UAF houses oldest skin boat in the circumpolar North

The remains of an umiak discovered among a recent acquisition at the University of Alaska Museum of the North have been dated at 1,000 years old, the oldest skin boat assembly in the circumpolar North.

Anchorage Museum researcher Jenya Anichenko identified the pieces during a trip to Fairbanks earlier this year to work with the Birnirk collection as part of her research on circumpolar open skin boats.

The importance of the Birnirk archaeological site near Barrow was recognized when it was discovered in the 1930s, but a full analysis was never published. The site was first excavated by James Ford of the United States National Museum and later by a Harvard University expedition directed by Wilbert Carter.

The Birnirk’s umiak collection includes 30 wooden fragments. A National Science Foundation grant allowed for radiocarbon dating of three samples. The Birnirk materials excavated by Carter are owned by the U.S. Navy and were housed for decades at the Harvard University Peabody Museum. In 2011, the Carter collections returned to Alaska and are now curated at the University of Alaska Museum of the North

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