Ancient Unangam mask found on Amaknak 8-07

DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska (AP) - Archaeologists excavating on Amaknak
Island have discovered what may be the oldest Unangam whalebone mask.

Shawna Rider, who is working with four other archaeologists from
Anchorage-based Cultural Resource Consultants LLC, found the two
pieces of the broken mask at the Amaknak Bridge site on July 2.

“We haven't radiocarbon-dated the mask yet although we do have an
associated charcoal sample but from its location in the site, I'd
guess that it is possibly 3,000 years old,” said Michael Yarborough,
director of the field crew.

Previous C-14 dates from the site place its occupation between about
2,500 and 3,500 years ago.

“The Qawalangin Tribe is very excited that this mask was found. We
are thankful and appreciative that the funding was made available by
the state of Alaska to preserve as much as possible from this
important site,” said Denise Rankin, vice president of the
Qawalangin Tribal Council.

“We realize great care has been taken by the field crew, given the
time constraints they are under. The Qawalangin Tribe thanks the
field crew for their efforts to preserve out history,” she added.

Whalebone masks have been found at other, more recent sites on
Amaknak Island. A stylistically similar mask from Izembek Lagoon, on
the Alaska Peninsula near Cold Bay, is about 1,000 years old.

In anthropologist Lydia Black's 2003 book “Aleut Art,” she writes
that the members of ancient Aleut burial parties wore small masks
that were broken at the end of the funeral rites.

The field crew is in the final stages of a two-year salvage recovery
at the site.

In 2003, a team from the Museum of the Aleutians excavated at the
site. All of the current effort has been in conjunction with a road
project to replace the bridge between Amaknak and Unalaska islands.