By: Steve J. Langdon
Stretching like a rocky necklace from Asia to North America, the Aleutian Islands and the nearby Alaska Peninsula are the home of the Unangan,"the original people." The term "Aleut" was introduced by Russians and comes originally from the Koryak or Chukchi languages of Siberia; it appears to have been quickly adopted by the Aleut people themselves (Lantis,1985).
The Aleut are distinctive among the world's people for their remarkably successful maritime adaptation to this cold archipelago. Some archaeologists suggest that contemporary Aleuts are the descendants of a population which first established itself at Anagula Island more then 7,000 years ago. At the time of European contact, the Aleut population inhabited all of the major Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula as far east as Port Moller, and the Shumagin Islands to the south of the Alaska Peninsula.
Although reconstruction of the Aleut culture and history is difficult due to the devastating impact of Russian contact in the 18th century, it is believed that the Aleut were divided into nine named subdivisions. The total Aleut population is estimated to have been between 15,000-18,000 people at the time of contact. The nine subdivisions are usually joined into western, central and eastern groups based on language. Population concentration is greatest among the eastern groups who had access to salmon and caribou. The Aleuts were a relatively long-lived people with a considerable proportion of the population more then 60 years of age.