Anadyr is the easternmost town in Russia and the capital and largest settlement in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, with about 13,000 people. Thanks in a large part to the oligarch Roman Abramovich, it has a Turkish-built supermarket, cinema and indoor skating rink and relatively new housing built to replace the Soviet apartment blocks. The residents are kept warm through a system of pipes that carry hot water.

Anadyr was established on Anadyr estuary and bay in the 19th century. Today there is no settlement in the immediate vicinity of the bay itself; there is only a sea port there. People live seven kilometers away on a mountain. The bay is shallow, so the ships stay out in the roadstead for loading and unloading operations. Pontoon boats are used to haul cargo between the ships and the port and to haul coal from the port to the ships.

People that live in other parts of Chukotka don't particularly like going up to Anadyr because it's cold and windy. The temperature in Anadyr can fall as low as -40 degrees Celsius in the winter while in the summer it can get up to 24 degrees Celsius. Sudden variations in air pressure, strong winds, and high humidity are hardly good for comfort, but they're great for resilience.

Gale-force winds are very common here. Cape Navarin, about 150 kilometers away, is known as the stormiest spot in Russia. For this reason, both in the settlement on the shore and in the one at the foot of the hills all the buildings have their back ends facing the bay and the hills. The housing in Beringovsky is comprised mostly of five-storey apartment blocks. The settlement also has a recreation center and two cafes.

History of Anadyr

The history of modern Anadyr goes back to 1889 when the court adviser, doctor and explorer Leonid Grinevetski was appointed head of the Anadyr district, which had just been made into a separate administrative unit. Mr. Grinevetsky soon arrived on the shores of the Anadyr estuary on the clipper “Razboynik.” A new town had to be founded in this remote spot because it was here that the river and sea routes of Chukotka intersected. The construction of the new town began with one wooden house, materials for which were brought on the same ship from Vladivostok. The new settlement was named New Mariinsk, after the emperor's spouse.

As the local economy grew, so did the population. Coal and gold mining as well as mass fishing (fish caught here were put in refrigerators and would even end up being served at the tsar's table) all started out small, but over time they attracted more and more people both locally and from across Russia. Until the 1950s, the town was located on the spit, but then it moved across the Kazachka river and began to expand. As of early 2017, it had a population of 15,500 people.

In 1826, the Russian sloop “Senyavin” dropped its anchor in the bay that would later be named the Coal Bay. It was the start of the exploration and chartering of the shores of the Bering Sea. Years later, in the same century, the “Cruiser” clipper expedition found coal seams on the surface in the area.These coal seams gave the name to the bay that ships started calling on to replenish their supply of the black fuel.

It was only in The Soviet era, however, namely in 1933, that industrial coal production was organized here. The “Bukhugol” (Bay coal) mine was organized here before the war began, and then in the 1960s the “Beringovskaya” mine was opened next to the new town of Nagorny. And another settlement in the vicinity of the bay became the administrative center of the district and was first known as Ugolniy (Coal town), but was later renamed to Beringovsky. In 1995, Beringovsky was merged with Nagorny under the name of Beringovsky.

Transportation in Chukotka

There few roads or railways in Chukotka Construction of the Anadyr Highway — from the Kolyma Highway (Road of Bones) in Magadan Oblast to Anadyr in Chukotka — has begun. The road will pass Omsukchan, Omolon and Ilirney. There will also be branch roads to Bilibino and Egvekinot. These roads will cover 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles and take eight years to finish, with the opening expected to be in 2025. The construction of the first 50 kilometers of the road started in 2011–2012. The road will be a gravel road.

There is some boat travel and coastal shipping, but ice prevents this for at least half the year. The Captain Sotnikov steamer travels between Anadyr and Lavrentiya in the summer. There are a few local permanent roads between some settlements, such the 200-kilometer Egvekinot-Iultin road. When it is cold enough, winter roads are constructed on the frozen rivers to connect regional settlements in a uniform network. The construction of a permanent bridge over the Loren River on the busy 40-kilometer-long local road from Lavrentiya to Lorino was a major event in Chukotka.

Getting to Chukotka

For now, air travel is the main mode of passenger transport. The main airport is Anadyr International Airport (also known as Ugolny or Coal airport) Ugolny near Anadyr. There are flights there from Moscow and Anadyr. From Anadyr you can fly to Lavrentiya and a few other destinations.

Anadyr International Airport is in the town of Ugolnye Kopi on the other side of the river from Anadyr . The way you get there depends on the time of the year and whether or not there is snow on the ground. In the summer, between July and late September, you've got two options. Option one is to go on a Kamchatka passenger ferry that you can get to on a free shuttle bus. Option two is door-to-door and may seem to be the more comfortable one: you get into a special taxi that drives onto barges, which then take it across the river where the taxi then takes you to a hotel or to your home. During the winter, the river freezes over and taxis just drive across the ice between the airport and Anadyr. In the spring and fall, the only way to get from the airport to the city is on a helicopter that flies every hour. The helipad is outside the city, and there's a free shuttle service there.

Provideniya near Alaska is sometimes referred to as the Doorway to the Arctic, The town is served by the Provideniya Bay Airport, the closest Russian airport to the United States. Tourism from nearby Alaska has given the local economy a boost. Bering Air, an Alaskan airline, offers charter services to the Provideniya Bay Airport from both Nome and Anchorage. Alaska Airlines made a Friendship Flight to Provideniya in July 1988. Chukotavia provides flights to Anadyr.

Sights in Anadyr

As you approach Anadyr, there are various structures that differ in color and shape that catch your eye: There are the red roofs of the Chukotka vocational school, the Folk Creativity Palace with its polar bear silhouette, the domes of the Trinity Temple and the monument to Saint Nicolas the Miracle Worker with his hands thrust up into the air.

In the summer, all passengers disembark on Pier No. 7 on the Alexander spit, the place of the historical original settlement on the territory. None of the original buildings have survived except for the military barracks and the Transfiguration Temple. The Kazachka river, known in the local language as the Tavaivaam river (the river you can ride across), separates the spit from town proper: there are two bridges across it. One of them is beyond the passenger pier and the other is in the vicinity of the village of Tavaivaam, which today is regarded as part of the town.

These days Anadyr is an exemplary polar town. It's small and designed to make the life of the residents as comfortable as possible. An excursion around the town can take a whole day and so the best way to go about it is to visit different parts on different days. First, right across the bridge over the Kazachka river, there is a youth center that Soviet pioneers collected money to build as part of “Operation Chukutka.” In front of the building, there stands a monument to Lenin that was moved here from the central square in 2002.

Lenin Street takes you up to the central town square, which is surrounded by a whole ensemble of buildings and ornamental structures. Here visitors to the city will find the Trinity temple, the Saint Nicolas monument and the Chukotka Heritage museum center. The museum center has a most interesting exposition comprising local heritage items and more modern items that expand on that heritage. There is also a souvenir shop. On the 60th anniversary of the victory in World War II, a memorial was opened on the square, whose bas-relief compositions tell the story of the contribution Chukotka residents made to the victory over Nazi Germany.

Across the road, there is a garden with a monument to Yuri Rytheu, Chukotka's most famous writer. Behind the garden is the Russian Post building where post-crossing fans can send a postcard to their friends from the most beautiful town in the northwest of our country.

