No two Christmas cards are alike

December 25, 2008 at 1:07 am | Posted in Chatting, Wheater | 1 Comment
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After a very unpolite break, I am happy to announce that “Melting the ice” is back. And I’m not goinna start posting without wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I chose this image as a Christmas card because, despite is not stylish, since I was a child I found it quite amazing how snowflakes can really look like that. I mean, this is the coolest design ever, isn’t it? And a but of scientific chatting before going to complete the daily knowledgement dose:

Ice crystals formed in the appropriate conditions can often be thin and flat. These planar crystals may be simple hexagons, or if the supersaturation is high enough, develop branches and dendritic (fern-like) features and have six approximately identical arms, as per the iconic ‘snowflake’ popularised by Wilson Bentley. The 6-fold symmetry arises from the hexagonal crystal structure of ordinary ice, the branch formation is produced by unstable growth, with deposition occurring preferentially near the tips of branches.

The shape of the snowflake is determined broadly by the temperature, and humidity at which it forms. Rarely, at a temperature of around −2 °C (28 °F), snowflakes can form in threefold symmetry — triangular snowflakes. The most common snow particles are visibly irregular, although near-perfect snowflakes may be more common in pictures because they are more visually appealing.

Planar crystals (thin and flat) grow in air between 0 °C (32 °F) and −3 °C (27 °F). Between −3 °C (27 °F) and −8 °C (18 °F), the crystals will form needles or hollow columns or prisms (long thin pencil-like shapes). From −8 °C (18 °F) to −22 °C (−8 °F) the habit goes back to plate like, often with branched or dendritic features. Note that the maximum difference in vapour pressure between liquid and ice is at approx. −15 °C (5 °F) where crystals grow most rapidly at the expense of the liquid droplets. At temperatures below −22 °C (−8 °F), the crystal habit again becomes column-like again, although many more complex habits also form such as side-planes, bullet-rosettes and also planar types depending on the conditions and ice nuclei.

Interestingly, if a crystal has started forming in a column growth regime, say at around −5 °C (23 °F), and then falls into the warmer plate-like regime, plate or dendritic crystals sprout at the end of the column producing so called ‘capped columns’.

There is a widely held belief that no two snowflakes are alike. Strictly speaking, it is extremely unlikely for any two macroscopic objects in the universe to contain an identical molecular structure; but there are, nonetheless, no known scientific laws that prevent it. In a more pragmatic sense, it’s more likely—albeit not much more—that two snowflakes are virtually identical if their environments were similar enough, either because they grew very near one another, or simply by chance.

See you soon, and thanks for waiting.

The Red Book of Peoples of the Russian Empire: the Aliutors

October 7, 2008 at 6:48 am | Posted in Language, Naming, Siberia | Leave a comment
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More information from the Red Book of peoples of the Russian Empire:


Like the Chavchu group of the Chukchi and the Koryak, the Aliutor people were mostly nomadic reindeer-breeders which is exactly what their self-designation, ramkyken, means. The earliest reports of settled off-shore Aliutors date from the end of the 17th century. They called themselves elutel’u. S. Krasheninnikov, who explored Kamchatka in 1755, considered the Aliutors to be a separate ethnic group. Various documents from the 18th century also give separate mention to the Koryaks, Aliutors and Chukchis. In the 1930s the Aliutors were confused with the Koryaks, and both were called nymylan. The name Aliutors, reinstated later, obviously comes from the previous designation of the settled tribes. Hence also, the name of the Oliutor district.


The Aliutors live on the Kamchatka Isthmus in northeast Siberia. Their territory encompasses nearly 15,000 sq. km. stretching from the Karaga Bay of the Bering Sea to Oliutorka (formerly Alutorskoye), and from Rekinniki to Podkagernaya on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea. Administratively, they belong to the Koryak Autonomous District, Kamchatka Region, Russian Federation. From 1930 to 1977 the territory had the status of a National District. Beside the Oliutor District, Aliutors live in the southern part of the Karaga district and the northern part of the Tigil district. The administrative centre is Tilichik (Tyliran) in the Oliutor district. Most of the territory belongs to the zone of woodland tundra. The climate is influenced by both the Bering and the Okhotsk Seas.


No official data on the Aliutor population is available. A report of 1934 mentions them as a sizable ethnic group after the Chavchus. Nowadays, the Oliutor district, like the Koryak Autonomous District displays enormous ethnic variety. In all probability official statistics still do not distinguish the Aliutors from the Koryaks. Their actual number is possibly 2,000 to 3,000.

Anthropologically the Aliutor people, like the Chukchi and the Koryak belong to the mongoloid Northern-Asiatic race. They are characterized by a swarthy complexion, dark eyes and straight hair, a short and stocky figure, a very broad flat face and a conspicuous Mongolian fold. There is little facial hair.


The Aliutor language is a member of the Chukchi-Kamchatka group of the Paleo-Asiatic or Paleo-Siberian languages. Genetically, it is connected to the Chukchi, Koryak, Kerek and Itelmen languages. In the 1930s Aliutor was still unanimously considered one of the four southern dialects of the Koryak language, but since the 1950s, it has been regarded as a separate language. Morphologically, the language most resembles Chukchi. In terms of structure Aliutor is an incorporating or polysynthetic language.

There are three dialects: Ukin, Karaga and Palana, but neither the dialectal division nor the individual dialects have been sufficiently studied. According to P. Skorik, the Karaga and Palana dialects could be classified as cognate languages of Aliutor.

As with the Chukchi language, there are regular pronunciation differences in men’s and women’s usages. Women say ts where men have l or s (e.g. plaku versus ptsaku ‘footwear’). Men’s usage is considered improper for women and vice versa.

Through close contacts with their kindred peoples the Aliutors are able to use their mother tongue to communicate with the Koryak and the Chukchi. The role of Russian has grown since the 1930s and since the 1960s the Aliutors have voluntarily started to change over to the Russian language as this schooling helps them gain work in a Russian environment.


There is no written language. Instead, the Aliutors, who were then considered just a dialect group of the Koryak, used the Koryak written language introduced in 1923. A few articles in the so-called Aliutor dialect were published in a local newspaper. Since 1958, Aliutor has been considered a separate language (P. Skorik), but this has not meant a higher prestige, more attention or more active research. Communication with neighbouring peoples is still in either Koryak or Russian. Russian is also the sole language of education and cultural activities.

All research on the Aliutor people dates from recent times. The first notes on their language were made by S. Stebnitski in 1927. He was also the author of the first survey of the phonetics, morphology and syntax of the language (1934, 1938), but, as everybody else he considered it a Koryak dialect. Any attention hitherto paid to the Aliutor language and its dialectal divisions can hardly be considered sufficient. A survey by I. Vdovin (1956) and a study of the Karaga dialect from the point of view of experimental phonetics made by G. Melnikov (1940) are unpublished. The longest publication available is a chapter dedicated to the Aliutor language by A. Zhukova, published in Vol. 5 of The Languages of the Peoples of the USSR (1968).


The Aliutors have long been considered as part of the Koryak people. Yet the Aliutor reindeer-breeders ramkyken could be distinguished from Chavchus as the Chavchus’ main activities were fishing, and seal hunting, and their herds were not large. So the language and life-style of the ramkyken were more resemblant of those of the settled Aliutors for whom fishing and the hunting of sea animals was the main livelihood.

By the end of the 18th century the resistance of the Kamchatka peoples was broken by Russians. The territories of the Aliutors were also conquered. In the 19th century Russian Orthodox missionaries were followed by Russian merchants. As well as being swindle by the merchants — often pulled off with the help of vodka and promissory lists — the Aliutor people were subjected to the whims and compulsions of Russian bureaucracy.

Major changes were brought about by the establishment of Soviet power in 1923. In 1930, the Koryak National District was formed. Along with the introduction of collectivization the reindeer-breeders were forced to settle down. This had a far-reaching effect on a large part of the Aliutors as well. Their whole life-style changed. New economic relations were woven accompanied by ideological reorientation and the abolishing of illiteracy. Initially, the Aliutors learned the Koryak script, but the use of written Russian gradually came to dominate. A ‘militant atheism’ was propagated to counter shamanism and religion. Russian homes and machines, their education system and traditions in clothing and diet were held up as examples of progress. Nowadays all of these things are constituents of the normal way of life. The use of the Aliutor language and the observance of local customs are derided by Russians who consider such conduct primitive.

The fate of the Aliutors is a sad example of the accumulation of negative phenomena in accompaniment with the advance of civilization. The political and industrial innovations have become a danger not only to the survival of the Aliutors’ own culture but also to their whole physical existence.

The Sami languages

October 1, 2008 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Language, Scandinavia | Leave a comment
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It has been a long time ago since I posted about the Sami people, so today it is the turn of the languages. As this is an introductory post, the information comes from the Wikipedia:

The Sami languages

The Sami languages are spoken in Sápmi in Northern Europe, in a region stretching over the four countries Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, reaching from the southern part of central Scandinavia in the southwest to the tip of the Kola Peninsula in the east.

During the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age now extinct Sami languages were also spoken in the central and southern parts of Finland and Karelia and in a wider area on the Scandinavian peninsula. Historical documents as well as Finnish and Karelian oral tradition contain many mentions of the earlier Sami inhabitation in these areas (Itkonen 1947). Also loanwords as well as place-names of Sami origin in the southern dialects of Finnish and Karelian dialects testify of earlier Sami presence in the area (Koponen 1996; Saarikivi 2004; Aikio 2007). These Sami languages, however, became later extinct under the wave of the Finno-Karelian agricultural expansion.

