Two Chiefs’ Houses from the Western Aleutian Islands

Debra G. Corbett


The earliest Russian explorers of the Aleutians described Near Island chiefs’ houses that were larger than those of ordinary people. The Russians noted that these houses were also functionally different than ordinary dwellings. Chiefs entertained guests, sheltered widows and orphans, and hosted religious ceremonies in their houses. Between 1997 and 2003, Western Aleutians Archaeological and Paleobiological Project (WAAPP) archaeologists excavated two unusual structures on the Near Islands of Buldir and Attu that may have been the houses of chiefs. The structures were larger than ordinary houses, with substantial whalebone structural components. Perhaps of more significance are the substantial caches of artifacts, parts of animals, and burials associated with the structures. The items used in the construction appear to have had spiritual significance, suggesting that people with great power and authority occupied the structures.

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