If you take Otke Street from the youth center, you can make your way to another kind of center: the retail and entertainment center. It houses the “Polar” movie theater, above and across the street from it are two hotels: the “Chukotka” and the “Anadyr” where you can have lunch, drink a cup of coffee, or order a pizza. At the intersection of Otke and Rultytegin streets there are stores, a fitness center, a new garden named after Leonid Grinivetsky, the first head of the Anadyr district, with a monument to him. Up Otke Street, there are residential buildings, the school and the district parliament building and if you turn left onto Energetikov Street you will eventually get to the observation deck on the “Camel.” That is the name of a small knoll with a great view of the entire city and the Anadyr estuary.

If you head back to the central square and the museum center on Lenin Street, you will get a chance to walk on the new embankment and to the memorial to the first revolutionary committee members. The big observation deck allows you to see the Anadyr river and the sea port.


Provideniya (on the Bering Sea, 330 kilometers west of Noma, Alaska) is the small town sited on a fjord sheltered from the Bering Sea and is serviced by charter flights from Nome and Anchorage, Alaska. In 1988 when the first the planes arrived the town had only two paved streets and the airport only had a gravel runway. The town is larger and better off now, with a multi-ethnic population of Russians, Chukchi, Koryaki and Siberian Inuits. Tours include visits to the homes of these groups as well as dance performances. Founded in 1933 by European Soviets is was a supply point for settlements in the region which included Eskimo settlements and Stalinist labor camps.

Provideniya is located on Komsomolskaya Bay, a part of Provideniya Bay, and, and very close to the International Date Line. It is home to about 2,000 people, down from 2,723 in 2002 and 5,432 in 1989, when it served as a Soviet military port, The largest inhabited locality east of Anadyr, it was established as a port to serve the eastern end of the Northern Sea Route, providing a suitable deep water harbor for Russian ships, close to the southern limits of the winter ice fields.

Many residents are Yupik (Eskimos), There is a technical school, a movie theater, a post office, a museum of Chukotka history and culture, one of the only two ski slopes in Chukotka, a bakery complex, and port facilities. Limited local transport connect the settlement's concrete slabbed main street with destinations along the fjord and coast. The settlement and the surrounding area struggle from alcoholism (which is especially high in indigenous areas).

Provideniya is sometimes referred to as the Doorway to the Arctic, The town is served by the Provideniya Bay Airport, the closest Russian airport to the United States. Tourism from nearby Alaska has given the local economy a boost. Bering Air, an Alaskan airline, offers charter services to the Provideniya Bay Airport from both Nome and Anchorage. Alaska Airlines made a Friendship Flight to Provideniya in July 1988. Chukotavia provides flights to Anadyr.

Provideniya can also be reached by boat, usually smallish adventurer cruise boats. Rachel Dickinson wrote in The Atlantic:“The ship made its way toward the Russian port city of Provideniya, the water smooth as glass. On one side of the fjord, abandoned low-slung gray apartment buildings almost blended in with the low hills. On the other side, someone had painted many of the occupied buildings in blazing colors: pink, yellow, and minty green — a jarring sight in the washed-out landscape.” [Source: Rachel Dickinson, The Atlantic, July/August 2009]

Arakamchech Islands and Bird Watching Off of Eastern Chukotka

Arakamchech Islands are slated to become part of the new Bering Bridge National Park. The rugged cliffs on these islands are famous for their large seabird populations which include large colonies of puffins, cormorants, crested auklets and thick-billed murres. Nearby is a walrus "haul outs" which attracts over a thousand animals.

Rachel Dickinson wrote in The Atlantic: I came to see the birds. Because there are few humans — fewer than three per square mile — the birds of the Russian Far East are, well, fairly unsuspicious. And although birders can see some of these Russian species in Alaska, in the Aleutians or in a place like Gambell on St. Lawrence Island (a few dozen birders go there every year to see birds that have been blown across the Bering Strait), when you walk across the tundra and come upon a little Asian songbird, you know you’re seeing it in the very same habitat where it has existed for thousands of years. The experience is exhilarating. [Source: Rachel Dickinson, The Atlantic, July/August 2009]

“We sailed south from Provideniya in the choppy waters of the Bering Sea, toward the Kamchatka Peninsula, intent on looking for birds along the coast. Although it was mid-July, the air temperature was only in the 30s, and the sea spray was joined by spitting rain. As the boat neared an island, birds began taking off, flying in circles near the cliffs. More and more birds lifted from the land, the ruckus they made growing into a din. Dainty black-legged kittiwakes and glaucous gulls flew in swirling clouds overhead while black-and-white thick-billed and common murres skimmed low across the water, looking like tuxedo-clad squadrons on maneuvers. Thousands of murres stood on narrow ledges, faces to the wall, each protecting its one egg. Occasionally we’d spy small groups of horned puffins near their nests on the cliffs, or a tufted puffin, with its clownlike face and long feathers swept back in a coif as if the bird were a vain maestro.

“Suddenly, one of the glaucous gulls — a huge white-and-gray predatory bird — snatched a young murre from a ledge, swallowing it whole. In the commotion, the egg of another murre fell and smashed on the rocks below. Murres lay one egg every summer; if something happens to that egg or that chick, the chances of laying another egg the same year are slim.

“It’s easy to delude yourself into thinking you’re completely alone with nature in the wild Bering Sea, but every so often, around a bend, a ghostly abandoned Soviet-era building rises from the cliffs. We passed a weather station high on a hillside, and a derelict fox farm, with its concrete barn and rows of collapsing cages that used to hold the animals, raised for their fur.

“One foggy morning we went ashore. On the beach, ravens were picking at the carcass of a young gray whale. Huge ribs and jawbones were scattered everywhere. As we walked on the tundra beyond the beach, I almost fell into a small circular hole, and then realized I was surrounded by low, hummock-like food-storage shelters made of whale ribs covered with sod. We had come across a hunting camp where Yupiks have been butchering their massive catch for hundreds of years.

“A distant, loud kakakakak sound broke the quiet. As we strained to see through the heavy mist, a large bird — a sandhill crane — dropped over the top of a hill and glided in, long legs trailing, to land at the edge of a small lake in front of us. The crane cried again, kakakakak. An answer came from across the water. Calling back and forth, the gray beauties flew toward each other, meeting above the water then turning and flying in tandem over a nearby hill. It began to rain as we slogged back toward the boat; at my feet were dainty, miniaturized dogwoods, rhododendrons, and azaleas growing in the spongy sod. I thought about the cranes and their balletic flight, and the ravens pecking away at the whale carcass, and how the beauty and desolation of the Russian Far East converges in this spot on the tundra, at the edge of the frigid Bering Sea.”

Yttygran Island and Whalebone Alley

Yttygran Island (in the Bering Strait, 25 kilometers northeast of Provideniya) is an archeological site littered with walrus and whale bones which have been used over the centuries for tent supports. Known locally as "Whale Bone Alley", it also features Eskimo whale bone houses and colorful Arctic flowers. There are 60 massive bowhead whale skulls arranged geometrically. Huge whale jawbones stand upright like sentries. The shrine is believed to have been built in 13th and 14th centuries. There is also an amphitheater and 120 stone meat lockers, some of which still contain mummified whale meat.

Yttygran Island is a small rocky island. Its shores are steep rocky cliffs. It's only from the side of the neighboring Arakamchechen Island that the rocky mountains slope gently to a bay with a gravel beach. Those approaching it by sea are in for a grand view. Against a background of rocks and green, there is a white row of gently bent pillars. And if you bring your boat in closer, you will be able to see huge Greenland whale skulls stuck in the ground right at the edge of the green grass. That is the famous Whalebone alley, a unique artifact surviving from the time of ancient whalers. Researchers estimate that it dates back to about the 14th century. There is nothing like it in either Chukotka or anywhere else in the Arctic.

The Whalebone alley was discovered in 1976 by an expedition organized by the Institute of Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. It comprises two parallel rows, each 500 meters long. The row closer to the water is comprised of Greenland whale skulls arranged in 15 groups of 2-4 skulls each. The fronts of the skulls are stuck in the ground, and the rest rises several meters above ground. Further up the hill, there is a row of whale jaw bones stuck in the ground vertically and rising 4-5 meters high above ground. They are stuck about half a meter into the ground. One such jaw bone weighs 250-300 kg, and it would have taken several adult men to raise it up and drive it into the ground like this. However, only 7 out of the total of 34 bone pillars still hold the original position, the rest have been felled by time and the elements.

The alley goes on for about five hundred meters. In the space between the skulls and the pillars, researchers have found stone circles 1-2 meters wide as well as characteristic holes that would have been used to store whale meat and other supplies hauled in from the sea. One end of the alley turns into a stone paved 50-meter road that goes up the slope of the mountain. It leads to a flat round area surrounded by boulders on all sides. At the center of it, there lies a flat stone and next to it there is a fireplace made of small stones.

And yet, despite searching for a very long time and very carefully, researchers still have not been able to find any domestic artifacts in or around the Whalebone alley. Not a single knife, harpoon tip, bead, or other ornament has been found. Nothing that could help researchers determine the details of the alley's creation — who, when, why.

This is hardly the type of thing you come across in human settlements. What this means is that whoever built the alley didn't live here; they just came here for some special purposes from time to time but never stayed for long. So what could they have come here for? Nobody's been able to answer that yet. The locals, the Eskimos and Chukchi, knew about the alley, but they had no clue about what it was for.

History, Hypotheses and Yttygran Island

We don't know for sure who built the surprising structures on Yttygran Island. Most likely it was Eskimos. But since no domestic items were ever found on the island, this hypothesis can't be proved or disproved. One argument against it is that the Eskimos in Chukotka perform almost all of their rituals inside their homes and only a few are performed outside are few and far between. The Asian Eskimos never built any ritual structures. None of the known Eskimo branches ever built anything even remotely similar to the Whalebone alley, either in Alaska or in the Canadian Arctic or in Greenland. It should be noted, however, that none of the other indigenous people of the North have any sacred sites like that either.

Today, the best hypothesis that scientists have about what the past of Yttygran island was probably something like: The people living on the local shores hunted sea animals for millenia. But for quite some time they mostly hunted walrus and seal. And it was only about 15,000 years ago that the local sea hunters began hunting whales on a regular basis. For people going out to sea in small boats and armed only with stone and bone weapons, hunting whales would have been extremely difficult and dangerous. They would have had to hunt in large groups, more than one clan would have had to spare. However, when a whale was successfully hunted, there would have been enough meat to go around for quite some time for all the participants. That would have meant that sea hunters from different settlements would have joined forces on more and more occasions. And that probably meant that they would have needed some kind of a rendezvous point. And naturally, they would have called on powerful spirits to help them: without their favor a dangerous whaling undertaking would surely have ended in disaster.

So researchers hypothesize that Yttygran Island probably served as such a rallying point for the local early whalers. And they probably gathered there not only before setting out to sea, but also after successful whaling operations. They would probably haul the corpses of the whales that they'd killed here and then cut them up and divide the spoils, including the meat, fat, and skin. They would stock it all in the meat holes and the permafrost ground of the island would keep the trophies safe until the next hunting season. Naturally, the divvying up process would turn into a noisy festival. The whalers would throw parties, commemorate their ancestors, share gifts and experience, tell hunting stories, sing and dance. They probably also settled their disputes here, made unions and negotiated marriages: in those days you were supposed to get a bride from a different clan. It was probably also here that young men who had just taken part in their first whale hunt would complete the initiation rites to become full-fledged clan members. Researchers also believe that the island was also used for sporting competitions: young hunters would compete in running, wrestling, and weight lifting. And then when the hour came, the most respected people in the community, the shamans and the elders, would step aside and perform their rituals there to ensure the well-being of their tribes.

Archeological and other data suggest that whaling had reached its peak off the coast of Chukotka by the 14th century. Most likely it was also then that the Whalebone alley was created, a kind of a Chukotka stonehenge, a ritual complex shared by all the local clans. It probably took quite a long time to build, but it wasn't just added upon haphazardly but rather was built in accordance with a preconceived plan. This conclusion follows from the geometrically regular lines of the complex. For about two centuries, this place would have been the center of the spiritual and business life of the wondrous civilization of sea hunters.

The 16th century saw the beginning of a radical drop in temperatures on the shores of the Bering Sea. Every year more and more ice fields appeared in the sea, while the amount of open water decreased. The whales began to take different migration routes, paying fewer and fewer visits to their former summer feeding areas. The sea hunters would then have had to go back to hunting smaller prey: walrus and seal. They would then no longer need to hunt in large hunting parties. The frequency of big festivals in the Whalebone alley would have dropped off and then these would have stopped altogether. Over time, the stories of the ancient rituals would have faded from the memory of the descendants of the ancient whalers. And the ancient sacred ground was then forgotten.

Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters

Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters cultural heritage site, including Naukan Multi-Layered Settlement, Ekven Burial Ground and Settlement and Nunak Historical and Cultural Complex, is located south and southeast from Dezhnevsky massif on the shores of the Bering Strait in the Chukotka district of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. This area situated to the west and to the east from Cape Pevek, an extreme point of Eurasia. The smallest width of the Bering Strait (85 kilometers) in this area contributed to the development of contacts between the populations of Eurasia and North America since Prehistory. This factor also had a significant impact on the emergence of a unique culture of marine mammal hunters encompassing Chukotka and Alaska. [Source: Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO]

The cultural heritage sites of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters are compactly located in close proximity to each other (6-12 kilometers from Dezhnev Cape and 20-25 kilometers from Yelen settlement), representing the brightest and diverse culture of Eskimo Arctic Marine Hunters and providing the overall understanding of the uniqueness and valuable research source for the studies of the culture and traditions of Arctic peoples. The nominated site is surrounded by the landscape of outstanding beauty, which contains the evidence of the significant stage of the history of the humanity, namely, the discovery and exploration of high latitudes as well as the emergence and development of the unique culture of Arctic Marine Hunters.

“The nominated Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters cultural heritage property is serial and is constituted by component parts located on Dezhnevsky massif: Ekven Burial Ground and Settlement (a Prehistoric Eskimo archaeological site of the first millennium AD); the ruins of two Eskimo settlements (Naukan Multi-Layered Settlement (the 15th - mid 20th centuries) and Nunak Historical and Cultural Complex (the 15th – 19th centuries)) as well as a memorial complex dedicated to a 17th century Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev (Lighthouse Monument, 1954-1956). These sites constituting the property provide an overall representation of the heritage of the unique living cultural tradition that emerged at the junction of Northeastern Asia and Northwestern America two thousand years ago.

The cultural tradition of the marine hunting was belonging to Paleo Eskimos, the ancestors of the present day Eskimo and Inuit people, who harnessed the marine areas in the harsh conditions of the Arctic by developing a unique system of marine adaptation reflected in their tangible and intangible culture as well as in decorative and applied arts (the masterpieces of Prehistoric bone carving arts were discovered during archaeological excavations of Ekven burial ground).

