Human-Environment Interactions & Human Ecology in Western Arctic Prehistory

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Northern sea ice levels are at an historical and millennial low, and nowhere are the effects of recent climate change more pronounced and destructive than in the Western Arctic, with the erosion and subsequent loss of coastal archaeological sites in this area being yet another casualty. However, the remarkably well-preserved but threatened archaeology of the Western Arctic is shedding important new light on the dynamics of the complex relationship between prehistoric Inuit/Eskimo cultures and past ecosystems. Organic artifacts and bioarchaeological material from sites in this region are feeding diverse but complementary interdisciplinary studies of diet, population genetics, zooarchaeology, paleoentomology, climate change and culture history. Working alongside local descendant communities, archaeological research can also inform understanding of the impact of contemporary climate change on northern communities. This session aims to explore aspects of human-environmental interactions, human ecology and prehistory in the Western Arctic through the lens of contemporary climate change and recent archaeological research. Our objective is to include researchers from a variety of perspectives and methodological specialisms in order to explore temporal and spatial variation and dynamism in human ecology and human-environment interactions in Western Arctic prehistory, and to consider the implications of such research for academic and indigenous stakeholders.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-10 of 10)

  • Documents (10)

  • Archaeology and cultural preservation: a perspective from a Yup’ik village (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Warren Jones.

    Qanirtuuq Incorporated and the village of Quinhagak have supported archaeology in our community since 2009. Thousands of our cultural artifacts have been saved from an eroding archaeological site, and are now being studied and preserved. Working with archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen is helping our people by protecting of our cultural heritage and also in helping to reconnect young people, elders and culture-bearers. In this presentation, I will speak about my community’s...

  • Beetle, lice and flea sub-fossils as evidence for resource exploitation, the use of space and ecological conditions at the pre-contact Eskimo site of Nunalleq, south-western Alaska (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Véronique Forbes. Kate Britton. Rick Knecht.

    Samples collected from the permafrost-preserved floors of 14-17th century Eskimo winter sod houses at Nunalleq, south-western Alaska, have yielded thousands of insect sub-fossils. These diverse and exceptionally well-preserved insects are invaluable indicators of the ecological conditions which prevailed inside the structures, but also of the activities that took place inside them. Indeed, while external parasites such as human lice, bird fleas and dog lice reveal details about hygienic...

  • The Genetic Prehistory of the New World Arctic (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Maanasa Raghavan. Eske Willerslev.

    The New World Arctic, the last region of the Americas to be populated by humans, has a relatively well-researched archaeology. However, there is no consensus on how the different Arctic traditions were genetically related to one another. We present genome-wide sequence data from ancient and present-day humans from Greenland, Arctic Canada, Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and Siberia, contributing new perspectives to the debate of cultural versus genetic replacement in the New World Arctic. We show...

  • The Moose Hill Site: The Dynamic Interplay of Climate Change, Marine Productivity, Volcanism, and Cultural Transitions on the Kvichak River, Bristol Bay, Alaska. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michael Farrell. Daniel Monteith. David Yesner.

    The Moose Hill Site is a multi-component settlement along the Kvichak River in Bristol Bay Alaska. The site consists of ~40 semi-subterranean structures with archaeological assemblages representative of the Arctic Small Tool, Norton, Thule, and Koniag traditions. This research focuses on a late Norton tradition occupation at 840 +/- 30 BP and presents a refinement of the complex transition between the regional Norton and the Thule traditions. The timing and method of culture change during this...

  • Nunalleq past and present – discovering a Yup’ik archaeological heritage (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charlotta Hillerdal.

    The Yup’ik, the Indigenous people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, have since the 19th century been in the centre of ethnographic research in the Arctic. Yup’ik customs and material culture have been collected and investigated with the pretext of preserving a ‘vanishing’ traditional lifeway. Today Yup’ik culture is vibrant with a strong connection to traditional subsistence strategies and ways of life. However, Yup’ik history is very much the history of the ‘Other’, retold and written from a...

  • Pottery use in Alaskan prehistory: an organic residue analysis approach (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Thomas Farrell. Peter Jordan. Rick Knecht. Oliver Craig.

    Despite major environmental challenges, pottery was manufactured and used by Palaeo- and Neo-Eskimos in Alaska for millennia. To better understand why pottery was used by Alaskan hunter-gatherers, the authors have undertaken a number of site-based organic residue analyses that provide direct biomolecular and isotopic evidence for the contents of past pots. The ubiquitous presence of aquatic biomarkers, along with compound specific isotope data, show that pottery use at the sites was consistently...

  • Prehistory and Climate Change in Southwest Alaska (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rick Knecht.

    Significant elements of the artifact assemblage, architectural features as well as recent DNA analysis of human hair recovered from the Nunalleq site (GDN-248), all support the idea of Thule cultural expansion onto the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of Alaska. Other evidence points to strong links with the Alutiiq (a dialect of Yup’ik) speaking peoples on the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska Peninsula and Prince William Sound. There are clear similarities between late prehistoric Yup’ik and Alutiiq...

  • Soils, plants and animals in the making of hunter-gatherer pottery in coastal Alaska (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ana Jorge. James Conolly. Rick Knecht.

    Explorations of human-environmental interactions in prehistoric Alaska tend to draw on biological, botanical and faunal data. Artefacts have often received much less attention beyond links to subsistence concerns and the gathering of additional paleoenvironmental information (e.g. wood and grass species). Pottery, in particular, has featured in such discussions only in regards to the processing of foodstuffs: both its suitability for particular cooking methods and the substances it may have...

  • Stable isotope analysis of permafrost-preserved human hair and faunal remains from Nunalleq, Alaska: dietary variation, climate change and the pre-contact Arctic food-web (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kate Britton. Ellen McManus. Rick Knecht. Olaf Nehlich. Mike Richards.

    The reconstruction of diet and subsistence strategies is integral to understanding past societies and human-environment interactions. Here we present stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope data from non-mortuary human hair and faunal remains from the site of Nunalleq, Alaska. Spanning the Little Ice Age (c.1350 to 1650 AD), this large, complex and well-preserved site offers a near-unique opportunity to reconstruct the pre-contact Arctic food-web and to explore temporal and site-spatial...

  • What can archaeobotanical remains from exceptionally well preserved contexts tell us about past arctic life-ways? (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Paul Ledger. Veronique Forbes.

    Anthropological studies of western Alaska consistently remark upon the substantial knowledge of the regional flora by local Eskimo groups. Despite the attritional impact of Western lifestyles on traditional ecological knowledge, the indigenous peoples of the region maintain a rich appreciation of the plant resources available in their local environment. Yet, archaeobotanical analyses from the region remain scarce and there rests a general opinion that plants did not play an important role in...