Pre-contact Adaptations to the Little Ice Age in Southwest Alaska

New evidence from the Nunalleq site

Edouard Masson-MacLean (Corresponding Author), Claire Houmard, Rick Knecht, Isabelle Sidéra, Keith Dobney, Kate Britton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The reconstruction of diet, subsistence strategies and animal-human relationships are integral to understanding past human societies, adaptations and resilience - especially in the circumpolar Arctic. Even in relatively recent periods, climatic excursions may have posed specific challenges for hunter-gatherer groups living at latitudinal and climatic extremes, and archaeological research in Arctic North America is increasingly looking to better understand the impact of past climate change on human groups. Here, through a unique multi-proxy approach (zooarchaeology, bone technology and stable isotope analysis), we explore human subsistence strategies, adaptation and resilience at Nunalleq, a recently excavated pre-contact Yup'ik coastal site in southwest Alaska. The main phase of occupation of the site (16th-17th centuries AD) corresponds with one of the coolest periods of the Little Ice Age – a climatic interval from the early 14th century through the mid-19th associated with global and more localised cooling events. The analyses reveal a subsistence strategy centred around the exploitation of three major resources, including salmon, marine mammals and caribou, supplemented by secondary resources such as birds and medium mammals. This tripartite resource base (salmon, marine mammals, caribou) is similar to that seen at other Thule-era sites in Alaska and likely permitted a flexibility in resource use in the face of changes in resource availability (and competition over resources) during the Little Ice Age. Comparison of the different datasets, however, reveals variability and nuance in the use of animals for both dietary and broader subsistence needs. While caribou represent a vital and heavily-exploited resource at Nunalleq (evident from both the zooarchaeology and the bone technology), they did not represent a key dietary resource (indicated by stable isotope data). Instead, caribou played an integral and key part as a major source of raw material, especially antler, in order to manufacture the necessary acquisition technology to exploit primary coastal resources.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQuaternary International
Early online date3 May 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 May 2019

Fingerprint

Little Ice Age
subsistence
resource
marine mammal
bone
stable isotope
hunter-gatherer
animal
resource availability
resource use
occupation
mammal
diet
bird
cooling
climate change

Keywords

  • Arctic
  • Archaeology
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Technology
  • Isotopes
  • Diet
  • Subsistence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes

Cite this

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title = "Pre-contact Adaptations to the Little Ice Age in Southwest Alaska: New evidence from the Nunalleq site",
abstract = "The reconstruction of diet, subsistence strategies and animal-human relationships are integral to understanding past human societies, adaptations and resilience - especially in the circumpolar Arctic. Even in relatively recent periods, climatic excursions may have posed specific challenges for hunter-gatherer groups living at latitudinal and climatic extremes, and archaeological research in Arctic North America is increasingly looking to better understand the impact of past climate change on human groups. Here, through a unique multi-proxy approach (zooarchaeology, bone technology and stable isotope analysis), we explore human subsistence strategies, adaptation and resilience at Nunalleq, a recently excavated pre-contact Yup'ik coastal site in southwest Alaska. The main phase of occupation of the site (16th-17th centuries AD) corresponds with one of the coolest periods of the Little Ice Age – a climatic interval from the early 14th century through the mid-19th associated with global and more localised cooling events. The analyses reveal a subsistence strategy centred around the exploitation of three major resources, including salmon, marine mammals and caribou, supplemented by secondary resources such as birds and medium mammals. This tripartite resource base (salmon, marine mammals, caribou) is similar to that seen at other Thule-era sites in Alaska and likely permitted a flexibility in resource use in the face of changes in resource availability (and competition over resources) during the Little Ice Age. Comparison of the different datasets, however, reveals variability and nuance in the use of animals for both dietary and broader subsistence needs. While caribou represent a vital and heavily-exploited resource at Nunalleq (evident from both the zooarchaeology and the bone technology), they did not represent a key dietary resource (indicated by stable isotope data). Instead, caribou played an integral and key part as a major source of raw material, especially antler, in order to manufacture the necessary acquisition technology to exploit primary coastal resources.",
keywords = "Arctic, Archaeology, Zooarchaeology, Technology, Isotopes, Diet, Subsistence",
author = "Edouard Masson-MacLean and Claire Houmard and Rick Knecht and Isabelle Sid{\'e}ra and Keith Dobney and Kate Britton",
note = "This work was funded by an AHRC-LabEx award (AH/N504543/1) to KB, RK, KD and IS and an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/K006029/1) grant awarded to RK, KB and Charlotta Hillerdal (Aberdeen). The onsite collection of samples was carried out by staff and students from the University of Aberdeen, volunteer excavators and the residents of Quinhagak. We had logistical and planning support for fieldwork by the Qanirtuuq Incorporated, Quinhagak, Alaska, and the people of Quinhagak, who we also thank for sampling permissions. Special thanks to Warren Jones, John Smith and Qanirtuuq Incorporated (especially Michael Smith and Lynn Church), and to all project team members, in Aberdeen and at other institutions. Thank you to V{\'e}ronique Forbes and Paul Ledger for their valuable comments on the final draft of the paper. Finally, thank you to Peter Jordan (University of Groningen) for inviting us to contribute to this special issue and for his patience. Research Data will be made available on request",
year = "2019",
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doi = "10.1016/j.quaint.2019.05.003",
language = "English",
journal = "Quaternary International",
issn = "1040-6182",
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T1 - Pre-contact Adaptations to the Little Ice Age in Southwest Alaska

