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Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters

Date of Submission: 18/11/2019
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(v)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Chukotsky District
Ref.: 6440

The Tentative Lists of States Parties are published by the World Heritage Centre at its website and/or in working documents in order to ensure transparency, access to information and to facilitate harmonization of Tentative Lists at regional and thematic levels.

The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Naukan Multi-Layered Settlement: N 66 01 35.4 W 169 42 43.2

Ekven Burial Ground and Settlement: N 66 01 33.1 W 170 04 24

Nunak Historical and Cultural Complex: N 66 00 25.7 W 169 48 38

The Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters cultural heritage site, including Naukan Multi-Layered Settlement, Ekven Burial Ground and Settlement and Nunak Historical and Cultural Complex, is located south and southeast from Dezhnevsky massif on the shores of the Bering Strait in the Chukotka district of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

This area situated to the west and to the east from Cape Pevek, an extreme point of Eurasia. The smallest width of the Bering Strait (85 km) in this area contributed to the development of contacts between the populations of Eurasia and North America since Prehistory.  This factor also had a significant impact on the emergence of a unique culture of marine mammal hunters encompassing Chukotka and Alaska.

The nominated Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters cultural heritage property is serial and is constituted by component parts located on Dezhnevsky massif: Ekven Burial Ground and Settlement (a Prehistoric Eskimo archaeological site of the first millennium AD); the ruins of two Eskimo settlements (Naukan Multi-Layered Settlement (the 15th - mid 20th centuries) and Nunak Historical and Cultural Complex (the 15th – 19th centuries)) as well as a memorial complex dedicated to a 17th century Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev (Lighthouse Monument, 1954-1956). These sites constituting the property provide an overall representation of the heritage of the unique living cultural tradition that emerged at the junction of Northeastern Asia and Northwestern America two thousand years ago.

The cultural tradition of the marine hunting was belonging to Paleo Eskimos, the ancestors of the present day Eskimo and Inuit people, who harnessed the marine areas in the harsh conditions of the Arctic by developing a unique system of marine adaptation reflected in their tangible and intangible culture as well as in decorative and applied arts (the masterpieces of Prehistoric bone carving arts were discovered during archaeological excavations of Ekven burial ground).

The continuity of the marine mammal hunting traditions ensured the survival of the local population that had been using wooden-framed leather vessels (baidars) and elaborated harpoon system constituted by walrus tusk and deer antlers with a special turning tip. Even though metal (iron) reached Chukotka in insignificant quantities from lower regions of the Amur River in Prehistoric period, the Eskimos themselves could not mine and process metal. Therefore, they were bearing Stone Age traditions until the second part of the 18th century. As the marine hunters of Chukotka had almost no contacts with other cultures, they had managed to maintain the lifestyle of their ancestors for thousand years.  

The outstanding universal value of the Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters is constituted primarily by the composition of the property, which includes key archaeological sites of different periods of the development of this culture. For instance, Ekven Burial Ground and Settlement reflects the most prosperous period of Eskimo culture on the coasts of the northeastern Chukotka and the northwestern Alaska, namely, Prehistoric Beringian Sea archaeological culture (the 1st-2d centuries – 5th centuries AD). Other Prehistoric Eskimo cultures, which were originated from the Prehistoric Beringian Sea archaeological culture, later widespread to Arctic shores from Alaska to Greenland (Punuk, Tyle, first part - mid second millennium AD).

The Eskimo settlements of Naukan and Nunak are unique settlements for Asian Eskimos, as they contain buildings and other structures erected mainly with massive boulders. This unusual appearance of Naukan and Nunak in Chukotka is conditioned due to several historic factors. Both settlements were founded by the people from the Bering Strait islands belonging to the local Eskimo culture, which combined the components of the cultural traditions of the Eskimos both from Alaska and Chukotka.

The monument to Semyon Dezhnev serves as a visible symbol of the cultural connections of the Russian people with the peoples of Chukotka, a symbol of geographical discoveries made in modern times by Europeans.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The cultural heritage sites of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters (Naukan Multi-Layered Settlement, Ekven Burial Ground and Settlement and Nunak Historical and Cultural Complex) are compactly located in close proximity to each other (6-12 km from Dezhnev Cape and 20-25 km from Yelen settlement), representing the brightest and diverse culture of Eskimo Arctic Marine Hunters and providing the overall understanding of the uniqueness and valuable research source for the studies of the culture and traditions of Arctic peoples. The nominated site is surrounded by the landscape of outstanding beauty, which contains the evidence of the significant stage of the history of the humanity, namely, the discovery and exploration of high latitudes as well as the emergence and development of the unique culture of Arctic Marine Hunters.

