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30 July 2007
3000-year-old whalebone mask found in Alaska

Archaeologists working in Unalaska (Alaska, USA) have found the remains of a whalebone mask believed to be about 3,000 years old. The partial mask was discovered earlier this month while archaeologists were unearthing an ancient village. The mask, stained brown by soil, is about 2,000 years older than any known Aleut mask, according to archaeologists.
     Archaeologists began working on the hillside because a new bridge is to be built there, replacing an old wooden-decked one. The dig, originally scheduled to last only a month, has been extended because the site has proved to be much richer than anyone expected. The village was inhabited at a time when the climate in the Aleutians was much colder and the islands were surrounded by ice year-round. The inhabitants lived in stone houses with under-floor air spaces for heating. Residents of the ancient site - a village marked by unprecedented stone houses and ivory carvings - ate polar bears, ice seals that no longer visit the island and a whale that's never been documented in North American waters, Knecht said.
     The mask might have been worn and broken at a funeral, said Mike Yarborough, lead archaeologist at the dig. "It's speculation to say what happened 3,000 years ago, but it was broken when we found it," Yarborough said. "It very well could have been [a funeral mask]." The village was occupied between 2,400 and 3,400 years ago, but materials found near the mask indicate it is 3,000 years old, he said. The village has yielded several important discoveries, including the remains of dozens of homes, Knecht said. The dwellings had stone walls and sub-floor heating ducts to spread heat through the homes, he said. Archaeologists also have found well-preserved human remains from ceremonial burials and jewelry such as an ivory hair pin with decorative faces carved on both sides.

Sources: Anchorage Daily News, Associated Press (28 July 2007), Daily Herald, Imedinews (29 July 2007)

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