Collection Description

Brief Culture Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Aleut live in the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They made their living off the rich marine habitat, which supported a more complex society than the neighboring, closely-related Eskimos. Their population declined dramatically following contact with Russian explorers and fur traders in the second half of the 18th century, when they became engaged in the fur trade. In modern times the Aleut are involved in the commercial fishing industry.


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North America --Arctic and Subarctic


United States

OWC Code


Collection Information

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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Collection of Ethnography and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Aleut collection contains 44 documents, which were published between 1785 and 1992, and cover the period from 1741, when the Russian explorer Bering discovered the Aleutians, to 1990. The accounts by and of early English, German, and Russian explorers include Cook (1785, no. 8), Sauer (1802, no. 16), Coxe (1804, no. 4), Sarychev (1806, no. 7), Langsdorf (1817, no. 9), and Pallas (1948, no. 43.) The last source contains a good review of this literature (see also Jochelson 1925, no. 2 and Lantis 1970, no. 74 for similar literature reviews and ethnohistories.) The priest Veniaminov (1840, doc. No. 1, 1840, no. 65) wrote the classic ethnography of the Aleut, referred to again and again in the literature. An interest in the origins and physical anthropology of the Aleut is found in Dall (1880, no. 39), Jochelson (1925, no. 10), Candella (1939, no. 12), Hrdlicka (1945, no. 23), and Laughlin (1949, no. 24.) The early American period (1867-1940) produced several expeditionary reports and cultural overviews of the region (Petroff 1884, no. 40; Elliot 1886, no. 3; Elliot 1880, no. 41; Jochelson 1913, no. 47; Muir 1917, no. 34, and Jochelson 1928, no. 42.) More focused work included studies of hunting and head gear (Mason 1884, no. 51; Mason 1902, no. 50; Ivanov 1930, no. 21), basketry (Mason 1902, no. 52; Kissell 1907, no. 35), folklore (Golder 1909, no. 15; Lavrisheff 1928, no. 14), and burials (Weyer 1929, no. 54). The later American period (1940-1960) saw renewed fieldwork activity and studies due to the importance of the islands in the Second World War and later Cold War period. Cultural overviews are found in Quimby (1944, no. 60), Collins (1945, no. 25), and Shade (1949, no. 17.) More specific topics examined are textiles (Gebhard 1941, no. 32), semaphore signals (Ransom 1941, no. 61), whale poison (Heizer 1943, no. 58), language (Geoghegan 1944, no. 45; Bergsland 1959, no. 68), folklore (Yarmolinsky 1944, no. 64 ; Ransom 1947, no. 44), animal and plant life (Clark 1945, no. 26; Walker 1945, no. 27), pottery (Quimby 1945, no. 37), harpoons (Quimby 1946, no. 36), a life history (Nutchuk 1946, no. 63), attitudes towards strangers (Shade 1948, no. 20), prehistoric art (Quimby 1948, no. 30), health (Alexander 1949, no. 28; Wilde 1950, no. 59), anatomical terms (Shade 1950, no. 19; Marsh n.d., no. 53), girl's puberty ceremony (Shade 1951, no. 18), medical lore (Bank 1953, no. 67), and social effects of technological change (Berreman 1954, no. 66). In the recent period (1960-1990), one finds two more overviews (Antropova 1964, no. 69; Lantis 1984, no. 75), two studies of social change and adaptation by Jones (1969, no. 70; 1976, no. 73), and an economic study of seal hunting (Veltre 1987, no. 78.) For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is based on the article, "Aleut," by Douglas W. Veltre, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 1. 1991 (pp. 14-16). Timothy J. O'Leary and David Levinson, ed(s). Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. Population figures were updated, and the synopsis and indexing notes were written by Ian Skoggard in June 2005.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

Collection Indexing Notes

BAIDER-open skin-covered boat - use BOATS (501)

BARABARA-underground sod-covered house - use DWELLINGS (342)

BIDARKA-Aleut kayak - use BOATS (501)

Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference - use DISTRICTS (634)

Verst-Russian mile equal to .663 miles

Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

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