T2 - New evidence from the Nunalleq site

AU - Masson-MacLean, Edouard

AU - Houmard, Claire

AU - Knecht, Rick

AU - Sidéra, Isabelle

AU - Dobney, Keith

AU - Britton, Kate

N1 - This work was funded by an AHRC-LabEx award (AH/N504543/1) to KB, RK, KD and IS and an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/K006029/1) grant awarded to RK, KB and Charlotta Hillerdal (Aberdeen). The onsite collection of samples was carried out by staff and students from the University of Aberdeen, volunteer excavators and the residents of Quinhagak. We had logistical and planning support for fieldwork by the Qanirtuuq Incorporated, Quinhagak, Alaska, and the people of Quinhagak, who we also thank for sampling permissions. Special thanks to Warren Jones, John Smith and Qanirtuuq Incorporated (especially Michael Smith and Lynn Church), and to all project team members, in Aberdeen and at other institutions. Thank you to Véronique Forbes and Paul Ledger for their valuable comments on the final draft of the paper. Finally, thank you to Peter Jordan (University of Groningen) for inviting us to contribute to this special issue and for his patience. Research Data will be made available on request

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N2 - The reconstruction of diet, subsistence strategies and animal-human relationships are integral to understanding past human societies, adaptations and resilience - especially in the circumpolar Arctic. Even in relatively recent periods, climatic excursions may have posed specific challenges for hunter-gatherer groups living at latitudinal and climatic extremes, and archaeological research in Arctic North America is increasingly looking to better understand the impact of past climate change on human groups. Here, through a unique multi-proxy approach (zooarchaeology, bone technology and stable isotope analysis), we explore human subsistence strategies, adaptation and resilience at Nunalleq, a recently excavated pre-contact Yup'ik coastal site in southwest Alaska. The main phase of occupation of the site (16th-17th centuries AD) corresponds with one of the coolest periods of the Little Ice Age – a climatic interval from the early 14th century through the mid-19th associated with global and more localised cooling events. The analyses reveal a subsistence strategy centred around the exploitation of three major resources, including salmon, marine mammals and caribou, supplemented by secondary resources such as birds and medium mammals. This tripartite resource base (salmon, marine mammals, caribou) is similar to that seen at other Thule-era sites in Alaska and likely permitted a flexibility in resource use in the face of changes in resource availability (and competition over resources) during the Little Ice Age. Comparison of the different datasets, however, reveals variability and nuance in the use of animals for both dietary and broader subsistence needs. While caribou represent a vital and heavily-exploited resource at Nunalleq (evident from both the zooarchaeology and the bone technology), they did not represent a key dietary resource (indicated by stable isotope data). Instead, caribou played an integral and key part as a major source of raw material, especially antler, in order to manufacture the necessary acquisition technology to exploit primary coastal resources.

AB - The reconstruction of diet, subsistence strategies and animal-human relationships are integral to understanding past human societies, adaptations and resilience - especially in the circumpolar Arctic. Even in relatively recent periods, climatic excursions may have posed specific challenges for hunter-gatherer groups living at latitudinal and climatic extremes, and archaeological research in Arctic North America is increasingly looking to better understand the impact of past climate change on human groups. Here, through a unique multi-proxy approach (zooarchaeology, bone technology and stable isotope analysis), we explore human subsistence strategies, adaptation and resilience at Nunalleq, a recently excavated pre-contact Yup'ik coastal site in southwest Alaska. The main phase of occupation of the site (16th-17th centuries AD) corresponds with one of the coolest periods of the Little Ice Age – a climatic interval from the early 14th century through the mid-19th associated with global and more localised cooling events. The analyses reveal a subsistence strategy centred around the exploitation of three major resources, including salmon, marine mammals and caribou, supplemented by secondary resources such as birds and medium mammals. This tripartite resource base (salmon, marine mammals, caribou) is similar to that seen at other Thule-era sites in Alaska and likely permitted a flexibility in resource use in the face of changes in resource availability (and competition over resources) during the Little Ice Age. Comparison of the different datasets, however, reveals variability and nuance in the use of animals for both dietary and broader subsistence needs. While caribou represent a vital and heavily-exploited resource at Nunalleq (evident from both the zooarchaeology and the bone technology), they did not represent a key dietary resource (indicated by stable isotope data). Instead, caribou played an integral and key part as a major source of raw material, especially antler, in order to manufacture the necessary acquisition technology to exploit primary coastal resources.

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KW - Archaeology

KW - Zooarchaeology

KW - Technology

KW - Isotopes

KW - Diet

KW - Subsistence

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