projects, with 44 Petrology projects totaling ~$5.3 million and 34 Social Science projects totaling ~$6.5 million. Our research note posts have highlighted more of these kinds of research projects because there are more of them to highlight.

NSF programs table

Universities and other institutions in Alaska have received the largest number of awards.

NSF states

The spreadsheet link below includes the results of my search. The results are sorted from oldest to newest awards.  The last field in the spreadsheet has the abstract of each award, providing details about the intended activities and outcomes.

Dec 9 NSF Aleutian Award Search Results


Upland Houses in the Central Aleutian Islands

Author: Diane K. Hanson| University of Alaska Anchorage|

The first upland sites recorded in the Aleutian Islands were discounted by some researchers as World War II features, or materials dumped in upper elevations by construction, or artifacts dropped by collectors.  This was partly because there was an assumption that terrestrial resources were not particularly important to Unangax^ people and there would be little reason to venture far from the coast, even though there were historic accounts of people using trails across the islands, hunting birds, and gathering rock for making tools.

It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that more archaeologists began recording upland features.  Beginning in 2007, archaeologists from the University of Alaska Anchorage started conducting archaeological surveys on Adak Island to find upland sites.  Dr. Caroline Funk was also recording sites on the Rat Islands.  In the Central Aleutian Islands, they have been identified on Adak, Kanaga, and Tanaga Islands, and in the Rat Islands on Hawadax, Amchitka, and Kiska Islands.  They are also reported on Unalaska and Umnak Islands in the Eastern Aleutian Islands.  The sites range from rock cairns and scatters of stone flakes from making tools to clusters of house pits.  ADK-237 on Adak Island, and another site on Kanaga Island have 20 to 25 house depressions visible on the surface.  There are probably many more house floors underground that are not visible, and later houses were probably built within the depressions of earlier houses.

Many of the upland sites recorded on western Adak Island with multiple house depressions overlook bays or lakes, but are not visible from the shoreline.  It is interesting that they can be seen from other upland sites.  These are not recent sites either.  While some are only 300-400 years old, ADK-237 is 3800 years old, and another that has not been excavated is between 5400 and 5100 years old.  These sites have always been upland and are not at higher elevations cause of uplift from earthquakes or the movement of tectonic plates, nor because sea levels dropped.


The only upland house site that has been excavated so far is one at ADK-237 on Adak Island.  Roberta Gordaoff with the University of Alaska Anchorage is finishing up the analysis on this house and will defend her thesis in the spring.  The house is similar in age and construction to houses at the Amaknak Bridge site in Unalaska with small ditches or covered depression that run along the walls to the chimney of a fire place.  The chimney extends out the side wall.  The house was dug into the ground, and there is ochre or red pigment on the floor.  There are few artifacts in the house probably because people moved out of the house intentionally.  It was occupied during the Neoglacial period, during a colder interval that brought ringed seals and polar bears as far south as Unalaska but probably not to the central islands.



The obvious question is why were people building houses on the tops of hills or beside small lakes and not near the beach where most of the food could be gathered and processed?  There were no large mammals in the Central Aleutian Islands. The passes across the island can be traveled in an hour or so, and in most cases it would take longer to build the houses than to walk to the other coast.  The houses are also more substantial than would be expected for a temporary structure.


Some of the lakes and streams have spawning salmon in the summer, which might explain sites along stream edges.  Probably the biggest influx of terrestrial food is in the spring and the summer with the arrival of waterfowl and later the eggs and small chicks.  Then when Aleutian Geese molt in the late summer they cannot fly and they move farther inland.  Bird populations were considerably higher before foxes and other terrestrial mammals were introduced onto the islands, and the amount of food available during those periods must have been similar to salmon runs.  Other reasons for people to build houses upland near coastal villages were for women’s houses while they menstruated or gave birth, religious places where shamans could practice without affecting their neighbors, and storage for hunters’ tools.  High areas overlooking bays and waterways were also used to spot hunters coming home, enemies, or watch for whales and other sea mammals.  We assume that each site does not have the same explanation, but if we don’t look for them, and understand them, we are developing a poor reflection of ancient Unangax^ life.

Related references:

Crockford, S.J. and S.G. Frederick.  2007.  Sea ice expansion in the Bering Sea during the Neoglacial: evidence from archaeozoology.  The Holocene 17(6):699-706.

Funk, C. 2014. Report: Preliminary Report for ARPA Permit No. (none given): Kiska Island 2014 Field Research. Report on file at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage Office, AK.

