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. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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