Note to the Reader: The following project description was written in 1997 as a NSF proposal and reflects our knowledge to that year; for additional information of more recent years, see the Whaling Workshop section. Because only selected portions of this proposal were funded, not all research aspects addressed here were completed.

Select from Sub-headings below::
Project Description
Results from prior NSF support
Whale Biometrics and Taphonomy
Bowhead Morphometrics
Wales Archaeology and Geomorphology
Sociocultural Component
1998-1999 Field Seasons

Geographic Information Systems Synthesis




Whaling has traditionally been one of the primary subsistence activities for coastal Native societies of the Western Arctic, and it remains a primary focus today along the coasts of Alaska (USA) and Chukotka (Russia). Coastal hunters have systematically used baleen whales (bowhead, gray, humpback, minke, sei, and fin, depending upon the locale) for at least the past millennium and probably throughout much of the preceding millennium. Not only did Eskimos subsist on whale products, but they also structured their social, political, and religious organization around whaling crews, large food and material surpluses, and status rankings linked to whaling.

This project addresses the regional integration of biological, ecological, social, and climatic data for better understanding the origins, development, and dynamics of Native whaling and how whaling communities organize themselves to deal with the abundance of whale products, when available, and their scarcity when whale hunting fails. In addition, the project emphasizes the particularity of whaling expressions and comparisons between communities. Most prior studies of Native whaling and its social dimensions have been limited to single communities or limited areas and for relatively short periods. In contrast, the proposed project will address four overarching, interrelated goals: (1) reconstruction of climate fluctuations over the past two millennia with linkages to whale species and their numbers and thus whaling opportunities over time along the Bering Sea-Chukchi Sea-Beaufort Sea coasts; (2) determination of Native whale selection by species and size through the study of archaeological whale bones, recently landed whales from subsistence hunting, and historic/current whale stock characteristics; (3) study of sociocultural variability of whaling and community organization between a number of historical-contemporary communities; and (4) a focused examination of relations between prehistoric Siberian and Alaskan whale-hunting groups at Wales, located at Bering Strait, and their continuity from precontact times to the present. Alaskan field research has taken place in the region between St. Lawrence Island and Barrow, including the communities of Gambell, Wales, Diomede, Point Hope, and Barrow. Existing Chukotkan whaling and whaling community data will be compared with those of Alaska.

This is a continuation of a NSF-funded project begun in 1995 and carried out under the auspices of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC). While regional and comparative in scope, it also takes into account the endangered nature of whales, threatened and damaged archaeological sites, and elderly Native whalers who have the greatest long-term knowledge about historic whaling. Bowhead whales are federally protected due to their limited numbers, coastal archaeological sites that contain whale bones and whale hunting technology are eroding at a rapid rate, and Eskimo Elders often die of old age without having an opportunity to record their firsthand and long-term acquaintance with whaling and its social dimensions. Thus, it is important to document this rich whaling record before its signatures are further lost. Given the scope of Western Arctic whaling, the specific studies described here only address some facets of this topic, but they are designed to give us broad interpretations as well as models of synthetic whaling research that, once developed, may be applied to a number of locales within the Western Arctic.

The Western Arctic is unique in the world in having contemporary Native communities whose economic and social foundations are still heavily focused on subsistence whaling. Ten communities are represented by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, and several Chukotkan communities still engage in whaling as well. The Alaskan communities are thriving, and their residents are expert whalers who keep alive their traditional whaling culture as it blends into the present. We are conducting this research with the direct cooperation of the AEWC and involvement of its member communities. Native knowledge of whaling and the impacts of whaling on community structure are key elements of this study, and we are concerned about producing information that is useful to these communities as well as to a larger scientific audience.


Project Description

Research Objectives

Multidisciplinary research groups are examining biological, social, and environmental dimensions of Native whaling within the coastal Western Arctic (northern Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, and Beaufort Sea; Fig. 1). This project differs from previous studies of Native whaling in its scope and degree of integration of archaeological, cultural anthropological, biological, climatological, and physical geographic approaches and data. All of the participants have experience in cross-disciplinary research and have been engaged in prior research in Alaska. Because of the complexity and degree of specialization involved in cetacean biology, prehistoric archaeology, social anthropology, oral history, climatic reconstructions, and geomorphology, for example, broadly focused research such as that proposed here can only be fruitfully addressed by a team of cooperating, experienced investigators. As outlined here, we define five components through which research is cooperatively conducted.

Specifically, the team will study the development of whaling through prehistory, how whale summer migration routes are linked to changing (and perhaps cyclical) climatic conditions in general and sea ice patterns in particular, the kinds and numbers of whales hunted from precontact to historic times at various locales, what effects human predators might have had on past stocks, what kinds of settlement patterns arose from whale hunting, and how and in what ways whaling subsistence helped create large sedentary villages, material surpluses that could be manipulated for economic/social gain, defended sociopolitical territories, and social positions and roles within these communities. Whereas present whaling communities utilize modern technology, their whaling is rooted in traditional knowledge of reading weather, preparing whaling gear, using umiaks, distributing meat and blubber, and organizing ceremonies associated with whaling.

Native whaling is examined here through four interrelated goals:

* reconstructing multiscalar climatic change for the past 2000 years, the period during
which whale hunting originated and spread in the Western Arctic;

* studying whale species/size selection and taphonomic patterns exhibited at a number
of coastal sites over time;

* documenting sociocultural variability of whaling patterns and social, economic, and political
organization among contemporary whaling communities; and,

* studying prehistoric to modern whaling at Wales village on Seward Peninsula, a
community representative of those engaged in long-term, whale-based subsistence
that is strategically located on Bering Strait.


Siberian Yupik and mainland Alaskan Inupiaq Eskimos and their ancestors, occupying the region from St. Lawrence Island and Bering Strait to the Beaufort Sea coast, have depended upon bowhead, gray, and lesser cetacean species for the past two millennia. Recognition of the importance of large whales in the lifeways of these coastal peoples came with the earliest archaeological investigations in these regions during the 1920s-1930s (see, e.g., Geist and Rainey 1936; Collins 1937 and his other references; Rudenko 1961; Larsen and Rainey 1948; Ford 1959). More recent archaeological investigations of the past half-century also reveal the importance of whales and whale hunting in this region (e.g., Bockstoce 1976; Stanford 1976; Hall and Fullerton 1991; Sheehan 1997). Historic accounts of the Western Arctic pelagic whale fishery (Maguire 1988; Scammon 1985; Bockstoce 1986) and ethnographic accounts of Native whale hunting and the structure of whaling communities provide a rich literature about traditional whaling in this region (Murdoch 1892; Brower n.d., 1942; Spencer 1959; VanStone 1962; D. Foote 1965; Nelson 1969; Lowenstein 1993; Burch 1981; Bodenhorn 1989; Chance 1990; B. Foote 1992; IWC 1982; Turner 1996; see also many community-based socioeconomic studies published by various federal agencies in Alaska). However, what is largely missing in this literature is a diachronic and comparative account of the origins, development, and varieties of precontact and recent whale hunting lifestyles, community structures, and institutions in relation to changing environments.


This project is the first attempt to study Western Arctic Native whaling systematically on a regional basis and in an integrated manner. Much has been done to document the importance of whaling in the Western Arctic (see ethnographic references above and McCartney 1995 for a summary of archaeological data), especially through the AEWC and the North Slope Borough since the 1970s. Most studies have presented whaling as a homogenized practice, and thus the importance of particular and comparative studies is crucial to this current work. Although whaling is only one of a number of important subsistence activities in the Western Arctic, it is particularly crucial to the organization of sociopolitical and cultural life beyond the immediate households. Celebratory feasting, housing, trade, social organization, and political organization and territoriality have historically been influenced by whale hunting and whale products.

Whale and human populations drastically declined in number in the late 19th century, and subsequently Native whaling also declined (Bockstoce 1986), just as authoritative accounts of whaling began to be written. Between 1915-1970, Eskimo whaling was practiced at only a few communities and, in some places, on an infrequent basis. With the revival of subsistence whaling in the 1970s, biological studies of bowheads and other species became important for management purposes (Braham et al. 1980). While some Native knowledge of whale hunting and processing has been documented (e.g., through Elders’ conferences sponsored by the Inupiat, History, Language and Culture Commission and oral histories collected during the 1980s), including discussions of whaling and its importance, by far the greatest amount of available information about whaling and its meanings to Native communities is carried collectively by Elders and is not easily accessible. By drawing together biological, cultural, and physical/climatological data, much of which is rapidly being lost through destruction of archaeological sites and death of informants, the project participants will provide regional overviews of Native whaling, past and present, as well as models for how future data might be collected and interpreted.