Criterion (ii): The remains of the yarangs of Arctic marine hunters represent the unique example of dwellings adapted to local climatic conditions in the context of the scarcity of construction materials that could be found in Arctic nature. The dwellings were built of stone, whale bones and fin tree; they were covered by the skin of marine mammals sealed with sod and moss. The yarangs of Naukan and Nunak are attributed to the traditional constructions typical for the ancestors of the Eskimos of Old Bering Sea in the first millennium AD. Therefore, the remains of the dwellings provide the evidence of the construction traditions that had been existing in this region for over two millennia.

The dwellings were built on the slopes with a preliminary alignment of construction sites. Their corridor exits were always directed toward the slope and, therefore, towards the sea. The floor level decreased from a sleeping platform to an exit, which was an important house-building principle emerged during the Old Bering Sea period to save energy and provide the distribution of heated air in dwellings. The layouts of dwellings, their dimensions, materials of walls and roofs, the overall spatial planning of the settlement are also similar to the Old Bering Sea period settlements.

Criterion (iii): The component parts of the nominated property constitute an overall testimony of the Arctic Marine Mammals Hunters culture, whose representatives performed unique lifestyle based on sustainable use of local natural resources.

It is necessary to highlight that the cultural tradition of Arctic Marine Hunters is mainly preserved in the form of archaeological sites, artifacts and legends, however, in some areas of coastal Chukotka such elements of the tradition as sea fishing and sled dog breeding is still performed (for instance, in the nearby to the nominated property settlement of Yelen).

The collections of tools, hunting weapons, household and sacral items and jewelry were found during the excavations conducted at the Ekven settlement and burial ground. The artefacts represent the high level of the development of Prehistoric Eskimo arts and contribute to the outstanding universal value of the nominated property.

At the same time, Naukan was the largest settlement of Naukan people, a group of Eskimo people, who spoke Naukan dialect. In the 20th century, Naukan was also the largest Eskimo settlement. Until mid-20th century, its inhabitants had been maintaining close contacts with the Eskimo people from the Bering Strait islands (Great and Small Diomedes) and Alaska. These are the locations, from which the inhabitants of Naukan once moved to Chukotka. The forced relocation of the inhabitants of Naukan in 1958 is still considered by their descendants as a tragedy that led to the disappearance of the Naukan dialect of the Eskimo language, which is currently spoken only by a few people.

Until the late 1920-s, the technologies of hunting for marine mammals, the technologies of meat cutting, processing, storing as well as culinary traditions had not changed in a fundamental way on Cape Dezhnev, in particular, and at the coastal Chukotka, in general. In Soviet period, more advanced means were introduced to the hunting process, namely, motor whaleboats have replaced manual canoes, whereas after the World War II, firearms spread to Chukotka and anti-tank guns started to be used for whale hunting. However, marine mammals hunting still represents a vital part of the local economy. Its symbolism of the confrontation with a huge animal in the context of harsh climate and marine environment have not changed as well. Similar to Prehistoric period, the hunting required courage, endurance and team-work of hunting boat crews.

One of the integral parts of the Arctic Marine Hunters tradition is bone carving arts represented by artefacts found at Ekven, which have visible analogues with the samples of Dezhnevsky School of bone-carving of the late 19th - 20th centuries widely developed both in Naukan and Yelen.

The principles of house-building, marine hunting, bone processing and decorative and applied arts of the inhabitants of the coastal Chukotka emerged as a result of adaptation to local climatic conditions as well as due to the interaction of the local community with the population of Alaska. This interaction is still reflected both intangible and intangible culture heritage of Eskimo people.

The cultural interactions in this region is also associated with Europeans, who reached this area in the 17th century. The first European, who visited this area was a Cossack explorer Semyon Dezhnev, whose vessel passed through the Bering Strait in 1648. He also left first written accounts with the description of Naukan and its inhabitants. Later, Dezhnevsky massif was investigated by Vitus Bering and James Cook, Joseph Billings and Gavril Sarychev in the 18th century, by Fyodor Litke and Adolf Nordenskjold in the 19th century, by Boris Vilkitsky, Roald Amundsen and Otto Schmidt in the 20th century.  The coastal Chukotka was visited by American and Russian tradesmen as well as American and Japanese whaling ships annually since mid 19th century. The cultural interactions resulted in the spread of European goods and elements of lifestyle among the local community as well as the gradual perception of the European way of adaptation to Arctic climate. This stage of the development of the cultural tradition is symbolized by the Dezhnev Lighthouse Monument and a wooden cross installed nearby (which replaced an original wooden cross installed in 1910 by Paul Simon Unterberger, a Priamursky Governor-General). 

