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Alaska, History, The Aleut
The Aleut adapted superbly to life in the difficult environment of the Aleutian Islands. They developed a rich culture and obtained a well-balanced livelihood from the sea. But neither their culture nor their livelihood survived for long after their first contact with the Russians in the 1740s.

The typical Aleut house, built underground, housed several related nuclear families. Villages consisted of related individuals, and large villages might have as many as four such dwellings occupied at one time. These were the permanent settlements, usually situated on the northern (Bering Sea) side of the island because of the more abundant marine resources and driftwood supplies. The Aleut also built seasonal houses.

Aleut society was divided into three classes: honorables, common people, and slaves. The Aleut shared with the Tlingit their regard for wealth and status. There may also have been cultural links with Siberian groups. Descent was probably matrilineal. Households usually included a man and his wife or wives, older married sons and their families, and sometimes a younger brother and his family. The adolescent sons of the household head were sent to their mother's village to be reared by her older brothers. Women owned their houses.

Living where the sea is free of ice, the Aleut developed sophisticated open-sea hunting techniques to harvest the sea otter, hair seal, sea lion, and migrating fur seals and whales. They shared many tools with the southern Eskimo, such as the two-hole kayak and bone and antler implements. The Aleut used a multibarbed harpoon head for large sea mammals and also fished for cod and halibut with hook and line. They caught salmon in nets or traps as the fish ascended the streams to spawn. They collected clams and other mollusks and ate large quantities of green spiny sea urchins. They also gathered kelp and other seaweed, salmonberries, blueberries, crowberries, and roots to eat.

Birds and their eggs provided much food. More than 140 species are found in the islands, and not surprisingly the Aleut not only used the birds for meat and eggs, but also used their skins for parkas and for decorations. Hunters captured birds on the ground in nets or with snares and caught them in flight with bolas. A bola consisted of four to six strings about 1 m (3 ft) long, tied together at one end. To the free end were attached small stones for weight. As birds flew overhead, the hunter twirled the bola and threw it into the flock, each string swinging out like a spoke on a wheel. The strings wrapped around the bird and brought it down.

The Aleut also used the throwing stick, or atlatl, a long, narrow board with one end carved to fit the hand and with a small peg inserted at the other end to hold the butt of the spear shaft. The spear was laid on the board and then thrown. The device gave more power and distance to the cast.

from: "Alaska," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Aleutian Islands
Aleutian Islands, chain of 150 small islands, southwestern Alaska, separating the northern Pacific Ocean from the Bering Sea. The archipelago extends 1,800 km (1,100 mi) west from the Alaska Peninsula toward Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. The four main subgroups of the Aleutian Islands from east to west are the Fox Islands, Andreanof Islands, Rat Islands, and Near Islands.

Geologically, the archipelago is a continuation of the Aleutian Range, which is on the Alaskan mainland, and contains a number of volcanic peaks. Shishaldin (2,869 m/9,414 ft), on Unimak Island, is the highest volcano. Few trees, all of stunted growth, are found, but grasses grow in abundance. Although a few good harbors are found in the archipelago, navigation is dangerous because of perpetual fog and numerous reefs.

The native people, known as Aleuts, belong to the Eskimo-Aleut language family and are generally classified ethnologically as Native North Americans. Fishing, hunting, and sheep raising are the principal pursuits of the inhabitants. The chief trade center is Unalaska, on the island of Unalaska.

The Aleutians were visited in 1741 by the Russian navigator Alexey Ilich Chirikov and Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator in the service of Russia. During World War II, in June 1942, Japanese forces occupied Attu and Kiska islands in the Aleutians, but were forced to surrender them to U.S. forces the following year.

from: "Aleutian Islands," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved