Amazing Places

Whale Bone Alley Is Like a Spooky, Goth Stonehenge

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Could there be anything more haunting and strange than the Siberian tundra? Well, yes: an ancient, mysterious monument made of bone, jutting out of the Siberian tundra. This is Whale Bone Alley.

An Eerie Artifact

The existence of Whale Bone Alley came to the attention of the world at large about 60 years ago, but we still know almost nothing about it. You'll find it on Yttygran Island, about 51 miles (82 kilometers) off the coast of Alaska — an 1,800-foot (550-meter) path lined with whale ribs, jawbones, and vertebrae jammed straight into the ground. Follow the gruesome trail to the bottom, and you'll find yourself in an open clearing. There, say archaeologists, altars with giant whale skulls once stood above great square pits that would have been filled with tons of meat.

The people who built this place have long since vanished, leaving many questions in their wake. What was the purpose of this grisly monument? According to some modern minds, the site might have been a sacred ground shared by the many and scattered Inuit tribes. We know that the bones date to the 14th century, a time when a miniature ice age led to food shortages around the world. Perhaps this common ground was a way for the fishers and hunters to share their bounty or settle their disputes. Or perhaps these bones led the way to a holy site where ritual sacrifices would be made.

Bering Sea Butcher Shop

That speculation should probably be taken with a grain of salt, however. As we've seen before, it often takes a couple of centuries for visiting anthropologists to reach the answer local natives have been saying the whole time. And right now, the Yupik people who live in the area say that the area was nothing more than a communal spot where hunters would butcher their catch together. No spiritual or religious explanation required: this was basically the Bering Sea's neighborhood deli.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas March 15, 2018