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Eskimo Pit House

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1968. Brooks River

Reconstructed according to the evidence provided by an archeological excavation, this Eskimo Pit House was built on the site of its 1300 C.E. prototype. University of Oregon archaeologists led by Don E. Dumond undertook the work for the National Park Service, using evidence found at the site as well as local Eskimos' knowledge of construction techniques.

This area along the salmon-rich Brooks River has been occupied by humans for centuries; in fact, the pit house sits on the site of a dwelling even earlier than the prototype. After testing a number of pit house sites, partially excavating two, and completely excavating three, this site was selected for reconstruction. It represents a semisubterranean dwelling built by Thule period Eskimos; flaked stone artifacts found at the site helped date the dwelling.

The building is only partially built, showing a dwelling theoretically under construction so visitors can see the structure. The dwelling portion, whose floor originally sat about 2 feet 6 inches below ground (ground levels change over time; here the ground level is about 1 foot higher than when the dwelling was originally constructed), is about 15 feet by 16 feet. The spruce-log structure has four center posts supporting a cribbed roof. Laid between the vertical half-logs that line the earthen walls and the horizontal logs supported by the center posts, split cottonwood logs, flat side up, form the roof, which would have been covered with sod and moss. The dirt floor has a central fireplace, vented through a central smoke hole. Along the back wall is a dirt bench, elevated about 8 inches; a log along the front of this bench was added to help the visitor see this change in levels. The dwelling is entered through a tunnel, which is about 2 feet lower than the dwelling, effectively trapping cold air. A skin across the doorway would have allowed air to travel under it, feeding the fire.

The pit house is enclosed in a prefabricated log structure called Panabode. Although the enclosure destroys the original context, it effectively preserves a sod dwelling. The use of an actual site as well as the thorough research that went into this reconstruction make it a fine representation of an Eskimo semisubterranean dwelling.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Alison K. Hoagland
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Data

Citation

Alison K. Hoagland, "Eskimo Pit House", [, Alaska], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/AK-01-WE030.

Print Source

Buildings of Alaska, Alison K. Hoagland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 279-280.

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