The continuity of the marine mammal hunting traditions ensured the survival of the local population that had been using wooden-framed leather vessels (baidars) and elaborated harpoon system constituted by walrus tusk and deer antlers with a special turning tip. Even though metal (iron) reached Chukotka in insignificant quantities from lower regions of the Amur River in Prehistoric period, the Eskimos themselves could not mine and process metal. Therefore, they were bearing Stone Age traditions until the second part of the 18th century. As the marine hunters of Chukotka had almost no contacts with other cultures, they had managed to maintain the lifestyle of their ancestors for thousand years.

The outstanding universal value of the Heritage of Chukotka Arctic Marine Hunters is constituted primarily by the composition of the property, which includes key archaeological sites of different periods of the development of this culture. For instance, Ekven Burial Ground and Settlement reflects the most prosperous period of Eskimo culture on the coasts of the northeastern Chukotka and the northwestern Alaska, namely, Prehistoric Beringian Sea archaeological culture (the 1st-2d centuries – 5th centuries AD). Other Prehistoric Eskimo cultures, which were originated from the Prehistoric Beringian Sea archaeological culture, later widespread to Arctic shores from Alaska to Greenland (Punuk, Tyle, first part - mid second millennium AD).

Naukan and Cape Dezhnev

Naukan (easternmost part of Russia) is a deserted Eskimo (Yupik, Inuit) village on Cape Dezhnev, Russia. Prior to 1958, it was the easternmost settlement in the Eurasian continent. On a clear day you can see the Diomede Islands in the Bering Strait and the Alaskan coast, as well as the Cape Prince of Wales, which is almost 90 kilometers from here. Near Cape Dezhnev large numbers of whales are spotted including grey, humpback and minke whales.

On the top of three hills, separated by ravines and mountain rivers, you can see the remains of homes — old yarangas with unworked stones in their foundations — and more modern wooden houses. Whale bone constructions have survived to this day. They were stuck vertically in the ground and used for drying kayaks and building yarangas.

Naukan was known as a fishing settlement, where hunting large marine mammals, mostly whales, was the main occupation. According to local legend, Naukan inhabitants signed an agreement with their whale friends. Whales could marry the most beautiful girls in the settlement and it was considered a great honour to be a chosen one. A festival dedicated to whales was held every year and consisted of many rituals. Whales still approach the Naukan shore, most often in the summer, and it is one of the most impressive sights in the region.

Getting There: . First, you have to take two flights: Moscow–Anadyr (or Khabarovsk–Anadyr) and Anadyr–Lavrentiya (the alternative is the Captain Sotnikov steamer that travels between Anadyr and Lavrentiya in the summer); then you will have to rent an all-terrain vehicle or a boat, depending on the season. You can also come from Alaska via Provideniya.

History of Naukan

Since the 14th century, the large Eskimo settlement of Naukan has existed on the steep west bank of the Bering Strait, which is a busy crossroads of sea currents and the migration routes of diverse marine fauna. Inhabitants from the Eskimo settlements of Cape Dezhnev moved here a few centuries ago.

Eight Eskimo families lived in one settlement and maintained an atmosphere of friendliness and hospitality, so throughout its history, Naukan was a venue for celebrations and competitions for all people living near the Bering Strait.

From the end of the 19th century, about 300 to 400 people lived in Naukan. The Naukan Eskimos maintained friendly, business and marriage relations with Uelen Chukchi. Until 1948, Uelen and Naukan residents made joint trips to Alaska to barter with the local herders.

In the 1920s, Naukan residents founded the first national workshop for producing fur and walrus tusk products. Naukan craftsmen produced unique chess pieces in the shape of pyramids with miniature engravings on each face. These chess pieces were presented to Joseph Stalin. Naukan inhabitants were very active during all Soviet events, they were friendly and supported the idea of collectivism.

In 1958, it was decided to relocate the residents to other settlements as the authorities planned to build a military base on Cape Dezhnev. The military base did not last long, but the Eskimos never returned to Naukan. Today's only reminders of this ancient settlement are the many well-preserved artifacts.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Until mid-20th century, its inhabitants had been maintaining close contacts with the Eskimo people from the Bering Strait islands (Great and Small Diomedes) and Alaska. These are the locations, from which the inhabitants of Naukan once moved to Chukotka. The forced relocation of the inhabitants of Naukan in 1958 is still considered by their descendants as a tragedy that led to the disappearance of the Naukan dialect of the Eskimo language, which is currently spoken only by a few people. [Source: Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO]

“Until the late 1920s, the technologies of hunting for marine mammals, the technologies of meat cutting, processing, storing as well as culinary traditions had not changed in a fundamental way on Cape Dezhnev, in particular, and at the coastal Chukotka, in general. In Soviet period, more advanced means were introduced to the hunting process, namely, motor whaleboats have replaced manual canoes, whereas after World War II, firearms spread to Chukotka and anti-tank guns started to be used for whale hunting. However, marine mammals hunting still represents a vital part of the local economy. Its symbolism of the confrontation with a huge animal in the context of harsh climate and marine environment have not changed as well. Similar to Prehistoric period, the hunting required courage, endurance and team-work of hunting boat crews.”

Naukan and Nunak Archaeological Sites

According to a report submitted to UNESCO:The Eskimo settlements of Naukan and Nunak are unique settlements for Asian Eskimos, as they contain buildings and other structures erected mainly with massive boulders. This unusual appearance of Naukan and Nunak in Chukotka is conditioned due to several historic factors. Both settlements were founded by the people from the Bering Strait islands belonging to the local Eskimo culture, which combined the components of the cultural traditions of the Eskimos both from Alaska and Chukotka. [Source: Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO]

The remains of the yarangs of Arctic marine hunters represent the unique example of dwellings adapted to local climatic conditions in the context of the scarcity of construction materials that could be found in Arctic nature. The dwellings were built of stone, whale bones and fin tree; they were covered by the skin of marine mammals sealed with sod and moss. The yarangs of Naukan and Nunak are attributed to the traditional constructions typical for the ancestors of the Eskimos of Old Bering Sea in the first millennium AD. Therefore, the remains of the dwellings provide the evidence of the construction traditions that had been existing in this region for over two millennia.

The dwellings were built on the slopes with a preliminary alignment of construction sites. Their corridor exits were always directed toward the slope and, therefore, towards the sea. The floor level decreased from a sleeping platform to an exit, which was an important house-building principle emerged during the Old Bering Sea period to save energy and provide the distribution of heated air in dwellings. The layouts of dwellings, their dimensions, materials of walls and roofs, the overall spatial planning of the settlement are also similar to the Old Bering Sea period settlements.

One of the integral parts of the Arctic Marine Hunters tradition is bone carving arts represented by artefacts found at Ekven, which have visible analogues with the samples of Dezhnevsky School of bone-carving of the late 19th - 20th centuries widely developed both in Naukan and Yelen. The principles of house-building, marine hunting, bone processing and decorative and applied arts of the inhabitants of the coastal Chukotka emerged as a result of adaptation to local climatic conditions as well as due to the interaction of the local community with the population of Alaska. This interaction is still reflected both intangible and intangible culture heritage of Eskimo people.

Marine Mammals Hunting performed in a sustainable way was the key element of life of the inhabitants of the coastal Chukotka: meat was considered as the basis of their nutrition, fat gave heat and light to their dwellings, whale bones along with stones and fin were used for the construction of the dwellings, whereas the hunting weapons were also made of animal bones (walrus tusk) and wood. The close connection and dependence of man on nature was also embodied in intangible culture, including myths about man and marine mammals as well as bone carving art with animalistic patterns.

A vivid example of the beliefs that originates from Prehistoric period is related to the myth of the Nunagmitian whale, which is closely associated with the history of Nunak and the Prehistory of Naukan. The myth of the Nunagmitian whale born by a woman is one of the central cosmogonic myths of the indigenous people of Chukotka, which was depicted in several literature and cinema works of the 20th century. The associative values of the nominated property represented by complex and unique mythology are of outstanding universal value as a living testimony of cultural traditions, folk arts, born carving arts emerged in critical natural conditions of the Arctic and encompassing the shores of the Arctic and Pacific Oceans at the junction of two continents.

Ekven Historical and Cultural Complex

Ekven Historical and Cultural Complex (22 kilometers south of the modern settlement of Uelen and 15 kilometers southeast of Cape Dezhnev, 60 kilometers from Alaska) consists of a large settlement and a burial ground on the coast of the Bering Strait. In ancient times, almost the entire coast of the Bering Strait and the Chukchi Sea was inhabited. The coastline mainly consists of rocks. There are also places with a gradual descent to the water: lagoons separated from the ocean by narrow headlands and pebble beaches on deep bays where people settled.

The remains of more than twenty ancient dwellings, which are now clearly visible on the surface, are located on a wide strip along the coastline; whale bones, which in ancient times were structural parts of the buildings, now emerge from these low mounds. These buildings were huts with one or two rooms and a narrow corridor or tunnel leading outside. The dwellings were about one and a half meters deep, with a diameter of 10–15 meters. In addition, for thermal insulation purposes, the entrance to the corridor was below the interior floor level. The frame of the walls was fixed with pillars made of whale bones: jaws, ribs and vertebrae. The roof was built from “beams” of whale bones and drift wood, and then covered with walrus skin with a layer of turf on the top. The floor was made of slate tiles covered with skins. Ceramic oil lamps were used for heating and lighting. The hearths were arranged in open areas near the houses.

From the north, two hills protect the settlement from the cold winds. On these hills, three hundred meters to the north, there is a burial ground where the locals buried their dead throughout the existence of the settlement. To date, 330 graves have been studied in the Ekven graveyard. Funeral rites included placing associated items into the grave. As a rule, such items were made specifically for the funeral rites. Women were buried together with jewellery, knives for working with skins, needles and ceramic and wooden vessels. The men’s graves contained hunting equipment, bone carving tools and amulets.

Artefacts found by archaeologists at the Ekven historical and cultural complex confirmed the existence of a highly developed Neolithic culture on the shores of the Bering Strait in the 1st millennium B.C. — 1st millennium AD. The culture’s level of development is not inferior to that of ancient civilisations that have arisen in much more favourable natural conditions. Archaeologists paid tribute to the courage, creativity and hard-working nature of the inhabitants of Ekven by naming it “Arctic Troy”, in memory of one of the most famous cities of the ancient Mediterranean praised by Homer. The collections of tools, hunting weapons, household and sacral items and jewelry were found during the excavations conducted at the Ekven settlement and burial ground represent the high level of the development of Prehistoric Eskimo arts and contribute to the outstanding universal value of the nominated property.


Paypelgak (20 kilometers north of Naukan) is an ancient Eskimo settlement is located at the mouth of the Chegitun River, which flows into the Chukchi Sea between Inchoun and Enurmino. This monument was regularly and comprehensively studied by archaeologists from the State Museum of Oriental Art until 2016 using the latest scientific methods developed specifically for such studies. This monument is perfectly preserved due to the permafrost. During the years of excavations, wooden roof supports were found that had survived at their full height.

A home of the ancient Eskimos dating back to the first centuries of the 1st millennium AD was found here. Only three such buildings have been studied in the world. And they are all in the settlement of Paypelgak in Chukotka. Prior to these works, the design of these dwellings in the settlements was not entirely clear. Archaeological research was limited to small excavations no deeper than the permafrost layer.

A special method of studying the cultural layer in the permafrost allowed scientists to find out which dwellings were constructed by ancient builders and how they managed to do it in the harsh conditions of the coastal tundra. Building materials were extremely scarce, so the houses were built of whale bones and drift wood; support pillars were driven half a meter into the permafrost and securely supported the roof that towered at least one and a half meters above the stone tile floor. The walls were covered with a thick layer of turf and the corridor that penetrated the ground securely protected the home against the winter cold.

Paypelgak is located on a high steep coast and is gradually being destroyed by slope erosion. Scientists believe that a thorough study of this ancient settlement will require several expeditions.

Masik Historical and Cultural Complex

Masik (Provideniya area) is a large ancient Eskimo settlement of maritime hunters abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century. Also called Masiq, Mechigment, Agritkino and, Segdnya Masik, this historical and cultural complex is located on the southern spit at the entrance to the bay Mechigmen. Masik was quite large. In the Eskimo language, Masik means "long braid."

Masik was a place where hunters processed and ate whales and walruses. Rows of mandibular bones of bowhead whales, dug into the ground, were part of the facilities for drying meat and fish. Middle and northern part of the settlement Masik thrived during the 16th-18th centuries. AD.

Masik stretches over a 1.6 kilometers and forms two large ovals around two now dry lakes. The site also contains a very large number of well-preserved structures including homes, yarangas, whale bone structures for drying boats, and storage facilities. The village was populated from the 12th to the mid-20th century, although there is evidence to suggest that different parts of the settlement were inhabited at different times in its history. The village economy was driven mainly by the hunting of Bowhead and Grey Whales.

Few tourists come here. Now sand and shingle spit that separates Mechigemskuyu lip from the east to the sea. To get to Masik on the land is almost impossible. The rare tourists arrive by sea only 2-3 months a year. As a result Masik is largely undisturbed and very well preserved.

Cape Serdtse-Kamen Walrus Haulout

Cape Serdtse-Kamen (11 kilometers west of Enurmino, on northeast of the Chukotka Peninsula on the coast of the Chukotka Sea) is the largest haulout of Pacific walruses in the world, with a local population of about 100,000 walruses. “Serdtse” a name given is in the 18th century, means heart in Russian, but the cape looks nothing like a heart.

There are about 20 Pacific walruses haulouts in Chukotka. These huge animals hunt shellfish on the seabed and are attracted by Cape Serdtse-Kamen's shallow coastal waters. This haulout is an important place for walruses to rest during the autumn migration. According to scientists, the walrus haulout consists of 36 sections in this area that are relatively isolated by rock cliffs; however, they are mostly continuous and cover a distance of 19.5 kilometers along the coastline from Cape Serdtse-Kamen to the estuary of the Ikalyuryn river.

Following the walruses, polar bears come here in late autumn and early winter in search of food on the mainland coast: dead whales, walruses that died in the autumn on the shore haulout, as well as waste from sea hunting. For example, in late autumn 2017, there was an “invasion” of 80 polar bears. The indigenous peoples of Chukotka have hunted walruses since ancient times. Just like whales, walruses are migratory mammals, and their seasonal slaughter is permitted by law, which also sets quotas for the Northern peoples.

