Through a novel approach for cultural resource management, more than 3,000 artifacts collected 100 years ago near a North Slope village are back in Alaska as a result of a collaborative effort among the local community, archaeological researchers, the University of Alaska Museum of the North, and industry. Rather than assess indirect project effects on widely dispersed sites around a remote project area, a multi-year program addressed local community concerns in a reciprocal approach. This reciprocal mitigation can act as a model to be considered for similar cultural management strategies.
Following regular and consistent communication with community leaders and residents, we learned about a long-standing desire to reconnect with a collection of artifacts that were excavated from the area in 1914 by the pioneering Canadian archaeologist Diamond Jenness and curated at the Canadian Museum of History. The collection includes antler arrowheads, ivory harpoon heads, traditional copper and slate knives and other remarkably preserved artifacts that represent a way of life extending back 1,000 years.
The project's multi-year cultural resources management program culminated in the return of this collection to Alaska for the first time in over 100 years. As part of a museum-to-museum loan, the iconic collection was sent to the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, where local community cultural experts were invited to visit and assist researchers in the documentation and analysis process. The program evolved into a cultural exchange where village residents were able to reconnect with the collection, helping bolster local elementary and secondary education programs which preserve and advance their rich Iñupiat cultural heritage.
The collection played a key role in the growth and basic knowledge of circumpolar archaeology in North America in 1914 and was an early example of scientific collaboration with local experts. The current project's melding of science and traditional knowledge is in keeping with the collaborative nature of the initial excavation and has brought new life and understanding to a 100-year-old collection while satisfying cultural resource management requirements for an oil and gas development project.