Cape Espenburg

The shoreline of Cape Espenburg with clouds in the sky.
Cape Espenburg shoreline on a sunny day.

NPS Photo


For a long time, life on the Seward Peninsula followed a seasonal pattern that rarely changed from year to year. During winter, people often lived in permanent winter villages along the coast near areas with plenty of hunting and fishing. Winter was a time for seal hunting, ice fishing, and small mammal trapping.
With the changing of the seasons, people traveled down the coast or into the interior of the peninsula to establish settlements near rivers and lakes. Life was based on the movement of the seasons and the availability of subsistence resources. It has been theorized that Cape Espenburg saw a similar pattern
of movement for thousands of years. One of the main reasons people settled a Cape Espenburg was to take advantage of the subsistence activities in the area. Several scholars believe a people called the Pittagmiut lived in the Cape Espenburg area hundreds of years ago. The Pittagmiut depended on the seasonal cycle of plants and animals to survive. In late spring, they hunted seals on the sea ice off the coast. As the ice moved out to sea in early summer, they turned their efforts to catching salmon, finding bird eggs, and netting belugas. In
late summer, in response to the movement of caribou, hunters started heading inland to the Imuruk Lake region to engage in large scale caribou hunts. After killing and butchering the animals, the hunters stored some of the meat in stone caches to retrieve later during the lean winter season.

At the beginning of fall, with the start of the freeze up, subsistence activities changed to accommodate the available resources. Those residing near rivers built weirs to catch fish. People placed nets along the coast to catch seals. As the weather changed and winter came to the peninsula, people hunted smaller animals and lived off stored food. Finally, during the late spring, the main subsistence activity was hunting seals on the sea ice. The seasonal cycle had come full circle to begin a new year.

Last updated: November 22, 2017

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