The Sami languages form a branch of the Uralic language family. According to the traditional view, Sami is within the Uralic family most closely related to the Baltic-Finnic languages (Sammallahti 1998). However, this view has recently been doubted by some scholars, who argue that the traditional view of a common Finno-Sami protolanguage is not as strongly supported as has been earlier assumed, and that the similarities may stem from an areal influence on Sami from Baltic-Finnic.

In terms of internal relationships, the Sami languages are divided into two groups: the western and the eastern ones. The groups may be further divided into various subgroups and ultimately individual languages. (Sammallahti 1998: 6-38.) Parts of the Sami language area form a dialect continuum in which the neighbouring languages may be to a fair degree mutually intelligible, but two more widely separated groups will not understand each other’s speech. There are, however, sharp and absolute language boundaries, in particular between Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami, the speakers of which are not able to understand each other without learning or long practice.

Western Sami languages

– Southern Sami
– Ume Sami
– Pite Sami
– Lule Sami
– Northern Sami

Eastern Sami languages

– Inari Sami
– Kemi Sami (extinct)
– Skolt Sami
– Akkala Sami (extinct)
– Kildin Sami
– Ter Sami

At present there are nine living Sami languages. The largest six of the languages have independent literary languages; the three others have no written standard, and there are only few, mainly elderly speakers left. The ISO 639-2 code for all Sami languages without its proper code is “smi”.

The other Sami languages are moribund and have very few speakers left. Ten speakers of Ter Sami were known to be alive in 2004, and Pite Sami and Ume Sami likely have under 20 speakers left. The last speaker of Akkala Sami is known to have died in December 2003, and the eleventh attested variety Kemi Sami became extinct in the 19th century.

Of course the data needs to be continuoslly revised as the sociolinguistic situation is always dynamic. Advice an info in that direction would be very appreciated, so if you are Sami and are reading that, do not hesitate to comment!

Some tiding up

October 1, 2008 at 3:32 am | Posted in Chatting, Naming | Leave a comment
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When I started this blog more than six months ago my knowledge of Arctic peoples was weak, very weak. I was starting almost from zero, so the firsts posts where uncertain and maybe a bit vague, not to mention I categorized and tagged them intuitively, without a previous planning. This lead to a bit of chaos in the categories system, which I have just tried to partially solve. I have been reorganizing the categories for the location of the information.

There were two evident problems:

1) A mixed system was used, with some categories (Innu, Na-Dene), referring to tribes or ethnicities and another ones (Scandinavia, Alaska) referring to geographical places.
2) The categories for the places where not well-established, coexisting denominations such as Russia/Siberia, or Scandinavia/Sápmi which refer to similar places.

So some decisions where made, and now the new categories to locate the entries are the following:

Alaska, Canada, Greenland Scandinavia, Siberia, Japan

Of course, this system has problems. In some cases it existed a decision to be made between the native name (Sápmi instead of Scandinavia for the Saamis, or Kalaallit Nunaat for Greenland) and the general or English one. Though n those cases my personal preference and tendency is to use the native name, I finally opted for the general name in order to keep the blog usable and accessible to more people.

My decision for avoiding the tribe or ethnicities name is because for me it is very difficult to create a closed list right now. Furthermore, the number of categories would be too high, making more difficult the navigation through the blog. The name of the tribes has been used when tagging, so it should not by difficult to find it anyway.

Of course good-intentioned criticism is always welcomed, as the list is like a trial for next months.

Photo by curiousyellow under Creative Commons

Alaska Native Collections

September 28, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Alaska, Education, Maps, Naming, Siberia | 4 Comments
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Today I want to share a very good general resource I found las week: the Alaska Native Collections site, by the Smithsonian institute. Despite its name, the site includes information about Alaska but also about Russia or other polar contruies. The site is not only beautifully designed but also packed with a lot of maps, photographies and information, allowing the visitor to learn about the arctic cultures easily. If you just want to learn a few basics, you can do a quick reading, if you want to deep more, you just need to open the “Read more” sections.

Through the Sharing Knowledge project, members of Indigenous communities from across Alaska and northeast Siberia are working with the Smithsonian Institution and the Anchorage Museum to interpret the materials, techniques, cultural meanings, history, and artistry represented by objects in the western arctic and subarctic collections of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. The Arctic Studies Center, which organized and implemented the project, is a special research program within the Department of Anthropology, NMNH, with offices in Washington and at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska.

The goals of Sharing Knowledge are to make the Smithsonian collections accessible to all and to support cross-cultural learning among Indigenous home communities, in schools, and around the world. Interest in the extraordinary arts and cultural heritage of the North is truly global in scope. Participants in this project are Elders, scholars, artists, and teachers who invite all to explore, learn, and appreciate.