Of primary importance to the archaeological program is the planned analysis of archaeological whale bones and non-cetacean faunal remains. The faunal database previously developed by Harritt for this area from sites at Cape Espenberg and the Metlatavik area provides a comparative non-whaling dataset which may be compared with the Wales whaling data. This type of comparative analysis has never been carried out before in the Bering Strait region, and it will contribute significantly to understanding archaeological signatures of whaling versus non-whaling locales.

The proposed work is also relevant to determining when, where, and in what ways northern sedentary villages initially developed and functioned over time, based on stored food surpluses provided by abundant migratory animals. Because baleen whales are the largest animals in the world taken by hunting societies, they pertain to interpretations of megafaunal exploitation worldwide. Many of the same hunting, processing, and storing issues have been faced by big-game hunters throughout the world, including Pleistocene groups dependent upon mammoths, mastodons, and other megafauna. Patterns of taphonomy and use behavior for arctic whales, which can still be studied ethnographically, are, therefore, relevant to modeling megafauna use in other times and places.


Results from Prior NSF Support

A small 1995 SGER project and the larger 1996-1998 projects are the foundations upon which the current project is based. These awards initiated the project and are summarized below. The current project includes more precisely defined components than were previously possible, because they are based on fieldwork results of the past three years. Support from other NSF grants also contributed to the proposed research, and are referred to under component descriptions below.

(1) 1995 NSF SGER OPP-9528073: Origins and Development of Western Arctic Whale Hunting Societies; PIs: Harritt, Bodenhorn, and McCartney

A pre-fieldwork phase of this project began in 1995 with a visit by Harritt, Bodenhorn, McCartney, and Julia Clark (graduate student) to Barrow in order to consult with personnel of the AEWC, North Slope Borough, Ilisagvik College, Department of Wildlife Management, Inupiaq History, Language and Culture Commission, and the Barrow Whaling Women’s Association about specific project goals. They also met with several whaling captains and Elders who are knowledgeable of whaling practices. Information collected during this trip was useful in developing an overall research design, as well as designs for specific components. In addition, the archaeologists visited four archaeological sites in the Barrow area (Nuvuk, Birnirk, Utkiagvik, and Walakpa), assessing their condition and the frequency of exposed whale bones at them.

(2) 1996-1998. In 1996-1998, the project was funded by two NSF awards , primarily for the whale biometric and sociocultural components. While the working groups are still carrying out research, the results of their activities thus far are outlined here.

NSF OPP-9634834: Western Arctic Whale Hunting Societies: Whale Biometrics and Environments; PIs: McCartney, Dixon, and Savelle

Whale Bone Research: Primary goals for this part of the project were to study prehistoric to historic baleen whale bone assemblages and to relate archaeological whale bone information to modern subsistence whaling in terms of hunting, butchering, and using bowhead and similar whales; these are goals that neither archaeologists nor cetacean biologists have heretofore addressed in Alaska. McCartney, Savelle, and two graduate students, Julia Clark and Amanda Crandall, visited nine archaeological sites (Nuvuk, Birnirk, Utkiagvik, Walakpa, Pingasugruk, Nunagiak, Ipiutak, Tigara, and Jabbertown) during July-August, 1996, for the purpose of recording all whale bones and measuring specific bone elements left at them (crania, mandibles, scapulae, and cervical vertebrae). Approximately 2200 bones (almost all of them bowhead bones and only a few gray whale bones) were counted and approximately 1280 of them were measured at seven sites. Details of this field research are provided in the component description below.

This team also had an opportunity to discuss whale hunting patterns and whale biometrics with the staff of the Department of Wildlife Management (NSB), Barrow Area Science Consortium, the North Slope Borough, and local corporations and municipalities.

As part of this research, Savelle and McCartney visited several museum collections during summer, 1997, for the purpose of taking bone measurements on baleen whale skeletons of known live lengths that are comparable to those used for measuring bowheads. Observations and measurements were primarily made at the Los Angeles County Museum, the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, the California Academy of Sciences Museum (San Francisco), and the Long Marine Laboratory (Santa Cruz). Maximum numbers of different animal skeletons measured are as follows: gray-30, minke-14, blue-6, fin-5, and humpback-3. From these measurements, regression models have been created in order that estimations of total animal length may be calculated from archaeological bones of these species. These models will allow us to estimate sizes/ages for a full range of baleen whales that may be encountered at Bering Sea-Bering Strait sites.

