A Burial Cave in the Western Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Dixie West, Christine Lefèvre, Debra Corbett and Susan Crockford


During the 1998 field season, the Western Aleutians Archaeological and Paleobiological Project (WAAPP) team located a cave in the Near Islands, Alaska. Near the entrance of the cave, the team identified work areas and sleeping/sitting areas surrounded by cultural debris and animal bones. Human burials were found in the cave interior. In 2000, with permission from The Aleut Corporation, archaeologists revisited the site. Current research suggests three distinct occupations or uses for this cave. Aleuts buried their dead in shallow graves at the rear of the cave circa 1,200 to 800 years ago. Aleuts used the front of the cave as a temporary hunting camp as early as 390 years ago. Finally, Japanese and American military debris and graffiti reveal that the cave was visited during and after World War II. Russian trappers may have also taken shelter there 150 to 200 years ago. This is the first report of Aleut cave burials west of the Delarof Islands in the central Aleutians.

  • Dixie West, Natural History Museum and Center for Biodiversity, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045

  • Christine Lefèvre, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Laboratoire d’Anatomie comparée, ESA 8045 (CNRS), 55 rue de Buffon, 75005 Paris, France

  • Debra Corbett, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503-6199

  • Susan Crockford, Pacific Identifications Inc., 6011 Oldfield Rd., Victoria, B.C., Canada, V9E 2J4