Funk, C. 2011. Rat Islands Archaeological Research 2003 and 2009: Toward and Understanding of Regional Culture and Environmental Histories. Arctic Anthropology 48(2):25-51.

Hanson, Diane K. and Debra G. Corbett.  2010. Shifting Ground: archaeological surveys of upland Adak Island, the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and changing assumptions of Unangan land use. Polar Geography 33(3-4):165-178.

Rogers, Jason. 2011. Architecture and complex hearth features at the Amaknak Bridge Site, Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Arctic Anthropology 48(2): 92-112.

The Midget Subs of Kiska Island

Author: Richard W Galloway | Historic Archaeologist

Working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2009 allowed me to make a visit to Kiska for archaeological survey and documentation. While only there for less than a fort night, we did manage to reach several sites to document them in greater detail and found a few that had not been written about before.

What caught my attention were the remnants of a Japanese Type- A midget sub of the Ko-Hyoteki designed in 1938. The one that is left there still shows the damage that was done when the Japanese forces abandoned the island under cover of fog, but right in front of the US Navy. Since the Type-A arrived on the deck of a modified I type Japanese submarine, they could not be taken as the troops departed on ships.

Kiska_06 05 09_1257

Seeing the one sub got me to wondering and more research back in Anchorage turned up several US military photos that showed there were three subs on tracks in the sub pen when our forces landed. Each had the damage of the remaining sub where the Japanese troops had blown them up before leaving. The records are unclear, but do show that at least one of those three was scrapped to aid the US with needed steel. Part of another sub is still on the beach in Kiska Harbor, and the third is still sitting right where it was when our troops landed.

Kiska_06 05 09_1251

Further research gave me the number of six different midget subs that were once on Kiska. At least two of those are thought to have sunk in the harbor during bad storms, and one just seems to have vanished off the records. Since many records were destroyed at the end of the war that last sub may never be identified.

While five of the Type- A subs were used in the attack on Pearl Harbor, they were mainly used for attacks on merchant ships or for harbor defense. That is presumably the reason for their presence on Kiska, but no records I have found to date verify that usage.

What will happen to the one remaining Type-A still on Kiska? Given the low, to nonexistent budget the USFWS has had for many years now, and the distance from anywhere to Kiska, it will likely slowly rust into oblivion. Although the metal items on Kiska are surviving far better than the same items in the South Pacific.

There are a couple of the Type-A subs on display; the one from Pearl Harbor is in Fredericksburg Texas, and another in Australia where it was found in Sydney Harbor. The one on Kiska however is the only one still in the combat arena.

Our Rare and Mysterious Murrelets

Compiler*: Debra G. Corbett | Nanutset Heritage

(All photos courtesy of the USFWS. *Originally presented in “From the Wildside” USFWS /Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge / Aleutian Islands Unit Newsletter)

Kittlitz’s and Marbled murrelets are among the least-studied seabirds in North America. Both live and breed in the Aleutian Islands and are found primarily around mountainous islands with deep bays.  Both species spend the majority of their lives at sea and come ashore only to breed.  Unlike most other alcids they do not nest in large colonies, instead they establish isolated nest sites at high elevations.  Also unlike other alcids their breeding plumage is cryptic, light colored and mottled which serves to disguise the nesting birds.  In winter they sport more dramatic white and dark plumage.

Kittlitz’s murrelets are small, stocky birds with a relatively large head and short bill and tail. Both female and male birds have a light, off-white underside, with brown, gray, and reddish-gold feathers on the back, wings, and head. In winter they have a white underside, throat, and face, with black or dark gray back, wings, cap, and sometimes a distinct black necklace. They forage in turbid nearshore waters for small fish, especially Pacific sandlance, Pacific herring, capelin, and Pacific sandfish, and shrimp-like crustaceans called euphasiids, and amphipods.

A brooding Kittlitz’s murrelet with a monitoring camera.

A brooding Kittlitz’s murrelet with a monitoring camera.

All of the North American, and most of the world population of Kittlitz’s Murrelets, breed and winter in Alaska. Total population numbers are unknown but 4,000 birds have been counted in the Aleutians with major concentrations off Unalaska (1500 birds) and Adak (1000 birds).  Pairs establish a remote nest site on steep unvegetated mountainsides, or slopes above the timberline near glaciers and cirques.  Biologists think they are monogamous and lay one egg in June that hatches in July.  The young fledge in August.  To get from the nesting site to the sea, up to 40 km away, the fledglings may float down small streams.