The combined holdings of NMNH and NMAI are vast—more than 30,000 items from Alaska and northeast Siberia, most collected between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th century. The great majority has never been published, exhibited, or seen by contemporary residents of source communities in the North. Collaborative study of these collections for Sharing Knowledge began in 2001-2005, with a series of trips to the museums in Washington by more than forty Elders and regional representatives. This documentation process will continue as many more objects are brought from Washington to new Smithsonian exhibition galleries and Arctic Studies Center facilities at the Anchorage Museum, starting in 2010. Through its alliance with the Arctic Studies Center (since 1993) and its planned physical expansion to house these programs and collections, the Anchorage Museum has become an important Smithsonian partner in fostering the collaborative work of museums and Native communities.

Object records on this site include edited transcripts of museum discussions as well as summaries drawn from history, anthropology, and recorded oral tradition. The Cultures section includes regional introductions and information about contributors. The Resources section offers reading materials, web links, and a curriculum guide with lesson plans designed for middle and high school students.

The Sharing Knowledge site reflects the current state of an on-going project, with inevitable gaps and uneven representation of the different cultural regions. It will grow over time as more information is recorded and new contributors can be brought into the discussion. Please watch the site for continually updated materials and features.

Photography (C) Larry McNeil

As I mentioned this place has tones and tones of info about the cultures and the people, so it seems an unforgetable place to ask for help whenever I can manage to do the big trip!

The Atlas of Canadian Languages

September 22, 2008 at 11:25 pm | Posted in Alaska, Canada, Language, Maps | 1 Comment
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I arrived to this series of maps by the Atlas of Canada via the Alaska Native Languages Map blog. They offer information about the situation of languages in Canada, from three different perspectives: the linguistic group, the usage and the continuity:

Atlas of Canada

The linguistic group map

The current 50 languages of Canada’s indigenous peoples belong to 11 major language families – ten First Nations and Inuktitut. Canada’s Aboriginal languages are many and diverse, and their importance to indigenous people immense. This map shows the major aboriginal language families by community in Canada for the year 1996, and it is a part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

Some language families are large and strong in terms of viability, others small and vulnerable. The three largest families, which together represent 93% of persons with an Aboriginal mother tongue, are Algonquian (with 147 000 people whose mother tongue is Algonquian), Inuktitut (with 28 000) and Athabaskan (with 20 000). The other eight account for the remaining 7%. Tlingit, one of the smallest families, has a mere 145 people in Canada whose mother tongue is that language. Similar variations apply to individual languages – Cree, with a mother tongue population of 88 000, appears immense when compared with Malecite at 660.
Influence of Geography on the Size and Diversity of Languages

Geography is an important contributor to the diversity, size and distribution of Aboriginal languages across Canada’s regions. Open plains and hilly woodlands, for example, are ideal for accommodating large groups of people. Because of the terrain, groups in these locations can travel and communicate with each other relatively easily, and often tend to spread over larger areas.

On the other hand, soaring mountains and deep gorges tend to restrict settlements to small pockets of isolated groups. British Columbia’s mountainous landscape with its numerous physical barriers was likely an important factor in the evolution of the province’s many separate, now mostly small, languages. Divided by terrain, languages such as Salish, Tsimshian, Wakashan, Haida, Tlingit and Kutenai could not develop as large a population base as the widely spread Algonquinian (particularly Cree and Ojibway) and the Athapaskan languages, whose homes are the more open central plains and eastern woodlands.

Geography can also influence the likelihood of a language’s survival. Groups located in relatively isolated regions, away from the dominant culture, face fewer pressures to abandon their language. They tend to use their own language in schooling, broadcasting and other communication services and, as a result, are likely to stay more self-sufficient. Communities living in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, the northern regions of Quebec and Labrador – the Inuit, Attikamek and Montagnais-Naskapi – are examples of such groups.

Because of their large, widely dispersed populations, the Algonquian languages account for the highest share of Aboriginal languages in all provinces except British Columbia and in the territories, ranging from 72% in Newfoundland to nearly 100% in the other Atlantic provinces. In both British Columbia and the Yukon, the Athapascan languages make up the largest share (26% and 80%, respectively), while Inuktitut is the most prominent Aboriginal language in the Northwest Territories and practically the only one in Nunavut. British Columbia, home to about half of all individual Aboriginal languages, is the most diverse in Aboriginal language composition. However, because of the small size of these language groups, the province accounts for only 7% of people with an Aboriginal mother tongue.

The ability map

The Index of Ability compares the number of people who report being able to speak the language with the number who have that Aboriginal language as a mother tongue. The index has been compiled and mapped for each of the Aboriginal communities shown in the map Aboriginal Languages by Community, 1996. Relatively higher values of this index may suggest some degree of language revival. This map is part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

The INDEX OF ABILITY may be used to suggest some degree of language revival. The index of ability compares the number of people who report being able to speak the language with the number who have that Aboriginal language as a mother tongue (consult text Data and Mapping Notes for further information).