Criterion (v): Marine Mammals Hunting performed in a sustainable way was the key element of life of the inhabitants of the coastal Chukotka: meat was considered as the basis of their nutrition, fat gave heat and light to their dwellings, whale bones along with stones and fin were used for the construction of the dwellings, whereas the hunting weapons were also made of animal bones  (walrus tusk) and wood. The close connection and dependence of man on nature was also embodied in intangible culture, including myths about man and marine mammals as well as bone carving art with animalistic patterns.

Criterion (vi): A vivid example of the beliefs that originates from Prehistoric period is related to the myth of the Nunagmitian whale, which is closely associated with the history of Nunak and the Prehistory of Naukan. The myth of the Nunagmitian whale born by a woman is one of the central cosmogonic myths of the indigenous people of Chukotka, which was depicted in several literature and cinema works of the 20th century. The associative values of the nominated property represented by complex and unique mythology are of outstanding universal value as a living testimony of cultural traditions, folk arts, born carving arts emerged in critical natural conditions of the Arctic and encompassing the shores of the Arctic and Pacific Oceans at the junction of two continents.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The cultural heritage sites of Arctic Marine Hunters of Chukotka are currently in relatively good state of conservation and fully meet the requirements of authenticity as regards the forms, materials and the spirit of place. The authenticity of the component parts is confirmed by written sources and research works with the application of scientific investigation methods.

The authenticity of the Ekven burial ground and settlement was confirmed by archaeological excavations conducted systematically over 30 years at the archaeological site, where 325 burials and one dwelling (H-18) were completely studied. At the same time, over 60% of the territory of the burial ground and over 90% of the territory of the settlement remains untouched by invasive methods of archaeological studies, preserving its scientific potential for further research.

All artefacts found during the excavations were transmitted to the State Museum Fund of the Russian Federation, namely, the Chukotka Archeology Fund of the State Museum of the East (Moscow) and the Heritage Center of Chukotka Museum Center (Anadyr).

It is necessary to mention that no cross-cultural or later cultural inclusions were recorded during the excavations conducted at the archaeological site (both burial ground and settlement). The results of the studies were published in several monographs, papers and reports.

The Nunak settlement was first surveyed in 2018: as a result, 25 Eskimo stone dwelling were documented and dated to the mid 19th century with no later constructions found in the site.

The Naukan settlement, officially closed in 1958, contains the remains of 180 authentic dwellings and structures with wooden details on roofs, meat pits with stone masonry walls and whale bones hung. The settlement also contains the evidence of Soviet structures as the foundations of a school, a diesel station and several buildings of the frontier post. In the immediate vicinity of the site (outside of its borders), there is a destroyed Soviet meteorological station closed in the 1970s. All the above-mentioned Soviet structures do not violate the appearance of the traditional Eskimo settlement. The traditional layout and location; form and design of traditional dwellings and meat storing pits; materials (local stone, jaw bones of gray whales, fin tree) are preserved and contribute to the undoubted authenticity of the site.

The intangible evidence of the authenticity of the nominated property is confirmed by living Naukan legends and myths, which were documented by researchers in the mid 20th century. The living history elements and memories of the resettled inhabitants of Naukan were also collected and published by several researchers (I.I. Krupnik, M.A. Chlenov, V.G. Leonova and V. Nikiforov).

All component parts of the nominated property are nationally designated cultural heritage sites with approved boundaries, objects of protection and land-use regimes. All tangible and intangible attributes expressing the potential outstanding universal value of the nominated property are residing in the defined boundaries and provides the overall reflection of the emergence and development of Eskimo cultural tradition. The overall protected territory of the nominated property is constituted by the territories of Naukan Multi-Layered Settlement (13.91 hectares); Ekven Burial Ground (1.92 hectares), Ekven Settlement (2.6. hectares) and Nunak Historical and Cultural Complex (5.9 hectares).

All component part of the nominated property has designated buffer zones, which ensures the additional protection of the cultural heritage sites and limits the economic activities there.

There is almost no economic activity on the territory of the property, except for controlled visitation during summer months. All component parts of the nominated property as well as their buffer zones are currently inhabited, which also decrease any potential anthropogenic impact on the integrity of the sites.

