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The Aleutian Islands comprise one of the richest and least studied archeological regions left in the United States. The ancient ancestors of the Aleut or Unangan people developed a maritime culture superbly adapted to sea mammal hunting and fishing in some of the world’s most productive but dangerous waters. The highly complex coastline of the 1,050-mile long Aleutian Islands chain offers a wide variety of environmental niches for humans to exploit. Bird rookeries, reefs thickly encrusted with intertidal life and beaches with driftwood accumulations provided tools and food for prehistoric living.
Other important features included sea mammal haulouts, estuaries, and salmon streams and kelp beds thick with fish, sea otters and sea birds. Upland meadows provided abundant berries and other plant foods during a short but productive growing season. The abundant food supply provided the foundation for substantial human populations that probably exceeded that of the modern Aleutian region.
There are at least 25 known prehistoric village sites located within a two-mile radius of the Dutch Harbor airport. Many more sites are, doubtless, waiting to be discovered and documented. The oldest site, Unalaska Bar, dates back 9,000 years and along with the Anangula site on Umnak Island, is among the earliest known coastal sites in North America. Houses in the Aleutians were semi-subterranean, excavated 3 feet to 5 feet into the ground with walls above the ground made from driftwood logs, whalebone and sod. House styles and sizes changed over time. By late prehistoric times and shortly after Russian contact in the 1700s, multiple families lived in long houses that could exceed 100 feet in length. Stone oil lamps, projectile points, knives, scrapers and net sinkers are common, as are bone artifacts like harpoon points, wedges, needles, and fish hooks. Most bone artifacts and the occasional ivory piece are characterized by careful, often spectacular, workmanship.
Beaver inlet - Sedanka Island
CULTURE OF THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS