Sod Huts

by Peter Twitchell

Sod huts (dwellings) for men and boys on the tundra were referred to as qasgiqs by the “real people”, Yup’iks of southwestern Alaska at the turn of the last century. Our Ancestors dwelled in the ingenious cleverly designed mud and moss huts to retain the heat of the sun and warm soil.

Trees and driftwood were used where available on the southwest coastal waters. Elders wise in their ways learned early on the coziness of these dwellings, and always had an opening at the top. The hut and the ground became one like a well functioning marriage.

When you think about it the idea of a sod hut was an ingenious remarkable well thought out design by our Ancestors, the true architects of the North. It was a simple concept and very practical for keeping us safe from the harsh freezing elements of our long winters. Our dwelling was in harmony with Mother Earth.

The dome shape of the Qasgiq deflected the bitter cold of the North wind and the entrance was below ground. A tunnel was dug 10 feet and the entrance was a couple feet from the wall. There was no draft from the outside when the trap door was closed.

In the middle of the sod hut was a 4-5 foot fire pit. The driftwood was lit and the cover of the opening in the ceiling was removed to let the smoke out. When the smoldering embers of the driftwood quit smoking the cover was replaced.

The grass and moss used for bedding retained the heat from the fire pit overnight. Before glass and plastic window panes came to bush Alaska the Yupiit of the Tundra was very resourceful in using dried seal intestines for covering the hole in the ceiling. It let adequate lighting in to be able to see.