There are a number of factors which contribute to a language’s ability to survive. First and foremost is the size of the population with an Aboriginal mother tongue or home language. Since a large base of speakers is essential to ensure long-term viability, the more speakers a language has, the better its chances of survival. Indeed, Inuktitut, Cree and Ojibway – the three most flourishing languages – all boast over 20 000 people with an Aboriginal mother tongue. In contrast, endangered languages rarely have more than a few thousand speakers; often they have only a few hundred. For instance, the two smallest and weakest language groups, Kutenai and Tlingit, have mother tongue populations of 120 and 145 respectively.

To survive, a language must be passed on from one generation to the next. The most effective way of making this happen is to speak it in the home where children will learn it as their mother tongue. Spoken in the home, language is used as the working tool of everyday life. In contrast, when learned as a second language, it is often used in potentially limited situations, only as may be the case, for example, in immersion programs. There is, therefore, no equivalent to learning a language as a mother tongue. Unlike other minority language groups, Aboriginals cannot rely on new immigrants to maintain or increase their population of speakers. Consequently, passing on the language from parents to children is critical for the survival of all Aboriginal languages.

The continuity map

The Index of Continuity measures language continuity, or vitality, by comparing the number of those who speak a given language at home to the number of those who learned the language as their mother tongue. The index has been compiled and mapped for each of the Aboriginal communities shown in the map Aboriginal Languages by Community, 1996. The lower the score, the greater the decline or erosion of language continuity. This map is part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

One way of measuring language continuity or vitality is the INDEX OF CONTINUITY. This index measures language continuity or vitality by comparing the number of those who speak an Aboriginal language at home to the number of those who learned the language as their mother tongue (consult text Data and Mapping Notes for further information).

Between 1981 and 1996, the index of continuity declined for all Aboriginal languages. Although the number of people reporting an Aboriginal mother tongue increased by nearly 24% between 1981 and 1996, the number of those who spoke an Aboriginal language at home grew by only 6%. As a result, for every 100 people with an Aboriginal mother tongue, the number who used an indigenous language most often at home declined from 76 to 65 between 1981 and 1996.

The index of continuity has some relationship to the ratings of languages as viable or endangered. Although most languages experienced a steady erosion in linguistic vitality during these years, endangered ones suffered the most. For example, the index of continuity for Salish languages fell from 35 in 1981 to only 12 by 1996. Tlingit and Kutenai, as languages most often spoken at home, had practically disappeared by the 1990s. Given that in 1996 there were only 120 people with a Kutenai mother tongue, it is not hard to see why there is a serious concern for the survival of this language. In contrast, although the continuity index dipped for the relatively strong Cree as well, it did so by considerably less: from 78 to 65. Although Inuktitut did experience a slight erosion in the early 1980’s, the past decade has seen its index stabilize at 84.

Groups that live in remote communities or in settlements with concentrated populations of indigenous speakers appear to find it easier to retain their language. Indeed, two such groups, on-reserve Registered Indians and the Inuit, show the highest indexes of language continuity among all groups: 80 and 85, respectively. In contrast, non-status Indians and Metis, who tend to live off-reserve, as well as off-reserve registered Indians have home-language-mother tongue ratios of 58, 50 and 40 respectively. This suggests a more pronounced state of language decline. Clearly, the off-reserve environment poses major threats to Aboriginal languages.

By 1996, these rates of language erosion resulted in strikingly different continuity levels for viable and endangered languages as a whole. For every 100 speakers with an Aboriginal mother tongue, an average of about 70 used an Aboriginal home language among viable groups, compared with 30 or fewer among endangered groups.

You can read data and mapping notes here.

Aleutians East Borough

September 20, 2008 at 6:32 pm | Posted in Alaska, Community, History | Leave a comment
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I found by chance a website about some Aleutian villages in Alaska, called the Aleutians East Borough. They have a lot of municipal (school, jobs, the pipeline…) and economical information, as well as some historical facts that I resumed here:

Aleutians East Borough

Akutan, Cold Bay, False Pass, King Cove, Nelson Lagoon, Sand Point

Stretching from the tip of the Alaska Peninsula to the easternmost Aleutian Islands, the Aleutians East Borough is like no other place on earth.This is a wild, dramatic region bordered on one side by the North Pacific Ocean and the other by the Bering Sea. It has been home to generations of Aleut families since the Second Ice Age.Today, the region is renowned for its breathtaking beauty, warm, generous people and the rich diversity of seafood found in the waters around it.

The History of Akutan

Akutan churchAkutan was formed in 1878 when a number of Aleut families from surrounding islands established a village at this location. The Russian Orthodox Church supported this move and constructed a church at the site. Western Fur and Trading Co. built a fur storage and trading post, and its resident agent started a cod fishing business in the village. In 1912 the Pacific Whaling Company built a processing station, which operated until 1939.

