I spent a week volunteering for Crystal Glassburn (above), archaeologist at the Bureau of Land Management, in part of her region just north of the Brooks Range in Alaska. We conducted test excavations at a small site eroding into Mosquito Lake (above) and surveying for prehistoric material around Galbraith and Toolik Lakes.
This region is home to the Nunamiut, a group of northern hunter-gatherers made famous by Lewis Binford's landmark Nunamiut Ethnoarchaeology. Many of the sites we recorded were camps likely occupied by prehistoric Nunamiut caribou hunters.
This is one of the most beautiful and challenging places I have ever worked. On this treeless arctic landscape, the 50+ mph gusts, freezing rain, and snow we experienced were typical for mid-July. Thankfully, all that weather chased away the swarms of mosquitos this region is infamous for. Working here gave me an even deeper appreciation for the Nunamiut, who have subsisted in these arctic mountains year-round for generations.
I received a National Geographic Young Explorers grant to conduct fieldwork at the Delta Creek Site in the Tanana Flats. This deeply stratified, multicomponent site holds clues to what people were eating during the second half of the Holocene, beginning around 6,000 years ago. We found lots of material during our brief field season, including a scatter of hundreds of grey chert flakes in the earliest component.
What does this mean? Likely that a highly mobile hunter-gatherer group of Northern Archaic peoples stopped to make a series of tools from a local material while using this vantage point to look for caribou. From the site, you can see almost 100 miles to the west. Even though we had our heads in our holes, we still caught a glimpse of a caribou running down Delta Creek! We also found bones that appeared to be from a caribou femur, indicating that some successful hunters processed part of their dinner at the site.
Bree is an Alaskan Archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming