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Envisioning and Re-envisioning Arctic Archaeology: The Enduring Legacies of J. Louis Giddings (1909-1964)

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

J. Louis Giddings (1909-1964) undertook pioneering archaeological research in the Arctic that integrated natural science perspectives with archaeological investigations—at site-specific, regional, and trans-continental scales; ethnographic and folkloric research; collaborations with indigenous communities at all levels of research; and experimentation with cutting-edge methods. He introduced dendrochronology and dendroclimatology to Arctic archaeology, developed the concept of "beach ridge archaeology"—using the formation of maritime beach ridges to date sequences of archaeological sites upon them; discovered the Denbigh Flint complex—paving the way for understanding ASTt connections from eastern Siberia to Greenland; established the western Arctic's Holocene archaeological sequence through research at Cape Krusenstern and Onion Portage—the first deeply stratified interior archaeological site investigated in Alaska; and brought his findings to scientific and public attention through scientific articles, popular books, and Brown University's Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Since Giddings' death in 1964, his perspectives, students, and collections have guided or influenced northern research. In this symposium, scholars working on sites, collections, ideas, approaches, and problems linked to Giddings' work reassess his legacy and explore what remains to be done with the collections, sites, and concepts on which his research was based as we set new priorities for northern research.


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  • Documents (12)

Documents

  • Arctic Ceramic Traditions and Late Holocene Social Interaction; Revisiting Giddings’ Arctic Woodland Culture (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Shelby Anderson.

    In 1952, J.L. Giddings defined the Arctic Woodland Culture as a unique northwestern Alaskan inland lifeway combining elements of both Eskimo and Athabascan cultures between approximately 800 BP and the contact era. He proposed that Arctic Woodland people were closely tied to both coast and interior through seasonal movements and exchange systems, and hypothesized these ties made a semi-permanent lifeway along the river possible. Subsequent research refined local chronologies and raised new...

  • The Beat Goes On: A Continuation of J. Louis Giddings’ Research Into a Late Western Thule Drum from Cape Krusenstern, Alaska (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Christopher Wolff.

    This paper examines a small drum that Giddings found in 1959 within a Late Western Thule structure on Cape Krusenstern, and places it within a broader historical context of drum production and use among prehistoric and historic groups within the region surrounding the Chukchi Sea and across the North American Arctic. Giddings only published a brief description and interpretation of the drum, despite elsewhere providing vivid depictions of the use of drums among Arctic peoples. The author’s...

  • Exploring the Differences in Radiocarbon Ages of Seals and Caribou: A Case Study from Kotzebue Sound (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Scott Shirar. Joshua D. Reuther. Joan B. Coltrain. Owen K. Mason. Shelby L. Anderson.

    J. Louis Giddings’ pioneering work in chronology building in Northwest Alaska laid the groundwork for this case study, where we explore differences between the radiocarbon ages of seals and caribou from Late Holocene archaeological sites in the Kotzebue Sound region. Samples were recovered from distinct cultural features like house floors and cache pits which date between 130 and 1600 BP, including two samples from a house excavated by Giddings in Kotzebue in 1941. Our comparisons of radiocarbon...

  • Following in Giddings' Footsteps - Tree-ring signal, dendro-provenance, travel time and climate sensitivity of Alaska river driftwood, a key to tree-ring dating of archaeological wood in coastal Alaska (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Claire Alix. Glenn P. Juday. Jess Ryan.

    Giddings’ pioneering dendrochronology research in Alaska and his extensive and impressive sample collections were left mostly untouched since the 1960’s. For the last 10+ years, we have undertaken an effort to re-establish a library of dendrochronologies from live trees along the main driftwood-producing rivers in Alaska to re-initiate archaeological tree-ring research in Arctic coastal regions. We are now examining Giddings’ original samples, most of which were never measured. We believe these...

  • The Giddings’ Legacy of Beach Ridge Archaeology in Alaska: A Proxy Record of Late Holocene Climate (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Owen Mason. James Jordan. Shelby Anderson.