Akutan’s proximity to the Bering Sea fishing grounds brought the crab and fish processing industry to the community in the late 40s, at first through the operation of floating processors, followed in the early 1980s by construction of a shore-based processing plant owned by Trident Seafoods.

The History Of Cold Bay

The Cold Bay area, near the southern edge of the Bering Land Bridge, probably played an important role in the migration of Asiatic people to North America during the last Ice Age. Recent archeological surveys have found the presence of numerous ancient refuse heaps, which suggest large populations of Native Aleut people at one time inhabited the area.During the coastal explorations by Europeans, Russian ships wintered in Bechevin Bay, about 40 miles west of Cold Bay. Count Feodor Lutke bestowed the name “Izembek” on the region in 1827 in honor of Karl Izembek, the surgeon aboard the sloop “Moller”. During the 1800s and early 1900s, subsistence hunters and trappers visited Cold Bay.The Japanese invasion of the Aleutians Islands during World War II stimulated the rapid construction of a series of American strategic bases. One of them was Fort Randall, a large air base built on the shores of Cold Bay in 1942. At the height of the Aleutian campaign, thousands of troops were stationed at Fort Randall. The base was abandoned after the end of the war, but the landscape still bears witness to its military history in the form of a myriad of roads, historical sites and, most importantly, its airport runways.

History of False Pass

False Pass man The Aleut name for the community is “Isanax,” which means “The Pass.” Shallow waters and the narrowness of the channel caused the village and strait to be called False Pass, but it is indeed a major throughway between the North Pacific and the Bering Sea for all but the largest vessels.

Originally homesteaded by William Gardner in the early 1900’s, the village began to grow when P.E. Harris established the first seafood cannery in False Pass in 1917. Many of the original buildings came from a cannery that was abandoned in Morzhovoi Bay, about 30 miles away. Natives immigrated from Morzhovoi, Sanak Island and Ikatan when the cannery was built. A post office was established in 1921. The cannery operated continuously, except for 1973 – 1976, when two hard winters depleted fish resources. It was eventually purchased by Peter Pan Seafoods and dominated the economy of the town for decades.

In 1981 most of the plant was consumed in a huge fire, although some buildings and facilities remain. Peter Pan still plays a vital role in the community with its private dock, fuel sales, and store. For more than 20 years the False Pass Tribal Council governed the community. Now a second class city, False Pass incorporated in 1990.

King Cove Description and History

The first recorded settler at the cove was a man named Robert King, who lived there in the 1880s. In 1911, Pacific American Fisheries built a large cannery and employed Aleut and other Native peoples, Asian workers, and Scandinavian workers. Many Native people came from the villages of Belkofski, Sanak and False Pass. The community incorporated as a first class city in 1947. Peter Pan Seafoods is the successor to PAF. The cannery has been operating since 1911 (it burned in the 1970s but was immediately rebuilt). It is the largest salmon cannery in North America and also processes crab, bottom fish, herring, and other fish year round. A dozen traditional use hunting and trapping camps have been noted around the shores of Cold Bay and Kinzarof Lagoon, dating from the first half of the twentieth century.

History of Sand Point

Sand Point was officially settled in 1887. The Lynde and Hough Company of San Francisco set up a supply station and cod fishing station on Humboldt Harbor. The town that grew up around this station adopted the name Sand Point. Aleuts from surrounding villages and Scandinavian fishermen were the first residents of the community. These influences can still be seen in the names and faces of Sand Point residents

Sand Point served as a repair and supply center for gold mining during the early 1900’s, but fish processing became the dominant activity in the 1930’s. The St. Nicholas Chapel, a Russian Orthodox church, was built in 1933 and is now on the National Register of Historical Places.

The Red Book of Russian People: the Aleuts

September 17, 2008 at 8:26 am | Posted in Naming, Siberia | 6 Comments
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As promised, I am digging in the Red Book of Russian People website. Today it is the turn of the first group of tribes, the Paleo-Asiatic ones. And we start with the Aleutians. I wrote about them in this other post, and today we will read more about them:

The Aleuts

The present self-designation aleut was first suggested by the Russians who reached the Aleutian Islands in 1741 during an expedition led by V. Bering. Written sources have used the name since 1747 and gradually it has been adopted by the Aleuts. Final consolidation of the name took place in the first decades of this century. According to G. Menovshchikov the name is derived from an Aleut word allíthuh meaning ‘community; host’. The old self-designation unangan evidently applied to the eastern Aleuts only, meaning probably ‘coastal people’ (K. Bergsland). Local groupings and inhabitants of different islands are known to have also used other names for themselves.


