King Island, Bering Sea

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King Island is about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) across, with very steep slopes on all sides, in the Bering Sea about 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Point Spencer, 45 miles (73 km) south of the village of Wales, and 90 miles (145 km) northwest of Nome, Alaska. It was named by Captain James Cook, the first European to sight the island in 1778, for Lieutenant James King, a member of his expedition. In 1900, the Inupiat name was reported to be "Ukiwuk" by E.W. Nelson of the U.S. Signal Service. Today it is spelled “Ugiuvak” and the island is part of the Bering Sea unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

The island was once the home for about 200 Iñupiat who called themselves Aseuluk, meaning "people of the sea". They engaged in subsistence hunting and gathering on the island and on the mainland near Cape Woolley. Subsistence activities on and around the island included hunting seals and walruses, crab fishing, and gathering bird eggs. The abundance of game (especially walruses) and thus the prospect of never going hungry probably compensated for the hardship of living on the island. Ugiuvak is among the few Arctic villages with stilt houses in an environment where wood is essentially lacking. Early photographs of the village show the stilt houses and skin-drying racks with their numerous poles, giving the impression that these structures hung from the cliff.

Historical documents and early accounts indicate that stilt architecture was a late development in what is now known to be at least a thousand years of occupation on King Island. Stilt houses replaced semi-subterranean barabaras located on the flatter terrain at the island summit and became widespread in response to an increase in driftwood logs appearing off the island during the 19th century. This is at about the same time that steel tools and building skills arrived with whalers and missionaries. The last 150 years of village occupation were marked by a transition from a solely driftwood construction to one where driftwood was first supplemented and then largely replaced by commercial lumber. However, by 1967 almost everyone had relocated to Nome following the decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to close the school, which had been built in 1929. Consequently the village was deserted and is now only used by some individuals during the walrus-hunting season. Read more here and here. Download the latest version of the Coastview app and explore more of King Island here:


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