Arctic and Subarctic Coasts: Current Research and Modern Challenges

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

The coasts of the Arctic and Subarctic are dynamic ecosystems, posing challenges to the people who have occupied them, live there today, and the archaeologists who conduct research there. Throughout much of the Holocene they were occupied by diverse peoples who had complex relationships with their environment, as do the people who live in these regions today. This session examines current research focusing on those relationships, from processes of colonization and adaptation to the mitigation of modern impacts on heritage resources resulting from a changing global climate. Archaeologists who focus on the Circumpolar North incorporate a wide array of theoretical and methodological approaches; however, all of them realize the broader importance of the study of northern peoples and the ecosystems of which they are a part. The papers presented in this session are a sampling of the innovative and challenging projects that focus on northern coasts. They represent the current state of Arctic and Subarctic archaeological coastal research and examine its future.

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  • Documents (14)

  • Birds of a Feather? Bird Conservation and Archaeology in the Gulf of Alaska (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Catherine West.

    Gulf of Alaska islands provide habitat for substantial populations of both seabirds and migratory waterfowl, which have been under threat from mammal introductions and landscape degradation for more than 200 years. Bird management drives decisions in this island region and focuses on the eradication of invasive species and restoration of island landscapes to their "natural" state. However, given that people and climate have influenced these landscapes for thousands of years, we ask: how do we...

  • Food or Fur: Dog Butchery on Kodiak Island, Alaska (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Melyssa Huston. Christine Mikeska. Catherine F. West.

    Archaeological evidence suggests that domesticated dogs (Canis familiaris) have been in the Kodiak Archipelago of Alaska for at least 7000 years. Despite their lengthy presence, little is known about their relationship with Kodiak’s human inhabitants. Based on both western assumption and the limited ethnohistoric record for this region, it is commonly assumed that people simply kept dogs as pets. However, previous studies of dog remains from the Uyak site on Kodiak Island note the presence of...

  • From caribou to seal: The implications of changes in subsistence focus from Birnirk to Thule at Cape Espenberg (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lauren Norman. Claire Alix. Owen Mason.

    The widespread Birnirk culture is considered the source of the Thule and modern Inuit peoples across the arctic, based largely on legacy data from the 1930s to 1960s. Nonetheless, the archaeology of the Birnirk culture is understudied, with a 1970s archaeofaunal study near Barrow framing the culture as ringed seal specialists who depleted local seal populations and were forced to migrate northward. This proposition is called into question by our excavation of two houses in 2016 at Cape Espenberg...

  • Iita before the fall: Mitigation of a unique stratified site in the high Arctic of Greenland (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Darwent. Genevieve LeMoine. Hans Lange. Christyann Darwent.

    Iita (Etah), which sits on the north shore of Foulke Fjord in northwestern Greenland, in many ways could serve as a poster child for climate-change-driven destruction of coastal sites. Sitting on an alluvial fan at the base of a steep-sloped kame deposit, the site has rich historic and late prehistoric occupations visible on its surface. But more uniquely for the high Arctic, there are also 1000 years of continuous human use locked in stratigraphically sequenced buried soils, starting with the...

  • Late Dorset and Thule Inuit Hunting Technologies and Archaeofaunas: Implications for Societal Differences (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lesley Howse.

    This paper investigates human and animal interaction in two very different hunter-gatherer societies, Late Dorset and Thule Inuit, who once occupied the eastern Arctic. To access cultural differences I focus on how disparate hunting technologies impacted each society's archaeofaunas, and describe what appear to be culturally distinct trends in the faunal remains. In light of these findings, differences between Late Dorset and Thule Inuit hunting strategies, and other societal aspects including...

  • Maritime Archaic Subsistence in Newfoundland, Canada: Insights from δ13C and δ15N of Bulk Bone Collagen and Amino Acids (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alison J T Harris. Ana T. Duggan. Stephanie Marciniak. Hendrik Poinar. Vaughan Grimes.

    Port au Choix-3 (4800-3600 B.P.) is a large Maritime Archaic mortuary site in northwestern Newfoundland. Since the 1940s, archaeological excavations have yielded thousands of artifacts and the skeletal remains of over 100 individuals. This site has been instrumental for defining the Maritime Archaic tradition, and for understanding human-environment interactions during the Archaic occupation of Newfoundland and Labrador. As such, it is currently the focus of a multi-isotope and ancient DNA...

  • Migration and Isolation in the Okhotsk Tradition of Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ben Fitzhugh. Hiroko Ono. Tetsuya Amano. John Krigbaum. George Kamenov.