Would you notice the chick, circled, if you were out hiking?

Would you notice the chick, circled, if you were out hiking?

As late as 2000 only 17 nests had ever been found. In 2006 a biologist stumbled upon a nest on Kodiak and since about 2010 biologists Robb Kaler and Leah Kenney have been hunting nests on Adak.  In 2012 they found nine nests in the mountains of Adak.  Their search continues with new nests found each year since.

Marbled murrelets are small, chunky birds with pointed wings and a slender black bill. Non-breeding plumage is white underneath with a black crown, nape, wings, and back. When breeding, both sexes have a brown mottled body and face. They feed primarily on fish and invertebrates in near-shore marine waters, protected bays, and even on rivers and inland lakes. Their main prey include sandeels, herring, capelin and shiner perch, along with euphasiids and amphipods.  Marbled murrelets often forage in pairs. Loose aggregations of 500 or more birds occasionally occur in winter.

Adult Marbled murrelet.

Adult Marbled murrelet.

The total population exceeds 20,000 with about 10,000 in the Aleutian Islands, where 7,000 live and breed around Unalaska.  The most common nesting sites for marbled murrelets are on branches of old-growth and mature conifers, as far as 80 km inland.  Before 1990 only four marbled murrelet nests had ever been seen.  In the non-forested portions of Alaska however, they nest on the ground in a small depression.  No marbled murrelet nests have been found in the Aleutian Islands, but recently fledged birds have been seen.  Marbled murrelets produce one egg per nest.  Incubation by both parents lasts a month then the chick is fed for around 40 days until it is able to fly.  It then leaves the nest and flies unaccompanied to the sea. Breeding success is low and chick mortality high.

Marbled Murrelet Chick on tree branch.

Marbled Murrelet Chick on tree branch.

For more information: Gibson, Daniel D., and G. Vernon Byrd. 2007. Birds of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.  Nuttall Ornithological Club and The American Ornithologists’ Union. AOU Publications Office, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Newly Documented WWII Japanese Occupation Sites on Kiska Island

Author: Caroline Funk PHD, PI of the Rat Islands Research Project 

We discovered previously undocumented World War II Japanese military trenches, road remnants, caves, and telephone lines during the Summer 2014 Rat Islands Research Project field season in Vega Bay, Kiska Island. We were there to learn about the deep Unangan/Aleut and environmental past and we were working in an area far from the usual research camp locations – several miles from the famously known Kiska Harbor WWII activity area. (For more details, see the USFWS Foundation Statement for the Alaska Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument).

Our new finds were a little bit unexpected, although we were suspicious when we saw dozens of bomb craters lining the valley walls around our beachfront campsite. At first we assumed that these were more or less accidental, the result of bad visibility and difficult navigation conditions during the 1942-1943 bombing runs made by the United States Air Force and Navy. But with each passing day of archaeological survey, we identified more remnants of the 14-month Japanese occupation of Kiska. We opened our field copy of Stan Cohen’s “The Forgotten War: Volume 4” and learned that we were in fact camped within territory defended by the Japanese military, probably the 301st and 302nd Independent Infantry Battalions occupying Gertrude Cove from October 1942 to July 1943. We saw that Cohen reported that there were more than 40 gun positions along the Vega Bay shore.

As we looked closer at the landscape, we saw roads, camps, emplacements, entrenchments, communications technology, and secret hideaways. We found suspiciously flattened small terraces built into seaward facing hillsides. A secluded waterfall had an underwater wall of rocks surrounding the base, forming what looked like a small cistern or bathing pool filled with crystal clear but very cold water. We’ll share some of the images of these places with you here – we’ll tell the full story in an article in the coming year.

I labeled 4 craters in this image of an interior valley off Vega Bay. More than 20 others are easily visible.

I labeled 4 craters in this image of an interior valley off Vega Bay. More than 20 others are easily visible. Click on the image to enlarge.

Site KIS-070 includes several trenches like this one placed on a seaward facing terrace. Nearby telephone poles mark the communication network.

Site KIS-070 includes several trenches like this one placed on a seaward facing terrace. Nearby telephone poles mark the communication network.

This is one of the trenches associated with the larger camp at KIS-061. A few of these outliers extended beyond the main trenchline.

This is one of the trenches associated with the larger camp at KIS-061. A few of these outliers extended beyond the main trenchline.