As a result of intensive hunting, the number of Pacific walruses had declined sharply by the 1960s. Measures taken to restore the population had a short-term effect and the number of walruses is becoming even smaller in the 21st century. Scientists believe that climate change in the Eastern Arctic poses a threat. The edges of the drifting ice are now much farther north than before and the walruses are forced to travel hundreds of kilometers to the Arctic coast of Chukotka. This weakens the animals and has a disastrous effect on their population. Hunting marine mammals is really the main economic activity of the inhabitants of Chukotka's coastal settlements. Walrus hunting helps maintain the traditional way of life and ethnic traditions, and preserves the national culture of the indigenous Northern peoples.

Kolyuchin Island

Kolyuchin Island (14 kilometers from Nutepelmen national settlement, across the Sergievsky Strait on the Chukchi Sea) is a hard-to-get but great place to see birds and whales. A 200-meter-high granite residual mountain rises from the water in the Chukchi Sea, at the entrance to Kolyuchin Bay, 11 kilometers from the shore. Time and wind have turned its top into an irregular plateau covered with tundra and stone blocks. The shore facing the North Pole is a hundred-meter rock, while the side of the island facing the mainland has more gentle slopes and looser rock sections.

More than nine months of the year the sea around the island is covered with hummocks (ice reefs). Among the famous ships entrapped by these ice reefs were the Vega (1878), Sibiryakov (1932) and Chelyuskin (1934). There are some abandoned small log houses in the south of the island. A researcher from the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences lives in one of them and conducts walrus observations. Another house is occupied by sea hunters from Nutepelmen during the walrus hunting season.

The average annual temperature here is -9.5°C. There is no fresh water on the island. However, the first settlers lived here 1,500 years ago. In the northern part of the island archaeologists have discovered the remains of a large settlement and a burial ground belonging to the most remarkable stage of the development of the ancient Eskimo civilisation — the Okvik culture. A Northern Sea Route Author polar station was built here in 1934. It transmitted important hydrometeorological reports until 1992. Today, this is one of island's main attractions, with its wooden pavements, architraves and well-preserved buildings. After the station closed, only native inhabitants — animals and birds — continued living on this island.

The migration routes of Greenland whales pass near the island. Just like the Arctic Islands of Wrangel and Herald, Kolyuchin is a birthing place for polar bears. Bear cubs are born here in the summer and manage to grow up by the time the ice allows the animals to go to the mainland. Herds of walruses also come to the pebble and sandy beaches for their haulouts, which gives hunters (Chukchi from the nearby settlements of Nutepelmen and Vankarem) the opportunity to engage in their ancient occupations: to get food and materials for making clothing, household items, hunting tools, decorations and souvenirs. Walruses usually arrange their haulouts in small areas under rocks that are virtually inaccessible to polar bears.

This island has also become a favourite habitat for northern birds. It welcomes tens of thousands of birds every summer. They can restore their strength here after long flights. The birds build nests, lay eggs, hatch chicks and prepare them for life in the Arctic. Bird colonies are the most remarkable and noisy attraction on the island. The most numerous birds on this island are cormorants, who race each other when diving for fish, and kittiwakes that look like gulls. Puffins that resemble their tropical relatives can carry several fish at once to their nests on the island. The largest Arctic gull — the glaucous gull — also hatches its chicks here. Ornithologists consider this island to be unique, with eight different species of nesting birds.

Pegtymel Petroglyphs

Pegtymel Petroglyphs (on the right bank of the Pegtymel river, 50 kilometers from where the river flows into the Arctic Ocean) are the northernmost petroglyphs produced by ancient people. The ancient gallery was discovered in 1965 by geologist I. Samorukov and they soon afterwards studied by renowned archaeologist Nikolai Dikov, who the book “Pegtymel Petroglyphs, Mysteries of Ancient Chukotka,” out in 1971.

The age of Pegtymel petroglyphs is estimated at between the first millenium B.C. and the first millenium AD. There are three neolithic settlements in the Pegtymel river valley on the rocks of the Kuykuulsky cliff; the name of the river translates from the Chukchi language as “broken skid.” The settlements cover an area a kilometer and a half long. It's the only place in Asia above the Polar Circle and a tundra area where petroglyphs have ever been found.

The photographs taken during the Dikov expedition in 1968 were too few to continue research, and so another expedition was dispatched to the area in 2005. The expedition organized by the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences comprised researchers specializing in a variety of fields: archaeologists, restoration specialists, trace evidence specialists. It's thanks to their efforts that you can now see detailed photographs of the petroglyphs. And museums got their hands on copies of the pictures that have now been exhibited all over the world.

The pictures are found at three elevations and were made with a variety of techniques: some are carved in the rock, some are rubbed in and some are scratched into the rock while still others combined all of these techniques. They depict reindeer — sometimes the entire deer, other times just the hoof prints. The ancient artists also drew more complex pictures depicting people hunting. One picture that was repeated more often than others is a swimming reindeer that has been harpooned by a hunter in a boat. Ther are fewer pictures of hunters going after marine animals like whales, killer whales, sea beavers, ringed seals. In the marine hunting pictures, you can easily recognize the canoes that the indigenous peoples of the North have been using for centuries.

Chukchi mythology abounds with human-shaped amanitas that connect this world and the world of the dead. These unusual characters are perhaps the most unique in the Pegtymel petroglyphs. Anthropomorphic amanitas with huge hats over their heads are sometimes depicted next to ordinary people, probably symbolizing their connection to the world of their ancestors.

Wrangel Island

Wrangel Island (175 kilometers north of the Chukotka mainland) is perhaps the crown jewel of the Russian Arctic. Bisected by 180th meridian and described as the Galápagos of the far north, it is home to an incredible abundance of life despite being one of Russia’s coldest and remotest places. It is the largest denning area for polar bears in the world and was the last stronghold of the wooly mammoth. About 500 to 1000 dwarf versions lived on Wrangel Island until just before 1700 B.C. (600 years after the Pyramids were built in Ancient Egypt) when they fully became extinct. The woolly mammoths that lived on the island were smaller than other woolly mammoths. They stood only six feet at the shoulder. Animals that evolve on islands are usually smaller than their mainland counterparts.

The Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, the first in the Arctic. According to UNESCO: “Located well above the Arctic Circle, the site includes the mountainous Wrangel Island (7,608 square kilometers), Herald Island (11 square kilometers) and surrounding waters. Wrangel was not glaciated during the Quaternary Ice Age, resulting in exceptionally high levels of biodiversity for this region. The island boasts the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus and the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens. It is a major feeding ground for the grey whale migrating from Mexico and the northernmost nesting ground for 100 migratory bird species, many endangered. Currently, 417 species and subspecies of vascular plants have been identified on the island, double that of any other Arctic tundra territory of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island. Some species are derivative of widespread continental forms, others are the result of recent hybridization, and 23 are endemic. [Source: UNESCO]

The Wrangel Island Reserve is a self-contained island ecosystem and there is ample evidence that it has undergone a long evolutionary process uninterrupted by the glaciation that swept most other parts of the Arctic during the Quaternary period. The number and type of endemic plant species, the diversity within plant communities, the rapid succession and mosaic of tundra types, the presence of relatively recent mammoth tusks and skulls, the range of terrain types and geological formations in the small geographic space are all visible evidence of Wrangel’s rich natural history and its unique evolutionary status within the Arctic. Furthermore, the process is continuing as can be observed in, for example, the unusually high densities and distinct behaviours of the Wrangel lemming populations in comparison with other Arctic populations or in the physical adaptations of the Wrangel Island reindeers, where they may now have evolved into a separate population from their mainland cousins. Species interaction strategies are highly-honed and on display throughout the island, especially near Snowy owl nests which act as protectorates for other species and beacons for migratory species and around fox dens.

