In 1914, scientist and anthropologist Diamond Jenness set out as part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition to conduct some of the first scientific archaeology ever done in Alaska. During that expedition, he excavated a significant number of artifacts near the village of Kaktovik that represent a way of life extending back 500 to 1,000 years.

The artifacts include antler arrowheads, ivory harpoon heads with iron points and copper and slate ulus (traditional knives). Since the expedition, the artifacts have been housed at the Canadian Museum of History, where the collection played a key role in the growth and basic knowledge of circumpolar archaeology in North America and was an early example of scientific collaboration with local experts.

Now, the collection is on loan to the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, where more than 100 years later, the artifacts are providing new insights into the unwritten history of the North Slope.

Helping to preserve the cultural heritage of the Alaska native community is a primary focus of ExxonMobil Alaska, and the return of the artifacts fulfilled part of a cultural-resources agreement for ExxonMobil’s Point Thomson Project, located near the village of Kaktovik. This agreement enabled ExxonMobil to work directly with the local community to realize a long-standing desire to reconnect with the collection.

Members of the Kaktovik community are currently working closely with local agencies and the Point Thomson archaeology team to examine the artifacts, perform in-depth documentation and educate Kaktovik children about the collection. The current project’s melding of science and traditional knowledge is in keeping with the flavor of the initial excavation, and shows how collaborative efforts can bring new life and understanding to a 100-year-old collection.

Photo credit: ExxonMobil

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