The Ekven settlement and burial ground were abandoned in Prehistoric period (approximately in the 10th -12th centuries). The dwellings are overgrown with grass and turned into hills with whale bones, which were previously constructive details of the buildings. The majority of the burials are not visible on the surface. The coastal zone of the settlement is affected by soil erosion (mainly, in June-July during the snowfield melting and storms). However, the remains of the dwellings located 80-100 m from the coastal zone as well as the whole territory of the burial ground are not affected by this factor.

The state of conservation of Naukan settlement is comparatively fair. The territory of the settlement has the archaeological remains of dwellings, meat pits and other structures. For 60 years of abandonment, the masonry of the dwellings has not changed, however, the wooden structures of the roofs, doors and floors were affected by natural and anthropogenic factors. The impact of local rodents (Bering or American ground squirrel) on the state of conservation of the site is comparatively small. As regards the Lighthouse Monuments, its metal structures are also slightly affected by melt water and precipitation.

The potential inscription of the nominated property on the UNESCO World Heritage List is considered by the community of the region as a way to enhance the overall interpretation and conservation of the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters as well as to create sustainable non-invasive visitor paths and other facilities for the visitation of the component parts.

Comparison with other similar properties

The ICOMOS World Heritage List: Filling the Gaps (2005) indicates the absence of the cultural heritage of Eskimo and other Northern cultures on the World Heritage List. However, several World Heritage properties mentioned below were studied for the comparative analysis of the Heritage of Artic Marine Hunters in terms of typology, geographical location, chronology and cultural representation with the following results:

Aasivissuit-Nipsat. Inuit Hunting Ground between Ice and Sea World Heritage property (Greenland, Denmark, inscribed in 2018 in accordance with criterion (v)) represents the heritage site of Paleo-Inuit and Inuit fusher-hunter-gatherer cultures from 3d millennium BC to mid 20th century. The site includes the remains of deer hunting structures, meat stores, foundations of temporary dwellings, representing hunting traditions mainly based on migration of animals. It is also necessary to highlight that comparing to Artic Marine Hunters of Chukotka, the West Greenland Innuits did not hunt to whales, however, certain similarities exist between two sites, which belong to different geocultural regions.

Kujataa Greenland: Norse and Inuit Farming at the Edge of the Ice Cap World Heritage property (Greenland, Denmark, inscribed in 2017 in accordance with criterion (v)) represents a sub-arctic farming landscape located on the edge of the glacier. Founded by Norse Greenlandic people in the 10th century and used by modern Inuit farmers from 18th century, this cultural heritage site represent another form of man and nature interaction based on agriculture and husbandry. Although, the inhabitants of Kujataa also hunted marine mammals, the site mainly contains the evidence of the agricultural development of Greenland and the migration of Scandinavians outside Europe, differing with the nominated property significantly in terms of geocultural, chronological and typological attribution.  Despite several similar features (presence of both European and Inuit traditions, adaptation to Arctic conditions, marine mammals hunting), Kujataa neither testimony the marine mammals hunting as the core of local economy, nor has one continues successive cultural tradition reflected in tangible and intangible heritage of the site.

Red Bay Basque Whaling Station World Heritage property (Canada, inscribed in 2013 in accordance with criteria (ii) and (iv)) within the framework of the comparative studies do also reflects different geocultural context: founded by Basque mariners in the 16th century, the archaeological site provides the testimony of the European whaling tradition, which existed in the location for over 70 years and was abandoned due to the depletion of the local whale population. Although the site contains the diverse remains of rendering ovens, wharves, living quarters and cemetery, it represents the proto-industrial process of large-scale production of whale oil, which differs significantly both in its nature and chronology with the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters of Chukotka nominated property. 

Laponian Area World Heritage property (Sweden, inscribed in 1996 in accordance with criteria (iii)(v)(vii)(viii)(ix)) as the home of the Saami people, is the largest area in the world, where a traditional seasonal reindeer herding is still in place. Comparing to the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters of Chukotka, this mixed property represents the traditional lifestyle based on reindeer herding rather than marine hunting.

L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site World Heritage property (Canada, inscribed in 1978 in accordance with criterion (vi)), as an archaeological site of the 11th century Viking settlement, represents the evidence of the first European presence in North America. Although the site has an analogical feature with the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters nominated property in terms of the representation of human adaptation to harsh climatic conditions, it is necessary to stress the difference between the sites in terms of chronology and geocultural context.

