A HUGE collection of 50,000 “frozen in time” Alaskan artefacts are to be returned home after being preserved by archaeologists at Aberdeen University.

Archaeologists have spent more than seven years painstakingly recovering and preserving everyday objects that indigenous Yup’ik people used to survive and to celebrate life – in a race against the clock before melting ice and raging winter storms reclaim the Nunalleq archaeological site.

Dating back more than four centuries, their finds include wooden ritual masks, ivory tattoo needles, and even a belt of caribou teeth, all preserved in “extraordinary condition”.

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Aberdeen University’s Dr Rick Knecht, leading the project, said: “The unique conditions in this arctic region mean artefacts which are more than four centuries old have retained an unbelievable level of detail.

“We have uncovered grass baskets and mats made when Shakespeare walked the earth but when we take them out of the ground the grass weaving still retains a trace of its green colour and we have been amazed by the variety and intricacy of the woven patterns.”

Once removed from the earth, however, the artefacts begin to deteriorate quickly and it is for this reason that Knecht and his team have now transported more than 50,000 items to the university, where professional conservators oversee preservation treatments on the items.

“When we began the project, it was impossible to conduct conservation work on site and the items recovered were transported, some still covered in earth, to Aberdeen" Knecht added. “The long-term goal, however, has always been to return them to where they belong.

“We are now working in partnership with the local Qanirtuuq Corporation and the village of Quinhagak, located just two miles from the dig, to make arrangements for the safe return of the collection."