    Beach ridge archaeology developed as a relative-age archaeological survey method in the late 1950s within Kotzebue Sound. Giddings’ breakthrough collaboration with geologists David Hopkins and George Moore focused on Cape Krusenstern, defining 5,000 years of prehistory from the Denbigh complex to Thule tradition, dated mostly by reference to the type site at Onion Portage and 14C ages mostly on Old Whaling and Ipiutak and Thule occupations, but none on Norton or Denbigh. The onset of beach ridge...

  • An Inadvertent Endowment: Giddings’ contribution to resource preservation in northwest Alaska (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Rebekah DeAngelo. Robert Gal.

    James Louis Giddings was not only a pioneer in Arctic archaeology but he also contributed significantly to the protection of areas of archaeological importance, enabling the continued research of subsequent generations. I explore his direct and indirect roles in establishing federal protection for Alaskan archaeological sites and related lands during and after his life. His research and writings contributed to the establishment of four National Historic Landmarks (NHL), one National Monument,...

  • Introducing "Envisioning and Re-envisioning Arctic Archaeology: The Enduring Legacies of J. Louis Giddings (1909-1964)" (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Kevin Smith. Douglas Anderson.

    J. Louis Giddings' (1909-1964) pioneering archaeological research in the Arctic integrated natural science perspectives with archaeological investigations, ethnographic and folkloric research, collaboration with indigenous communities, and experimentation with cutting-edge methods. He introduced dendrochronology and dendroclimatology to Arctic archaeology, developed the concept of "beach ridge archaeology"—using the sequential formation of maritime beach ridges to date relatively archaeological...

  • The J. Louis Giddings Archive at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Anthony Belz.

    As the Haffenreffer Museum approaches the 60th anniversary of J. Louis Giddings' arrival as its first director, a concerted effort has been undertaken—over the past two years—to rehouse, organize, and describe the vast and rich archive that Giddings created during his long career. Giddings was a dedicated and organized record keeper, who left a great amount and variety of material at the Haffenreffer Museum upon his untimely death in late 1964. This collection in its entirely is related to...

  • Lessons for the Modern Day: The Archaeological Legacy of J. Louis Giddings (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Daniel Odess. Julie Esdale. Jeffrey Rasic.

    Louis Giddings began work in northwestern Alaska long before the advent of radiometric dating, at a time when all but the most basic outlines of human history in the region were unknown. Over the course of a relatively brief but remarkably productive career in Arctic Archaeology, he established a basic culture-historical framework for the region that remains largely valid today. He did so by employing the best available sound science – borrowing techniques and principles such as beach-ridge...

  • The lessons of J.L. Giddings' early attempt at geophysical surveying in the western Arctic (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Thomas Urban.

    Archaeologist J. Louis Giddings is known widely for his excavations of major sites in the western arctic from the 1940s until his untimely death in 1964. Giddings was also a notable innovator in archaeological science, integrating new techniques into his research almost immediately after they were developed. Very early on in his career, for example, Giddings made use of dendrochronology, establishing some of the earliest tree-ring chronologies in Alaska. This was immediately after dendro was...

  • Maritime Resource Intensification and Lithic Technological Organization at Iyatayet, Cape Denbigh, Alaska (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Andrew Tremayne.

    One of J.L. Giddings’ most important contributions to Arctic archaeology was the discovery and definition of the archaeological cultures known as the Denbigh Flint complex and Norton tradition from the stratified Iyatayet site. There, Giddings produced a descriptive analysis of each culture's tool forms and speculated on their lifeways. His work, however, was designed primarily to answer typological questions rather than processual or adaptive ones. Over the past seventy years, few studies...

  • Taking the temperature of the Arctic past: Extracting temperature and precipitation information from bacterial lipids deposited in faunal remains from Cape Krusenstern, Alaska (2016)
    Citation DOCUMENT Yongsong Huang. James Dillon. Samantha Lash. Kevin Smith.

    Throughout his career, J. Louis Giddings explored the roles of climate on maritime and terrestrial resources and human ingenuity in adapting technologies and social strategies to exploit those resources under changing conditions. At Cape Krusenstern, Alaska, Giddings’ teams identified sequential occupations based on changing maritime adaptations but had no analytical tools for directly inferring key climatic parameters during periods of the Cape's occupation. Recently, our research group...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America