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Birnirk Expansion across Alaska during the Medieval Climate Anomaly: Causal or Coincidence?

Author(s): Nancy Bigelow ; Claire Alix ; Owen Mason

Year: 2015

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Around AD 1000, from near Barrow, the Birnirk culture expanded southward across northwest Alaska, with settlements arising at Point Hope, Cape Krusenstern and Cape Espenberg. The motivation and successful adaptations of Birnirk were furthered by the stormy weather associated with upwelling and glacial expansion, correlative with tree ring, beach ridge and varve sequences across northern Alaska. New interdisciplinary data sets, archaeological and paleoecological, from Cape Espenberg elucidate the colonization process and contextualize the climate forcing, The data sets include diatoms, plant macrofossils, as well as a 14C dated, floating tree ring chronology (AD 700-1000) from a multi-room house with harpoon heads and bronze that exhibit long distance affinities to western Chukotka and northern Alaska. The cultural landscape was relatively empty: the Old Bering Sea/Ipiutak oikumene was in eclipse, allowing Birnirk peoples to act on the offensive. Skeletal biology indicates a diverse population employing distinctive mortuary practices within houses. Long-distance maritime capabilities are in evidence from a dated umiaq; the vehicle for colonization and the larger crews that focused on walrus and on bowhead whales, with increasing success. Colonization and immigration theory provide useful indices to interpret the improving radiocarbon chronology of Birnirk.

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Birnirk Expansion across Alaska during the Medieval Climate Anomaly: Causal or Coincidence?. Owen Mason, Claire Alix, Nancy Bigelow. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395762)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -178.41; min lat: 62.104 ; max long: 178.77; max lat: 83.52 ;

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