The Aleut people are the native inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands, the southwestern part of the Alaskan peninsula and the off-shore islands of Shumagin. Since the beginning of the 19th century there have been resettled Aleuts living on Commander Islands (Bering and Mednyi) which are under Soviet jurisdiction. The Aleut District in the Kamchatka Region was established in 1932. In 1969 the Aleuts of those two islands were gathered to live in Nikolskoye, Bering Island.


In the middle of the 18th century, when Russians first explored the place, the islands were nearly all inhabited. The number of the Aleuts was estimated at approximately 25,000. Mass murder and enslavement of the natives reduced their numbers drastically. According to the data supplied by the missionary I. Veniaminov in 1834 there were less than 2,500 Aleuts left. The 1918 epidemics of smallpox and grippe took a further toll. In 1945 the anthropologist A. Hrolicka estimated the number of Aleuts at about 1,400. Nowadays the world number of the Aleuts is believed to be about 6,000. Part of the Eskimos of southeastern and southern Alaska also consider themselves Aleut. In the 1970s there were about 500 Aleuts living on the Commander Islands, but by 1984 their number had dropped to 300. On the US part of the Aleutian Islands a census was carried out in 1960 according to whose data there were 2,100 Aleut (mostly half-bred) who made up 35 % of the local population.

Anthropologically Aleuts are close to the Eskimo people belonging to the mongoloid Arctic race. Their mingling with other types often emphasized in academic literature is evidently not well grounded. Newer results prove that despite the historical heterogeneity of the Commander Aleuts their genetic structure is Aleut.


The Aleut people were believed to have first arrived on the Aleutian Islands from the coast of northeastern Asia or from Alaska, not earlier than 3,000 years ago. Latest research suggests that the aleuts arrival must have happened considerably earlier. Now the settlement of the Aleutians is associated with the time when there was still a land connection between America and Asia, that is, no later than 10–12 thousand years ago.


The Aleut language, belonging to the Eskimo-Aleut languages, is considered as a member of the Paleo-Asiatic group. According to incomplete data the Aleut language can be divided into three dialects: Attu (Western), Atka and Unalaska (Eastern). The differences are small and do not impede mutual intelligibility. The present-day Aleuts are bilingual. The American Aleuts speak English, while the Asiatic Aleuts had already been russified by the beginning of the 19th century.

According to G. Menovshchikov the Aleuts of Bering Island speak the Atka dialect with a well-preserved basic vocabulary and grammatical structure. The version previously used on the Mednyi (Copper) Island was of the Attu dialect. In addition the strong Russian influence has produced a strange pidgin where verbs are conjugated by means of Russian suffixes, etc. Menovshchikov has suggested that the pidgin which is still spoken to a certain extent on Mednyi Island was at one time a lingua franca for Russians and the Aleut people.

Although the Aleut language has relatively much in common with Eskimo languages, the grammatical and lexical differences are considerable. The glotto-chronological method dates the linguistic divergence of the Aleut and the Eskimo peoples as at least 1000–2000 years back. Common developments can be traced in the phonology and word structure, but there are very few common roots in the lexis of the two languages. It is believed that the phonology of Aleut is more ancient than the Eskimo language.

The linguistic and cultural influence of Russian started to make itself felt by the 18th century. By the beginning of the 19th century practically all Aleuts living on Russian territories had been converted to Russian Orthodoxy. This was an efficient means of checking the local culture and language. On Bering Island the Russian influence has not penetrated to grammar yet, but some of it has been noticed in the vocabulary. The inhabitants of Mednyi Island are very much isolated from the remaining Aleut area. Nowadays their ordinary means of communication is Russian. Aleut has been preserved fragmentarily by the older members of but a few families but in general Aleut has receded before Russian.

Another strong wave of Russian swept over the islands during the Soviet period. Many Aleuts have left their native islands in search of better education. Ethnically pure marriages are rare, in most cases the spouse is found among another nation. According to R. Lyapunova the number of Aleuts living at Nikolskoye, Bering Island is about 300. About 200 live elsewhere, mostly on the Kamchatka peninsula. The same author points out that outside their own native islands the half-bred Aleuts refrain from calling themselves Aleut, but returning home they resume their ethnic identity.



Ethnic culture

The Aleut people have always derived their livelihood from the hunting of sea mammals (seals, fur-seals, etc.) and fishing. In the severe polar conditions the gathering of everything edible was also of great importance. Hunting and fishing gear was made of stone, bone and wood. Family relations were characterized by polygamy (both ways), giving away children to uncles to foster, and the mutual exchange of children.

According to traditional practice the catch and game belonged to the whole community, not to the hunter and his family only. The dwellings were half-earthen and large. Male as well as female clothing was made of animal and bird skins. Mats and baskets woven of grass were popular in every household. Traditional food consisted of the meat of sea mammals and seabirds, fish (eaten raw) and molluscs.

The sources of Russian cultural influence were the Russian administration, the Russian Orthodox Church and the parochial school. Folk art (pantomime dances, for example) still survived, but were practised in jealously guarded secrecy for fear of Russian disparagement.

Nowadays mink-farming and cattle-breeding as well as horticulture have developed in addition to the traditional branches of economy.

Those Aleuts who were forcefully resettled to the Commander Islands had to accommodate their life-style to the local natural conditions. There the winters are colder and there is more snow than on the Aleutian Islands. The inhabited northern part of Bering is just flat tundra, and Mednyi is rocky. New means of transport — the dog harness (also in summer) were introduced.

Nowadays folk culture survives to a certain extent thanks to the Museum of Local Lore, Children’s Art School and a folklore ensemble.


The Aleut people became an object of research following the Russian occupation. The initiative belonged to the missionary I. Veniaminov. Nowadays extensive research projects are under way in the USA. An Aleut writing system with its base the Cyrillic alphabet, was devised in the 19th century by I. Veniaminov and V. Metsvetov. As on Bering Island there was a parochial school (belonging to the Russian-American company), and nearly all adult men could read and write in Russian. In addition there was always a native Aleut around teaching children the same skills in the Aleut language. In 1867 when the Aleutian Islands were ceded to the USA the writing system fell into disuse. The teaching of the Aleut language to the US Aleuts was resumed in the middle of the 1970s only.

It seems that the situation it is very bad for them after the Russian occupation. It may be difficult to reach them during the travel, as they are perhaps hard to locate and contact. By the way, I should start thinking on updating my route map!

The Polarship Fram

September 14, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Posted in Expeditions | Leave a comment
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I have spent some days at Oslo, Norway. One of the most interesting things I did was the visit of the Fram Museet or Fram Polarship Museum. I had already read about the North Pole explorers, but having chance to see with my own eyes and touch with my own hands the Fram – the name means “Forward” in English – they sailed to the very far North was wonderful. This is why I will start a series of posts gathering information about those explorers and their expeditions. It may sound a bit out of place or exaggerated but they really inspire me! The Wikipedia is always a good starting point:

Fram (“Forward”) is a ship that was used in expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic regions by the Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wisting, and Roald Amundsen between 1893 and 1912. Fram was probably the strongest wooden ship ever built. It was designed by the Norwegian shipwright Colin Archer for Fridtjof Nansen’s 1893 Arctic expedition in which Fram was supposed to freeze into the Arctic ice sheet and float with it over the North Pole.

Fram is said to be the wooden ship to have sailed farthest north and farthest south. Fram is currently preserved in whole at the Fram Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Nansen’s ambition was to explore the Arctic farther north than anyone else. To do that, he would have to deal with a problem that many sailing in the polar ocean had encountered before him: the freezing ice would press and crush a ship. Nansen’s idea was to build a ship that could survive the pressure, not by pure strength, but because it would be in a shape designed to let the ice push the ship up, so it would “float” on top of the ice.

Nansen commissioned the shipwright Colin Archer from Larvik to construct a vessel with these characteristics. Fram was built with an outer layer of greenheart wood to withstand the ice and almost without a keel to handle the shallow waters Nansen expected to encounter. The rudder and propeller were designed to be retracted into the ship. The ship was also carefully insulated to allow the crew to live onboard for up to five years.

The NASA Climate Time Machine

September 8, 2008 at 8:39 am | Posted in Wheater | Leave a comment
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Thanks to a friend I received this website, with a name as cool as its desing: the Clime Time Machine. In this site, created by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, you can track the changes in our planet through the decades, in four different aspects:

Clime Time Machine

Ice melting:this visualization shows the annual Arctic sea ice minimum from 1979 to 2007. At the end of each summer, the sea ice cover reaches its minimum extent, leaving what is called the perennial ice cover. The area of the perennial ice has been steadily decreasing since the satellite record began in 1979. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio).

Sea level
: recent satellite observations have dete

cted a thinning of parts of the Greenland ice sheet at lower elevations. A partial melting of this ice sheet would cause a 1-meter (3-foot) rise. If melted completely, the Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise sea level by 5-7 meters (16-23 feet). This visualization shows the effect on coastal regions for each meter of sea level rise, up to 6 meters (19.7 feet). Land that would be covered in water is shaded red.

Carbone dioxide emissions: this visualization shows the amount of annual carbon dioxide emissions produced by the top 12 nations or regions from 1980-2004. Units are given in thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel consumption.

Average Glogal Temperature:This color-coded map shows a progression of changing global surface temperatures from 1885 to 2007. Dark blue indicates areas cooler than average. Dark red indicates areas warmer than average.

You have to drag the handle over the years to see the which is quite alarming. Of this four point, specially two are affecting polar regions: the ice melting and the rising of temperature. But, of course, everything is linked. Global warming seems to be finally on the agenda of politicians – or at least they are pretending to – but there is still much more to do. How you or your country is reacting to global warming and its side effects?

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