    Northern people are known for epic migrations such as the Pleistocene colonization of Eurasian Arctic and Movement into North America as well as multiple migration episdoes across the North American Arctic in the late Holocene. In this paper we look at the subarctic Sea of Okhotsk region and patterns of mobility within the Okhotsk tradition from 500-1300 C.E. Using lead (Pb) and strontium (Sr) isotopes, we reveal unexpected differences in lifetime stationary residence vs. relocation of...

  • A Millennium of Fishing: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Faunal Remains from the Shaktoolik Airport Site (NOB-072), Norton Sound, Alaska (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jason Miszaniec.

    Contemporary economic and subsistence fisheries are a significant resource in Norton Sound, Alaska. Artifacts and faunal remains recovered from test excavations at the Shaktoolik Airport site (NOB-072) demonstrate that indigenous peoples have been fishing in the region for at least the last millennium. We aim to trace the regional development of fishing strategies, and how they were influenced by demographic and climactic changes by comparing over ten thousand faunal remains collected in-situ...

  • Nunalleq: Archaeologies of Climate Change and Community in Coastal Western Alaska (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charlotta Hillerdal. Kate Britton. Warren Jones. Rick Knecht.

    Northern sea ice levels are at an historical and millennial low, and nowhere are the effects of recent climate change more pronounced or destructive than in the Western Arctic, with the erosion and subsequent loss of coastal archaeological sites in this area being yet another casualty. Based in the community of Quinhagak, and at the well-preserved precontact Yup’ik site of Nunalleq, our project examines the complex relationship between past cultures and ecosystem change, and the interplay...

  • Rethinking Chronology in Barrow, Alaska: Assessing ∆R Variation and Applying Bayesian Chronological Models (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kerry Sayle. Anthony Krus. Anne Jensen. Derek Hamilton.

    Over 200 radiocarbon dates from archaeological contexts are available from the Point Barrow vicinity, along northern Alaska’s Arctic coast, which has been occupied by hunter-foragers from the Birnirk period (AD 500–900) to the present day. Stable isotope analysis (δ13C and δ15N) of ancient humans from the Point Barrow vicinity indicates their diets were very rich in marine protein, and therefore interpretation of these radiocarbon dates has been hindered by radiocarbon offsets. Radiocarbon ages...

  • Revisiting the Morris Bay Kayak: Analysis and Implications for Inughuit Hunting Practices before the 19th Century (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Walls. Pauline Knudsen. Frederik Larsen.

    The Morris Bay Kayak is a unique assemblage that consists of kayak fragments and associated hunting equipment that was discovered in 1921 by chance in Washington Land, NW Greenland. This paper documents results from a collaborative project with the Greenland National Museum to re-analyze and date the Morris Bay Kayak, and to consider how it fits in the current perspectives on Inughuit archaeology. Working with the traditional kayaking community in Greenland, the project reconstructed the kayak’s...

  • Statistically limiting the error associated with old wood in archaeological dating: A case study from the Kuril Islands (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Hollis Miller. Erin Gamble. Darryl Holman. Ben Fitzhugh.

    This paper introduces a method for probabilistically narrowing carbon 14 date ranges on wood charcoal samples by computing the likelihood of selecting a specific tree-age in a random sample of charcoal. Archaeologists and others often build chronologies on fragments of wood that are of unknown age prior to the death of the tree. Here we examine a way in which these sources of error could be mitigated through statistical analysis of tree growth rings. As a case study we analyze specific tree...

  • Subarctic Coastal Pioneers: Evidence and Implications of a New Maritime Archaic Site in Eastern Newfoundland (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christopher Wolff. Donald H. Holly, Jr..

    The earliest colonization of the island of Newfoundland was by a coastal and marine oriented people belonging to the Maritime Archaic tradition (ca. 8,000-3,200 B.P.). The exact timing and nature of that colonization and subsequent ‘settling in’ process remains largely unknown. Part of the reason for this is the dearth of well-dated, systematically excavated habitation sites on the island during the Archaic period. In the summer of 2016, our excavations at the Stock Cove site on the coast of...

  • "Untangling the timbers": New Perspectives on Birnirk Architecture in Northwestern Alaska (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Claire Alix. Owen Mason. Lauren Norman.

    Birnirk culture is well-known for driftwood structures that were repeatedly re-assembled to form low mounds. The structures were "hopeless tangle[s] of logs" to pioneering 1930s archaeologists whose reports lack details on construction techniques. Birnirk houses diverge from the preceding Old Bering Sea and later Thule single room houses with lengthy entrance tunnels. Our 2016 fieldwork "followed the wood," employing enhanced photography within two exceptionally preserved houses at Cape...