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Islands Of The Four Mountains' Artifacts Exhibited For The First Time

NASA Earth Observatory

Not many people make it to the Islands of the Four Mountains.

But with a new exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians, Unalaskans can now explore one of the chain’s most isolated areas.

“It's a group of islands to the west of us," said MOTA Director Dr. Virginia Hatfield. "Between the Andreanof Islands, which include Adak, and the Fox Islands, which include Unalaska and Umnak, there's a little group of islands and they’re very volcanic.”

Hatfield was one of the archeologists who boated out to the islands three years ago for their first in-depth excavation.

During the dig, her team uncovered the sites of five former villages. The oldest were occupied 4,000 years ago, while the most recent settlement was only abandoned in 1763.

“It was the last occupied site in the Islands of the Four Mountains, during the time we call the Aleut Revolt," said Hatfield. "The Russians killed a lot of Unangax and relocated whoever survived to Umnak. We found evidence -- a metal knife, a glass bead, and a musket ball -- that tells us the Russians were there at that time.”

There’s no evidence that anyone has lived on the islands since that conflict, but Hatfield said the dig produced hundreds of artifacts that point toward a rich prehistoric culture.

The exhibit showcases technology the Unangax used prior to the Russian occupation -- from thousand-year-old ulus, fashioned from stone, to elegant bone tools, carved from marine mammal skeletons.

“We have a handful of fishing tools, but we also have some needles," said Hatfield. "We have some root diggers, some bird darts, and a throwing board pin, which is something they used to throw spears.”

The exhibit marks the first time that artifacts from the Islands of the Four Mountains have been displayed to the public.

Hatfield said scientists are still studying the collection, including the flat griddle stones that were used as prehistoric frying pans.  

“We have a researcher who’s currently looking at the fat deposits on these griddle stones," she said. "We expect to find otter, seal, and bird fats. We'll also see fish and maybe even bivalves, like mussels.”

The exhibit will stay open in Unalaska for another month, before it moves to its permanent home at the Aleut Corporation in Anchorage.

After that, Hatfield said MOTA  will host a community art show and a traveling exhibit called “Living Alaska,” dedicated to contemporary art from around the state. 

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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