Vegaøyan – The Vega Archipelago World Heritage property (Norway, inscribed in 2004 in accordance with criterion (v)) as the evidence of traditional lifestyle based on fishing and bird harvesting in harsh climatic conditions from Stone Age (9th century) onwards, has a similar features with the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters nominated property in terms of representation of man and nature interaction, sustainable use of natural resources, adaptation to harsh climatic conditions. However, the site represents other cultural tradition with different economics, tangible and intangible culture.

Agricultural Landscape of Southern Oland World Heritage property (Sweden, inscribed in 2000 in accordance with criteria (iv) and (v)) represents other model of human adaptation to natural constraints of the island. Although the site represents the continuous human settlement from Prehistoric period of the same chronology as the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters nominated property, the geocultural context of the sites differs significantly.

St Kilda World Heritage property (the United Kingdom, inscribed in 1986 in accordance with criteria (iii)(v)(vii)(ix)(x)) represents an uninhabited since 1930s archipelago, with over 2 000 years of human occupation in the context of the scarcity of natural resources. Built and field systems preserved here are representing the economy, which comparing to the Heritage of Artic Marine Hunters nominated property was based on the products of birds, agriculture and sheep framing.

The following sites included to the Tentative Lists of the State Parties to the World Heritage Convention were also studied within the framework of the comparative analysis with the following results:

The Large Stone Age Ruin of Kastelli at Pattijoki (Finland) cultural heritage site contains the remains of Stone Age buildings dated to 2000 BC, which could be associated with hunting traditions with more seasonal typology comparing to the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters of Chukotka cultural heritage site.

The Lofoten Islands (Norway) cultural heritage site has cultural monuments associated with the Prehistoric use of marine resources (mainly, fish) as well as with medieval cod fishing representing other economic base of lifestyle comparing to the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters of Chukotka nominated property.

The separate comparative analysis was conducted in relation to cultural heritage sites neither included to the World Heritage List nor to Tentative Lists. These sites selected for the comparative analysis are located at the same geocultural region as the nominated property, namely in Bering Strait Islands, Alaska and Canadian Arctic:  the abandoned settlements of the King’s Islands, Small Diomede and St. Lawrence, the coastal areas of Alaska.

Among the sites considered, the Ipiutak archaeological site at Point Hope in northwest Alaska, was found as the most prominent for the comparative analyzes. The archaeological site includes the remains of 575 semi-underground dwellings and 166 burials. The site has been intensively studied since late 1930-s, which provides various data for the comparative analysis as well as confirms the relation of the site with some stone processing and funeral rites found in archaeological sites in Siberia as well as craft traditions similar to East Asian archaeological sites. The findings once and again confirm the existing linkages between the population of Alaska and Chukotka over centuries and requires further studies of the origins of the Prehistoric Bering Sea and Ipiutak cultures as well as their interaction with other cultural traditions and possible polyethnic features of the Chukotka Artic Marine Hunters.

As regards the archaeological sites located in Russia and closely associated with hunting traditions (preliminarily, marine mammals), the comparative analysis included several sites situated in the coastal areas of Arctic and Pacific Oceans dated from the Neolithic to the 20th century. The diversity of sites analyzed includes cultural heritage sites, burial grounds, worship sites, rock art sites of the Kola Peninsula and the Solovetsky Archipelago, the White Sea, Novaya Zemlya, Vaigach, Ob, Taimyr, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea and ​​Okhotsk Sea. However, the comparative analysis revealed that as regards the geocultural and chronological context, the Prehistoric Eskimo archaeological sites of the Chukotka Peninsula are considered to be the closest to the nominated property. These sites include the well-known Whale Alley on Itygran Island, the settlements of Senlun, Enmylen, Nunligran, Syreniki, Chaplino, Inchoun, Paypelgak, Vankarem, Neshkan, the burial grounds at Cape Cheney, Yelen, Enmynytny and others. All the above-mentioned sites have a direct association with the component parts of Ekven, Nunak and Naukan and requires further long-term research. Therefore, the nominated property could be complemented by the above-mentioned archaeological sites in a long-term perspective.

It is necessary to highlight that the comparative analysis revealed few similarities between the Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters nominated property and several cultural heritage sites included either to the World Heritage List or to Tentative Lists. However, the specific combination of the values of the nominated property (encompassing the evidence of the unique cultural tradition, Arctic adaptation, sustainable hunting traditions, marine hunting, interaction of cultures in the junction of two continents) could not be found in the sites considered for the comparative analysis. The Heritage of Arctic Marine Hunters cultural heritage site represents an underrepresented alternative to the numerous cultural heritage sites reflecting European penetration to the North and focuses on the unique heritage of Eskimo people and the sustainable use of natural resources in harsh climatic conditions of Arctic.