Stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope analysis of permafrost preserved human hair from rescue excavations (2009, 2010) at the precontact site of Nunalleq, Alaska

Kate Britton, Ellen McManus-Fry, Olaf Nehlich, Mike Richards, Paul M Ledger, Rick Knecht

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Abstract

The reconstruction of diet and subsistence strategies is integral to understanding hunter-gatherer societies in the past, and is particularly of interest in high latitude environments as they can illuminate human-environmental interactions and adaptations. Until recently, very little archaeological research had been undertaken on the Bering Sea coasts of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and relatively little is known about precontact lifeways in this region. Here, we present stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope data from non-mortuary human hair excavated from Nunalleq (c. 1300 CE–1750 CE) – a precontact village site in Western Alaska. Now the focus of a major research project, excavations at Nunalleq began as a rescue excavation, as the site is eroding rapidly into the Bering Sea. Following an initial pilot study on cut strands representing a small number of individuals, a larger body of isotope data has now been generated from the first phase of the investigations of Nunalleq (2009, 2010). These new data, including sulphur isotope values, provide further evidence for the subsistence strategy at the site, including a mixed diet of marine and terrestrial foods (but likely dominated by salmonids). In addition, these new data from Nunalleq highlight some dietary variability amongst the inhabitants of the site. Analyses of additional longer hair strands suggest this variability may not be exclusively due to seasonal variation, and may evidence inter-personal dietary differences. Data from Nunalleq are compared to isotope data from previous studies of Thule-era and earlier Alaskan sites, and to isotope data from Thule sites in Canada and Greenland and the potential of ongoing and future research at the site is discussed, along with the implications for our understanding of Thule subsistence strategies and precontact lifeways on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)950-963
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Volume17
Early online date10 Jun 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

Fingerprint

seasonal variation
Pre-contact
Rescue
Nitrogen
Carbon
Isotope Analysis
Excavation
Sulfur
inhabitant
evidence
reconstruction
research project
village
Isotopes
Canada
food
interaction
society
Thule
Subsistence Strategies

Keywords

  • palaeodiet
  • keratin
  • Alaska
  • hunter-gatherer-fisher
  • marine foragers
  • Thule
  • Precontact Yup'ik

Cite this

Stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope analysis of permafrost preserved human hair from rescue excavations (2009, 2010) at the precontact site of Nunalleq, Alaska. / Britton, Kate; McManus-Fry, Ellen; Nehlich, Olaf; Richards, Mike; Ledger, Paul M; Knecht, Rick.

In: Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Vol. 17, 02.2018, p. 950-963.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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title = "Stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope analysis of permafrost preserved human hair from rescue excavations (2009, 2010) at the precontact site of Nunalleq, Alaska",
abstract = "The reconstruction of diet and subsistence strategies is integral to understanding hunter-gatherer societies in the past, and is particularly of interest in high latitude environments as they can illuminate human-environmental interactions and adaptations. Until recently, very little archaeological research had been undertaken on the Bering Sea coasts of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and relatively little is known about precontact lifeways in this region. Here, we present stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope data from non-mortuary human hair excavated from Nunalleq (c. 1300 CE–1750 CE) – a precontact village site in Western Alaska. Now the focus of a major research project, excavations at Nunalleq began as a rescue excavation, as the site is eroding rapidly into the Bering Sea. Following an initial pilot study on cut strands representing a small number of individuals, a larger body of isotope data has now been generated from the first phase of the investigations of Nunalleq (2009, 2010). These new data, including sulphur isotope values, provide further evidence for the subsistence strategy at the site, including a mixed diet of marine and terrestrial foods (but likely dominated by salmonids). In addition, these new data from Nunalleq highlight some dietary variability amongst the inhabitants of the site. Analyses of additional longer hair strands suggest this variability may not be exclusively due to seasonal variation, and may evidence inter-personal dietary differences. Data from Nunalleq are compared to isotope data from previous studies of Thule-era and earlier Alaskan sites, and to isotope data from Thule sites in Canada and Greenland and the potential of ongoing and future research at the site is discussed, along with the implications for our understanding of Thule subsistence strategies and precontact lifeways on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.",
keywords = "palaeodiet, keratin, Alaska, hunter-gatherer-fisher, marine foragers, Thule, Precontact Yup'ik",
author = "Kate Britton and Ellen McManus-Fry and Olaf Nehlich and Mike Richards and Ledger, {Paul M} and Rick Knecht",
note = "Acknowledgments This work was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/K006029/1) grant awarded to Rick Knecht, Kate Britton and Charlotta Hillerdal (Aberdeen); an AHRC-LabEx award (AH/N504543/1) to KB, RK, Keith Dobney (Liverpool) and Isabelle Sid{\'e}ra (Nanterre); the Carnegie Trust to the Universities of Scotland (travel grant to KB); and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 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 and Qanirtuuq Incorporated (especially Michael Smith and Lynn Church), and to all Nunalleq project team members, in Aberdeen and at other institutions, particularly Charlotta Hillerdal and Edouard Masson-Maclean (Aberdeen) for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript, and also to V{\'e}ronique Forbes, Ana Jorge, Carly Ameen and Ciara Mannion (Aberdeen) for their inputs. Thanks also to Michelle Alexander (York). Finally, thank you to Ian Scharlotta (Alberta) for inviting us to contribute to this special issue, to the Editor, and to three anonymous reviewers, whose suggestions and recommended changes to an earlier version of this manuscript greatly improved the paper.",
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T1 - Stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope analysis of permafrost preserved human hair from rescue excavations (2009, 2010) at the precontact site of Nunalleq, Alaska

AU - Britton, Kate

AU - McManus-Fry, Ellen

AU - Nehlich, Olaf

AU - Richards, Mike

AU - Ledger, Paul M

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N1 - Acknowledgments This work was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/K006029/1) grant awarded to Rick Knecht, Kate Britton and Charlotta Hillerdal (Aberdeen); an AHRC-LabEx award (AH/N504543/1) to KB, RK, Keith Dobney (Liverpool) and Isabelle Sidéra (Nanterre); the Carnegie Trust to the Universities of Scotland (travel grant to KB); and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 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 and Qanirtuuq Incorporated (especially Michael Smith and Lynn Church), and to all Nunalleq project team members, in Aberdeen and at other institutions, particularly Charlotta Hillerdal and Edouard Masson-Maclean (Aberdeen) for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript, and also to Véronique Forbes, Ana Jorge, Carly Ameen and Ciara Mannion (Aberdeen) for their inputs. Thanks also to Michelle Alexander (York). Finally, thank you to Ian Scharlotta (Alberta) for inviting us to contribute to this special issue, to the Editor, and to three anonymous reviewers, whose suggestions and recommended changes to an earlier version of this manuscript greatly improved the paper.

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N2 - The reconstruction of diet and subsistence strategies is integral to understanding hunter-gatherer societies in the past, and is particularly of interest in high latitude environments as they can illuminate human-environmental interactions and adaptations. Until recently, very little archaeological research had been undertaken on the Bering Sea coasts of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and relatively little is known about precontact lifeways in this region. Here, we present stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope data from non-mortuary human hair excavated from Nunalleq (c. 1300 CE–1750 CE) – a precontact village site in Western Alaska. Now the focus of a major research project, excavations at Nunalleq began as a rescue excavation, as the site is eroding rapidly into the Bering Sea. Following an initial pilot study on cut strands representing a small number of individuals, a larger body of isotope data has now been generated from the first phase of the investigations of Nunalleq (2009, 2010). These new data, including sulphur isotope values, provide further evidence for the subsistence strategy at the site, including a mixed diet of marine and terrestrial foods (but likely dominated by salmonids). In addition, these new data from Nunalleq highlight some dietary variability amongst the inhabitants of the site. Analyses of additional longer hair strands suggest this variability may not be exclusively due to seasonal variation, and may evidence inter-personal dietary differences. Data from Nunalleq are compared to isotope data from previous studies of Thule-era and earlier Alaskan sites, and to isotope data from Thule sites in Canada and Greenland and the potential of ongoing and future research at the site is discussed, along with the implications for our understanding of Thule subsistence strategies and precontact lifeways on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

AB - The reconstruction of diet and subsistence strategies is integral to understanding hunter-gatherer societies in the past, and is particularly of interest in high latitude environments as they can illuminate human-environmental interactions and adaptations. Until recently, very little archaeological research had been undertaken on the Bering Sea coasts of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and relatively little is known about precontact lifeways in this region. Here, we present stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope data from non-mortuary human hair excavated from Nunalleq (c. 1300 CE–1750 CE) – a precontact village site in Western Alaska. Now the focus of a major research project, excavations at Nunalleq began as a rescue excavation, as the site is eroding rapidly into the Bering Sea. Following an initial pilot study on cut strands representing a small number of individuals, a larger body of isotope data has now been generated from the first phase of the investigations of Nunalleq (2009, 2010). These new data, including sulphur isotope values, provide further evidence for the subsistence strategy at the site, including a mixed diet of marine and terrestrial foods (but likely dominated by salmonids). In addition, these new data from Nunalleq highlight some dietary variability amongst the inhabitants of the site. Analyses of additional longer hair strands suggest this variability may not be exclusively due to seasonal variation, and may evidence inter-personal dietary differences. Data from Nunalleq are compared to isotope data from previous studies of Thule-era and earlier Alaskan sites, and to isotope data from Thule sites in Canada and Greenland and the potential of ongoing and future research at the site is discussed, along with the implications for our understanding of Thule subsistence strategies and precontact lifeways on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

KW - palaeodiet

KW - keratin

KW - Alaska

KW - hunter-gatherer-fisher

KW - marine foragers

KW - Thule

KW - Precontact Yup'ik

U2 - 10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.04.015

DO - 10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.04.015

M3 - Article

VL - 17

SP - 950

EP - 963

JO - Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

JF - Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

SN - 2352-409X

ER -