Ancient Eskimo Village Discovered Thanks to Depleting Arctic Ice Caps

Earlier this week, TakePart reported on the record lows recorded in the Earth’s dwindling Arctic ice cap coverage. The dire implications of reaching that kind of planetary milestone are obvious, but there is one consequence that could actually prove helpful to us.

BBC reports that a 500-year old Alaskan Eskimo settlement was recently discovered eroding from under the permafrost, and it’s giving researchers the ability to study a culture that went through its own dramatic climate change centuries ago.

Researchers report that under the frozen site are the ancient ruins belonging to the Yup’ik Eskimo society. The Yup'ik―which are still represented in Alaska today―were one of the last Eskimo societies to be contacted, and in their heyday, were among the Arctic’s most powerful and well-represented cultures

The University of Aberdeen has been rescuing thousands of artifacts from the site, most of which are characterized as “exquisitely preserved” after centuries of being encased in frost. They include everything one would expect from village life including animal furs, woven grass, figurines and even human hair.

The site is known as Nunalleq and is believed to have been inhabited between AD 1350 and AD 1650. During that time, the area reportedly suffered what’s termed as “The Little Ice Age.”  In contrast to our climate issues, the Yup’ik were subjected to rapidly falling temperatures and expanding ice caps.  

The Aberdeen research team is hoping to discover how the Yup’ik evolved their behavior to suit their changing environment. One course of action they’re taking is to analyze the human hair found at the site, in order to crack its code of isotopes and discover how the Eskimos changed their diets in order to suit the temperatures. Much like our warming issues today, global cooling affected what foods were available, and  by tracking the hair samples, archaeologists can uncover changes in cultural behavior that allowed these native people to survive.

Dr. Rick Knecht explained to BBC, "This isn't just an area of cultural importance, but we could also create a predictive model about what to expect in the coming decades.”

Do you think studying cultures that lived through Ice Ages can really help us learn to live through our own “Heat Age”?

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Dear Mr. President: Why on Earth are You Letting Shell Drill in the Arctic?

• The Mysterious Power of Sarah Palin

• Climate Change Fall-Out: Genetically Inferior Hybrid Grizzly-Polar Bears

A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for Email Andri | @andritweets |