The Wrangel Island Reserve has the highest level of biodiversity in the high Arctic. The island is the breeding habitat of Asia’s only Snow goose population which is slowly making a recovery from catastrophically low levels. The marine environment is an increasingly important feeding ground for the Gray whale migrating from Mexico (some from another World Heritage site, the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino). The islands have the largest sea-bird colonies on the Chukchi Sea, are the northernmost nesting grounds for over 100 migratory bird species including several that are endangered such as the Peregrine falcon, have significant populations of resident tundra bird species interspersed with migratory Arctic and non-Arctic species and have the world’s highest density of ancestral polar bear dens. Wrangel Island boasts the largest population of Pacific walrus with up to 100,000 animals congregating at any given time at one of the island’s important coastal rookeries. Since Wrangel Island contains a high diversity of habitats and climates and conditions vary considerably from one location to another, total reproductive failure of a species in any given year is practically unheard of. Given the relatively small size of the area, this is very unusual in the high Arctic.

History of Wrangel Island

Hampton Sides wrote in National Geographic: “Since ancient times Wrangel Island has been felicitously perched on what might be called the ice cusp. Because the island was never completely glaciated during recent ice ages and never completely inundated by seawater during periods of ice retreat, the soils and plants in its interior valleys offer a glimpse of undisturbed Pleistocene tundra unique on the planet. “When you go to Wrangel,” says Mikhail Stishov, a Moscow-based WWF scientist who lived 18 years on the island, “you’re going back hundreds of thousands of years. It’s a place of ancient biodiversity, but it’s also very fragile.” [Source: Hampton Sides, National Geographic, May 2013]

“Paleontologists believe Wrangel is also the last place where woolly mammoths lived. A dwarf subspecies thrived here as late as 1700 B.C., more than 6,000 years after mammoth populations elsewhere became extinct. Their curved tusks can be found everywhere on the island, lying on the gravel beaches, in streambeds, even leaning against ranger cabins — trophies from another epoch. “When the pyramids were being built in Egypt, elephants walked around on Wrangel,” says Alexander Gruzdev, the reserve’s director. “Its proximity to, but isolation from, the continental patterns of Asia and North America created a unique natural structure. There’s no place quite like it in the world.”

“Though Arctic animals have long flourished on Wrangel, people most emphatically have not. Lying 88 miles off the coast of northeastern Siberia, Wrangel was for centuries little more than a rumor, a mirage, a fog-gauzed dream. Perhaps it was an island, perhaps a continent, perhaps a magical gateway to the Pole. Throughout much of the 19th century “Wrangell Land” functioned as a kind of ultima Thule, a hypothetical realm just beyond the veil of the known world. Before its existence was proved, Wrangel Island went by a succession of tentative names: Tikegen Land, Plover Island, Kellett Land. Wrangel loomed in cartographers’ imaginations — some even surmised that it was an extension of Greenland that stretched clear across the Pole.”

At the mountain Tomas on the western shore of the East-Siberian Sea a monument was erected in honor of raising the Russian flag there in 1911. Hydrographic expedition of the icebreaking vessel “Vaigach” landed on the shore and “staked out” the territory of the island on behalf of Russia. And in the bay of Draghi on the east coast of the Chukchi Sea of the island stands a monument to the Canadian expedition of the ship “Karluk”, which was smashed by the ice in 1913 and later passed into this bay. The Draghi Bay is otherwise called the “ice sieve” — the ice in it remains the longest on the island — almost until the end of the calendar summer. Thus, the reserve staff paid tribute to the people who moved in the difficult Arctic direction, regardless of their nationality.

Expeditions to Wrangel Island

Hampton Sides wrote in National Geographic: “ “Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s almost every exploring expedition that blundered anywhere near Wrangel ended up with the adjective “doomed” in front of it. In the early 1820s Chukchi hunters on the northeast Siberian coast told Russian explorer Ferdinand von Wrangel about a land to the north that could sometimes be seen when atmospheric conditions were just right. Wrangel sailed for the mythic land but was thwarted by ice and failed to snatch even a glimpse of it. Nearly 30 years afterward, the captain of an English vessel searching for Sir John Franklin’s expedition thought he spotted a large Arctic island shimmering in the distance. Later, various whaling captains insisted they’d seen it, although their claims were disputed, since the Arctic is notorious for fata morganas and other fantastical illusions.

“An American Arctic expedition launched in 1879 drifted close to Wrangel — close enough for its commander, George Washington De Long, to determine that it was not a polar continent after all. De Long was never able to land on Wrangel, however; his ship, the U.S.S. Jeannette, was beset in the polar ice pack for nearly two years, until it sank some 800 miles to the northwest.

“It wasn’t until August 1881 that a group of Americans aboard the steamer Thomas L. Corwin, scouring the Arctic in search of the lost Jeannette, set foot on Wrangel and proved its hard-soil existence once and for all. The search party, which included the young John Muir, hoisted an American flag and declared Wrangel a new U.S. possession in the name of their President. (Unbeknownst to the explorers, President James Garfield lay slowly dying from an assassin’s bullet.)

“The Corwin party called the island New Columbia, but the name never stuck. That same year Muir published the world’s first description of Wrangel in a San Francisco newspaper series, later collected in a piquant travelogue called The Cruise of the Corwin. Although he considered Wrangel a “notable addition ... to the national domain,” Muir thought the geography of the new land would not be known “until some considerable change has taken place in the polar climate.”

“The island dwelled in near solitude for over 30 years. Then came another succession of doomed expeditions, beginning with the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913, whose survivors were forced to leave their crushed brigantine Karluk and trudge 80 miles over the ice pack to take refuge on Wrangel. By the time they were rescued eight months later, 11 of the 25 men had perished on or near Wrangel. A Canadian-led attempt in 1921 to settle Wrangel Island and claim it for the British motherland resulted in four more deaths.

“In 1926 the Soviets, attempting to extend their sovereignty over Wrangel, forcibly relocated Chukchi there from Siberia. A tiny colony persisted until the 1970s, when, with the creation of the sanctuary, descendants of the original settlers started being repatriated to the mainland. Because the Corwin party was the first to plant a flag on Wrangel, certain jingoistic groups in the United States have insisted the island is rightfully American soil. One Tea Party blogger last year ranted that President Barack Obama was giving away Wrangel to the “Putin regime” as part of an “apparent war against U.S. energy independence.” The U.S. State Department, however, has long maintained that the United States asserts no territorial claim to the island — and never has. The region around Wrangel is not known to have substantial oil reserves, and even if it did, its nearly year-round ice would likely make extraction prohibitively difficult and expensive.”

Wrangel Island Nature Reserve

Wrangel Island Nature Reserve was created in 1976. It occupies entire island, which is 7,511 square kilometers (2,900 square miles island) in area. Despite the harshness of its climate, but in many ways because of it, it is one of the great wildlife areas of the Arctic, and the reserve was set up to keep it that way

Polar bears that den on Wrangel Island come to the reserve from the mainland of Chukotka and Alaska. Biologists call these bears the Chukchi-Alaskan population. Animals love Wrangel Island: it is far from people and large shipping routes; around the island there is ice for a long time and allows animals to hunt the most favorite prey — seals. According to the observations of biologists, who annually conduct their research on the island, the calories contained in one seal are enough for a bear for a whole week. The reserve “Wrangel Island” is also a maternity ward of polar bears. Spending a productive summer hunting here, bears remain on the island for the winter and lie down in dens on the slopes of the sea coast. In March, tiny bear cubs appear. In July and August, bear families swim on ice in search of food or sleep for a long time on the beach, not wasting precious calories. And all this can be seen!