The larger WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

A WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

The larger WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

A WWII Japanese encampment with trenches, emplacements, and roads labeled (KIS-061).

One of a line of North and East bearing telephone poles (KIS-064).

One of a North and East bearing line of telephone poles (KIS-064).

Close up of the porcelain insulator (KIS-064).

Close up of the porcelain insulator (KIS-064).

KIS-062 is a complex of small caves and exterior buildings and it seems to be the center point of at least three telephone lines.

KIS-062 is a complex of small caves and exterior buildings and it seems to be the center point of at least three telephone lines. (Photo by B. Hoffman.)

Inside Cave 1 of KIS-062. Notice the porcelain insulator.

Inside Cave 1 of KIS-062. Notice the porcelain insulator. (Photo by B. Hoffman.)

The pool at the base of the waterfall is lined with a suspiciously orderly smooth rock wall and floor (near KIS-066).

The pool at the base of the waterfall is lined with a suspiciously orderly smooth rock wall and floor (near KIS-061 and KIS-066).

Cohen, Stan. 1981. The Forgotten War: Volume 4 – A Pictorial History of World War II in Alaska and Northwestern Canada. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc. Missoula, MT.

Monitoring Archaeological Site Condition

Author: Debra G. Corbett | Nanutset Heritage

Environmental changes pose numerous threats to the living and ancient cultural heritage of the Aleutian Islands.  Prehistoric sites are vulnerable to erosion caused by increased storminess and rising sea levels.  Changing economic conditions may increase the incidence of vandalism and looting, and introduction of grazing animals causes erosion and trampling.

There have been no systematic efforts to document changes in Aleutian sites.  Fortunately a regional baseline of site conditions exists.  The Aleut Corporation applied for over 300 cemetery and historic sites significant in Aleut history under ANCSA.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) investigated these sites prior to their conveyance to TAC.  As a result we have detailed maps and descriptions of these sites conditions at a known point in time.   Recently a small number of sites were revisited by archaeologists, making updates possible.  Sites on Agattu, Tanaga, Little Kiska and Kanaga were visited.

Agattu, 2013

Sites ATU-00057 and ATU-00230 in Karab Cove on Agattu Island were not part of TAC’s claims but BIA archaeologists described both in 1989.  At ATU-00057 they noted a minor amount of erosion along the stream banks.  No erosion was reported at ATU-00230.  In 2013 archaeologists made a brief visit to both sites.  Site vegetation was just sprouting so visibility was excellent.  Erosion is continuing at ATU-00057, but the BIA estimate of less than 5% of the site damaged is a reasonable assessment.   There were no signs of erosion at ATU-00230.

Tanaga, 2013

XGI-00030, a cave, was plundered by T.P. Bank in 1950-51.  Bank recovered artifacts of stone, bone and wood.  BIA investigators in 2000, described worked wood from scaffolding, and fragments of grass matting, animal bones and shells, and other organic materials left behind by Bank.  A visit to the cave in 2013 showed no new disturbance to the cave.

Little Kiska Island, 2014

Little Kiska Site KIS-00002, was excavated by Hrdlicka in 1936.   In 1989 BIA noted extensive WWII disturbance but no erosion.  No erosion was apparent in 1997, but by 2010 a large exposure had appeared.  In 2014 an archaeologist spent a day documenting the erosion.  Sixty meters of the 150 meter long midden is actively eroding.  The site face has, by best estimates, lost between 1 and 2 meters of midden.

Archaeological site KIS-00002 on Little Kiska Island is actively eroding.

Archaeological site KIS-00002 on Little Kiska Island is actively eroding.

Kanaga Island, 2015

ADK-00059 was investigated by BIA in 1999.  FWS and independent archaeologists visited in June 2015.  This site is situated well back from the modern shoreline and shows no sign of recent visits or natural erosion.

Archaeological site ADK-00059 on Kanaga Island appears to be stable.

Archaeological site ADK-00059 on Kanaga Island appears to be stable.

Five sites were examined for condition between 2013 and 2015.  None have been subject to recent vandalism.   Two sites, ATU-00057, and KIS-00002, are actively eroding.  Erosion at the first is ongoing but minor and poses little threat to the long term integrity of the site.  Major erosion is obvious at KIS-00002.  Since it is inside well-protected Kiska Harbor increased storminess is unlikely to be the cause.  One possibility may be changes in site elevation due to earthquakes.