Largely missing from the debate surrounding the use of pottery among arctic and subarctic hunter-gatherers are site-based biomolecular studies of vessel contents. This study used lipid-residue analysis to elucidate vessel function at Nunalleq (GDN-248), a late Thule-period coastal village site in the Yup’ik area of Western Alaska. In total, 31 pottery sherds and five soil samples were analyzed using gas chromatography and/or gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The ubiquitous presence of aquatic biomarkers in all the pottery sherds suggests that pottery function at the site was directly linked to the use of aquatic resources. This indication of relatively specialized use of pottery at Nunalleq is particularly interesting when considered within the context of the site’s broader subsistence strategies, which included use of both aquatic and terrestrial resources. These findings appear to support a more general association between higher-latitude pottery traditions and the use of aquatic resources, though this topic requires further research.
Bibliographical noteFunding for parts of the analytical work came from the UK Leverhulme Trust [Project F/00 152/AM] (PJ and KG). This laboratory work was also supported by a Marie Curie Incoming
International Fellowship (#273392). The onsite collection of the samples was carried out by staff of University of Aberdeen, and University of Alaska Fairbanks, as part of the Nunalleq project, and by the student excavators and residents of Quinhagak, Alaska. The fieldwork portion of this project also had logistical and planning support from the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program.
We make special thanks to Warren Jones and the Board of Directors and staff of Qanirtuuq Inc., Quinhagak, Alaska for permission to utilize their collections and for their support and assistance with the field research, and to Charlotta Hillerdal
(CH) and Edouard Masson-MacLean for their excellent work in helping direct the fieldwork. Funding for the Nunalleq project and fieldwork has been provided through a grant from the Arts
and Humanities Research Council to RK, KB, and CH (AH/K006029/1).