18th Arctic Conference–Part 2 (Day 1).

Here’s part one on the long-delayed wrap-up of the  18th Arctic Conference.  There were a number of quite interesting papers, as is usually the case.  Since most of this stuff is not yet fully published, it seems worthwhile to put a little update up here.  If anything here sounds interesting, contact the authors.

The first day was mostly earlier material, from Northwest Alaska and the Alaska Range around Denali National Park.  Jeff Rasic gave a paper (coauthored with Bill Hedeman, Ian Buvit and Steve Keuhn) about the Raven’s Bluff site.  This site, about 100 miles north of Kotzebue, not only has fluted points and microblades, but it has a unit (Unit 1) with well-preserved old faunal remains! The 2009 and 2010 work has looked at soils, and there is clearly intact stratigraphy there.  There is an upper ASTt (Arctic Small Tool tradition) component with a date of 2150±40BP, separated from the late Pleistocene materials with a fairly thick sterile layer.  There are 10 C14 dates so far, 9800±60 BP and 10720±50, on the lower component.  Very cool!

John Blong gave a paper on the summer’s work surveying in the uplands of the central Alaska Range, specifically the upper Savage River drainage (Denali NP) and the upper Susitna drainage.  They also found some really old animal bones together with flakes (C14 dates around 10000BP), and excavated at Ewe Creek, where they got cultural material dating to 4500 BP.

Katie Krasinski gave a paper she had done with Gary Haynes on taphonomic analysis of Proboscidean remains.  They had been able to work with fresh African elephant bones and Alaskan mammoth remains to look at how impacts by hammerstones, percussion flaking (this sort of bone can be flaked, as can whalebone) and carnivore chewing modify the bone.  This is important, as groupings of non-intact mammoth (and mastodon in some areas) are often found.  If there are lots of stone tools around, it’s fairly easy to figure out that people butchered them, even if they didn’t kill them in the first place, but otherwise, it’s a lot harder.  This research is aimed at getting data to help figure that out when sites like that are found.  They did gather a fair bit of data.  Biggest surprise: a higher percentage of the animal-gnawed bones had spiral fractures than did the human-modified one.

Brian Wygal talked about survey in Denali NPP.  There has been a several year project to try to get a handle on the prehistory of the park, finishing in 2009.  The talk was a preliminary wrap-up of the project.  He noted that they found the most sites the years they surveyed the fewest acres.  This really points out a problem in Alaska, where the place is so huge and so little has been done.  From the survey results, it also appears that the variations in tool kits which people have been wondering about are more related to seasonal movements and conditions, with microblades (and composite tools in general) perhaps being preferable in colder and snowy conditions.

Heather Smith gave paper on the excavations at the Serpentine Hot Springs site on the Seward Peninsula somewhat north of Nome.  Prior work had found fluted point bases, and 2009 work had located a hearth which yielded a C14 date of around 11,200-11,400BP.  Last summer’s work found more hearth features, which contained a lot of burnt bones and other organics.  Dating is underway.

Lunch was in the Dorothy Vernon Room, a rather interesting room in the modern Louis Kahn dormitory Haffner Hall which includes much of the original Dorothy Vernon Room from the old Deanery.  The afternoon was taken up by a visit to the collections at the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania.

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