The Nonempirical Past: Enculturated Landscapes and Other-than-Human Persons in Southwest Alaska

Igor Krupnik, Kenneth L. Pratt and Erica Hill


In 1971, Ernest S. Burch identified “nonempirical phenomena” as variables in travel and settlement decision-making among Iñupiaq Eskimo of Northwest Alaska. This article parses the term “nonempirical” and advocates the use of Hallowell’s (1960) term “other-than-human” to describe the extraordinary persons known to Yupiit and Inupiat of Alaska. I discuss the ways in which place names and oral narratives can contribute to an understanding of the relational, intersubjective nature of Yupiit interactions with other-than-human persons and describe how such relations were anchored in enculturated landscapes. Finally, I address how archaeology is uniquely positioned to contribute to reconstructions of prehistoric ontologies that materialized relations between “real people” and the other-than-human persons with whom they shared the animated, dynamic landscapes of Southwest Alaska.