There is a population of musk oxen on Wrangel Island. These large animals came to Chukotka in 1975 from the Alaskan island of Nunivak. There were only 40 of them, and on the Mamontova River the corall is still preserved, in which they were kept before the release to the island. In 2018, the territory inspectors and researchers of the reserve counted 400 animals. Musk oxen rarely go to the coast and prefer the internal expanses of Wrangel Island. According to employees of the reserve, bears and musk oxen prefer not to meet, dividing the habitat — the coast and the inner territory of the island.

Twenty years ago on the island there were huge rookeries of the Pacific walrus. At that time, their main resting place was the long cape Blossom, but in a flash the walruses moved from the island to mainland Chukotka, and now Keniskun Bay and Cape Vankarem became the most popular rookeries. At the village of Vankarem there are 30,000 animals hauling out, and in the Keniskun Bay — 100,000. Tourists on cruise ships meet walruses in almost the entire area around Wrangel. In August, you can see animals resting on the ice.

One of the most northern Neolithic sites of the ancient man — Devil's Ravine — is located on the coast of Krasin Bay at the intersection of the island with the 180th meridian. There is now a sign indicating that. Wrangel Island has many amazing names due to the history of its exploration by Eskimo, Russian, Canadian and American travelers: Nanunna Lagoon, capes: Blossom, Hawaii, Thomas, Litke and Ueringa; Bay: Draghi, Dubious, Rogers, Krasin; Academy Tundra; Mountains: Dream-Head and the very Doubtful Mountains that Ferdinand Petrovich Wrangel knew about from the Chukchi tales. The island received its name from the captain of the whaling ship Thomas Long, who first landed on the island in 1867. In that he decided to honor the man who was so eager for it’s discovery, but never had reached it — Ferdinand Wrangel.

Traveling Around Wrangel Island

Wrangel Island has many picturesque and accessible landing sites, starting from Doubtful Bay in Krasin Bay. In the former village of Zvezdniy there are houses of the first settlers of the 1920s, who arrived on Wrangel Island from the Eskimo settlement of Providence Bay. Also on the territory of the former village there are houses of state inspectors and a large comfortable house for tourists. One can move around the island on TREKOLs (big-wheeled SUVs), snowmobiles and quad bikes. In the summer, the island can be approached only by a cruise ship. Tours are sometimes booked three years in advance.

Although the weather and sea ice conditions may be severe, Wrangel Island is very beautiful any time of the year. Among its attractions are mountains, valleys, rivers without water and mammoth tusks washed up from the river bed. But since Wrangel Island is a specially protected natural area, permission is required to visit it. This is usually done by tour operators that organize trips to the island. Permission to visit the reserve can be made directly through the office of the reserve. Website:

Describing his trip to the island, Hampton Sides wrote in National Geographic: “The Zodiac raft motors through the freezing drizzle, skirting large ice cakes, taking on wave after invigorating wave of Chukchi Sea as we grope our way toward a shore obscured by fog. Although our Russian guide insists that a large island lies just ahead, I’m doubtful. But then the mists dissipate, and suddenly it looms with a starkness enhanced by the refractions of the Arctic atmosphere: a formidable piece of real estate, 91 miles long, its golden mountains speckled with the bright blooms of tundra flowers. “Privet and welcome to Ostrov Vrangelya!” he says, with the exaggerated cheer of a young man starved for sun and human company. “For nine months only three colors — white, black, gray. I doesn’t like the winter here!” [Source: Hampton Sides, National Geographic, May 2013]

“Rodionov leads us across a gravel beach strewn with the bones of whales and walruses to Ushakovskoye, a tiny ghost town from the Soviet era.Rusty barrels are piled everywhere. Weather-scabbed cabins, some of which have been cannibalized for firewood, are built upon a spongy turf of lichen and moss. Disintegrating radar disks lean toward the sea, and a radio antenna’s guy wires sing in the high wind. The windows of a Russian bathhouse are caged and spiked with five-inch nails to keep out the bears. Three hundred yards away an alert young male sniffs with interest. Rodionov eyes him knowingly. “That rascal,” he says with a laugh. “He pay us a visit last night.”

“Blessed with a lack of exploitable resources, Wrangel has been left alone. Thanks to climate change and the Cold War’s end, the island has become slightly more accessible in recent years, and the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has unveiled plans to develop ecotourism here, but that seems a long way off. For the foreseeable future Wrangel will remain a natural laboratory for Arctic animals and the humans who study them. Scientists who come here say there is something peculiarly haunting and powerful about this raw Pleistocene landscape secreted near the roof of the world. “You feel as though you’ve come to the end of the Earth,” says University of Michigan mammoth paleontologist Daniel Fisher. “It’s such a pristine environment,” says Irina Menyushina, who has spent 32 seasons on Wrangel Island conducting snowy owl and arctic fox studies. “You feel yourself so close to the primeval processes of the universe — birth, death, survival, the ebb and surge of populations. Every year when I’m back on Wrangel, I am reinfected by the Arctic.”

Wrangel Island is often visited as part of an Arctic Cruise. During August when many trip to Wrangel Island are done most of the bears are out on the ice-pack hunting. Sometimes a helicopter is used to locate them. Before heading to Alaska the vessel stops at Arakamchechen and Yttygran Islands. Zegrhm Expeditions (☎ 1-877-326-4152) offers Arctic tours that include a stop at Wrangel Island..

Chertov Ovrag

Chertov Ovrag (southern coast of Wrangel Island) is one of the most northern Neolithic sites of the ancient man. It is located on the coast of Krasin Bay at the intersection of the island with the 180th meridian. There is now a sign indicating that. Three thousand years ago, Eskimos often visited Chertov Ovrag (the Devil’s Gorge) on the southern coast of Wrangel Island to hunt walruses, seals and polar bears.

In 1975, archaeologists found a paleo-eskimo settlement on the western slope of the gorge at an altitude of eight meters with a magnificent view of Krasin Bay and its sand and pebble shores. Pacific walruses often came there to rest thousands of years ago. Four surveying seasons gave scientists important findings: stone tools, throwing tips and knives from lamellar splinters, a rotary tip of a harpoon from a walrus tusk, as well as fragments of walrus, seal, bird and polar bear bones. Radiocarbon analysis showed that they dated back 3,000 years. People who came to Chertov Ovrag saw dwarf mammoths living on Wrangel Island.

Chertov Ovrag is located on the coast in the Gulf of Krasin, 15 kilometers from the former settlement of Zvezdny. It is famous with tourists due to the fact that the 180th meridian passes through it, so the island is located in the Eastern and Western hemispheres at the same time. In honour of this geographical phenomenon, the staff of the Wrangel Island reserve put up a small monument in the shape of an island next to the gorge. For many years, tourists have been making a symbolic transition from one hemisphere to the other.

The name of the Chertov (Devil’s) Ovrag speaks for itself. According to the reserve’s staff, cars, snowmobiles and quadbikes have broken down and overturned here. But in general, the place around the gorge is very beautiful and people are generally amazed they made it to such an incredible place. Some find mammoth tusks that are washed to the surface by the rivers of Wrangel island every spring.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in September 2020

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