Wales Interdisciplinary Research: One of the 1996 objectives was a field evaluation of sites in the vicinity of Wales, at the tip of Seward Peninsula (Fig. 1). This is an extremely important locale because it marks the Alaskan mainland area located closest to the Siberian shore, several important prehistoric sites are situated here, and baleen whales migrating through Bering Strait come close to shore. Although both Jenness (Morrison 1991) and Collins (1937) tested Kurigitavik mound there in the early part of the century, neither published a full account of their excavations or interpretations, and the site has not been tested or dated recently.

There are four archaeological sites at Wales proper: Kurigitavik (TEL-079), Hillside (TEL-025), Beach (TEL-026), and Wales Army Post (TEL-024; Figs. 2 & 3). Inspection and testing of these sites are summarized as follows: (1) A 1"=500 ft color infrared aerial photo made prior to 1984 was used to check field maps made at the sites over the years and to ascertain the arrangement of modern buildings in relation to the sites. The locations of four qargi or ceremonial structures and traditional meat caches were documented on this map. (2) Native digging into the local sites has disturbed parts of them, but undisturbed stratigraphy was found. Jenness’ and Collins’ test pits of the 1920s were found as well. Charcoal and peat samples were collected, and one archaeological sample from the Hillside site has been dated to 1270 +/- 70 (Beta No. 098938). Radiocarbon samples collected in 1996 also indicate the antiquity of the Wales beach ridges. Along the oldest ridge, storm overwash deposits cap a thin layer of detrital plants dated to 1686-1053 cal BC. Based on geoarchaeological cross-correlations and two radiocarbon ages from the 1996 season, Mason proposes that the Kurigitavik site has a maximum age of 800 to 200 cal BC. (3) Large numbers of whale bones are present at the various sites, and they will be recorded and measured during 1998 by the biometrics team. (4) Mason obtained evidence of an episode of gully erosion after AD 1300 and examined the dunes underlying the present village, estimated to date from AD 1200-1700.

Databases related to sea ice patterns, tree ring chronologies, and climate records have also been identified this year, and are ready for transfer to the GIS center at the University of Arkansas (see below).

NSF OPP-9634538: Western Arctic Whale Hunting Societies: Sociocultural Component; PIs: Harritt and Bodenhorn

Three major sociocultural goals were identified under this part of the project: (1) to document current concerns regarding whaling and the environment (key informant interviews; basic field research), (2) to generate a body of locally gathered information on village-specific gendered whaling practices through a research methods course taught in Barrow from January-May, 1997, by Bodenhorn and by fieldwork conducted by Anungazuk and Jolles in the spring, 1997, supplemented by support from OPP-9634390 in 1997-1999, and (3) to examine shifting whaling practices during the first half of the 20th century (archival research and key informant interviews). Results from work already completed are substantial and have contributed to the present focus. These are outlined below.

(1) An interdisciplinary meeting, held in Anchorage among project personnel in August, 1996, generated a formal set of ethnohistorical questions posed by the non-sociocultural members of the research group. These questions were subsequently used in the ethnographic work conducted in Wales, Barrow, and St. Lawrence Island in 1996-1997.

(2) During the 10 day period spent in Wales, Anungazuk, Bodenhorn, Harritt, and Mason worked together. As cultural liaison, Anungazuk moved among the three others and co-interviewed with Bodenhorn. Interviews were conducted with four whaling captains, two crew members, two whaling captains’ wives, and three Elders who had been involved in whaling in the mid-20th century. Elders and active hunters were asked about specific environmental conditions: storms, currents, and general shifts in weather as well as specific weather conditions during specific hunting events. Shifts in species availability, standards for assessing the relative health of an animal population, and specific skills needed for different conditions encountered while whaling were also explored. A focus on the social aspects of whaling included inquiries into the gendered organization of the whale hunt. Information was also sought on general beliefs concerning human-whale relationships, on the distribution of whale meat, and on the interdependence of whaling with other subsistence activities. As Anungazuk has observed, an emphasis on whaling by itself should not lose sight of the fact that whaling is one of a complex of activities which forms the core of Inupiaq life. Mid-20th century qargit (ceremonial men’s houses) activities were also documented, all of which vary significantly from Barrow practices and cosmology (see Larson 1995).

(3) Work in Barrow centered on three types of activity: teaching, fieldwork, and archival research. An ethnographic research methods course was offered through Ilisagvik College and was successfully completed by five students. Martha Aiken, elder and head of the Barrow Whaling Women's Association and Documenting Committee, made a presentation to the class concerning what she felt to be the major responsibilities of a whaling captain's wife, generating lively discussion and a supplemental three-day workshop on the braiding of caribou sinew into thread to be used in sewing umiapiaq (skin boat) covers. The workshop was attended by 26 people, among them professional skin boat sewers, whaling captain's wives, curriculum developers from the school district, college students earning a credit in Inupiaq Studies, and young women hoping to become acquainted with the skill for the first time.

As part of the 1996 Wales fieldwork, a small collection of artifacts was made from the surface at the Hillside site (TEL-025), from looting disturbances, in order to develop an interpretive exhibit for the new Wales High School. A supplement to the 1997 sociocultural component grant (Grant No. OPP-9634538, Amendment 002) was awarded for the development of this exhibit. A trip to Wales by three of the project members was made in January 1998, for the purpose of developing the display. The collection contains both fragmentary and whole items of prehistoric and historic times, and will be used to demonstrate both how archaeologists study sites and how even fragmentary items can provide details for reconstructing the prehistoric human past. Interviews were conducted with Wales Elders in order to help identify the functions of some of the pieces that have not yet been identified.

1998-2001 Components

The following narratives describe the project components of working groups that were planned for 1998-2001. Each section includes relationships to current knowledge, current work, and planned activities by the multidisciplinary team.

Whale Biometrics and Taphonomy

Allen McCartney (University of Arkansas), James Savelle (McGill University),

Howard Braham (University of Washington), Igor Krupnik (Smithsonian Institution)

This component focuses on continuing archaeological site visits to the Bering Strait region (Cape Krusenstern, Wales, Little Diomede, Point Spencer), and St. Lawrence Island. This field survey resulted in a broad sampling of Western Arctic coastal sites that are associated with baleen whale hunting. These include Okvik/Old Bering Sea, Punuk, Birnirk, Thule, and recent periods of the past 2300 years. Old Whaling beaches on Cape Krusenstern were examined in order to inspect formerly identified whale bones associated with this famous site. Harpoon and float whaling began in the Western Arctic (probably in the Siberian Eskimo area) and spread eastward to other parts of the Arctic over the past two millennia. Therefore, this is a critical region for the study of whaling origins. By sampling several Alaskan sites, we are in position to compare bowhead, gray, and other baleen whale hunting over their summer migratory ranges around and through Bering Strait. While Okvik/Old Bering Sea culture sites exhibit some whale bones, archaeologists have never assessed these from the perspective of their being hunted or stranded whale remains. Visits to sites of these cultures on St. Lawrence Island enables us to determine whale-human relationships that existed at Bering Strait 1500-2000 years ago.

This research will focus upon the determination of (1) whale species abundance and selection, (2) size/age selection within individual species, and (3) the taphonomic history of whale bone assemblages of individual sites or site components. Such analyses form a critical part of the overall project, because these factors taken together are reliable indicators of the nature and extent of whaling within individual prehistoric cultures, including whether whale subsistence was based on active hunting or opportunistic scavenging. Until now, these factors have largely been ignored by archaeologists working in the region. Heretofore, interpretations of whaling activities have been based on relatively casual faunal observations. One reason for the disinterest in whale bones is that, unlike other faunal remains, the majority are incorporated as architectural materials within dwellings and other structures, and there has essentially been no way of differentiating between whale hunting and whale collecting societies (cf., Freeman 1979). As a result, archaeologists have variously suggested that whale hunting first originated among Old Whaling, Choris, Birnirk, Punuk, or Western Thule cultures (see Mason and Gerlach 1995). While whale bones have been found associated with all of these cultures, there is obviously considerable disagreement as to when and where whaling originated (that is, when whale remains at archaeological sites no longer represent scavenging of carcasses for meat or raw materials but represent hunting instead). In the present project, identification of the originating culture(s) and "tracking" the selection and use of whales through time is important to any attempt to interpret technological development, local and regional settlement patterns, and social behavior in the context of whaling. We will have an opportunity to connect the prehistoric to early 20th century evidence for whaling at several sites, including the excavations at Wales (see below), with the ethnographic details to be collected in several communities by our team. In this way, we can compare modern knowledge about kinds, habits, sizes, and products of whales, plus behaviors associated with their hunting and processing, with the prehistoric patterns that we find.

Bowhead skeletal measurements made during the 1996 field season were important to expanding our knowledge of whaling patterns beyond the Central Canadian Arctic where they began two decades ago. Estimated original bowhead lengths for North Alaskan whales can be derived from these measurements. Four specific points can be made, based on our preliminary analysis: (1) The great majority of estimated whale lengths are less than 10 m; there are few adults represented (>12-13 m). The Tigara mandible sample is the largest (1037), and 999 (96.3%) of these are from less than 10m whales. A total of 457 (44%) of these are from 7.5-8.5 m animals which are yearling size with perhaps a few older immature animals included (cf., Nerini et al. 1984). (2) The few adults represented (estimated from all measured bones) are found at Tigara, Birnirk, Nunagiak, and Pingasugruk, but in all cases there are relatively few adult sizes in each site, and they seem to represent occasional stranded (non-hunted) whale bones that were brought to the sites for house building. In no case is a natural (catastrophic) mortality profile evidenced that reflects small, medium-sized, and large animals being taken. Therefore, small whales appear to have been selected at all of the sites, which is the pattern previously found for Thule Eskimo sites in the Canadian Arctic (see e.g., McCartney and Savelle 1993). (3) Because Birnirk, Thule, and early historic-mid-20th century periods are represented collectively at these seven sites (from approximately AD 750-1950; see Gerlach and Mason 1992), selection for small whales appears to apply to all these periods and to be related to whale size limitations faced by any group of Eskimo hunters. (4) Whereas sites such as Nuvuk, Tigara, and Utkiagvik were occupied into this century and, therefore, bones found there could reflect hunters’ capability of taking larger (medium/adult) bowheads, in fact few medium to large animals are left on the surface or eroding from these sites. These sites (dating to as early as the 19th century if not earlier) do not reflect the mortality pattern found since the 1970s, with the resurgence of subsistence whaling in Northwest Alaska. In this recent period (1973-present), the majority of animals are small (yearling+) ones, but there are also many medium and large sized adults taken as well (see Nerini et al. 1984; Philo et al. 1993:Fig. 8.1; Braham 1995).


Whale Species Abundance and Selection

Rationale. The individual whale species represented in an archaeological assemblage will be dependent to a great extent on local species availability (known or interpreted). However, determination of absolute and relative abundances within the range of species availability is important in differentiating between whale carcass scavenging and incipient whale hunting (essentially in the ‘trial and error’ stage) on the one hand, and active, specialized whale hunting on the other. From an ecological perspective, these would represent ‘generalists’ and ‘specialists’ subsistence patterns, respectively (see e.g., Winterhalder and Smith 1981, 1992). The former can be expected to result in fewer absolute numbers of whales and a wider range of species, relative to the latter.

Methods. Species identification will be made on the basis of our own field keys for individual elements, which in turn are based on relevant published osteological data (e.g, Eschricht and Reinhardt 1866; True 1904; Omura et al. 1969) and detailed examination of comparative materials made by McCartney and Savelle at various California museums. Last summer, we developed keys for gray, minke, fin, humpback, and blue whales. Relevant keys for bowheads have previously been developed by Edward Mitchell (see below; McCartney 1978). Relative species abundance will be determined on the basis of standard osteological methods for calculating minimum numbers of individuals (see e.g., Grayson 1984).

Whale Size/Age Selection Within Individual Species

Rationale. One of the most robust measures of differentiating whale hunting vs. scavenging is through the use of mortality profiles of whales represented at archaeological sites. Briefly, scavenging typically results in attritional mortality profiles, which tend to by characterized by proportionally greater abundances of very young and very old animals relative to ‘prime’ animals. In contrast, active hunting tends to result in mortality profiles indicating selection for animals of a certain body size or other characteristic (see e.g., Klein 1982; Stiner 1990, 1991). Ethnographically, Bering Strait Native whale hunters concentrated primarily upon yearling bowheads (McCartney 1995) and yearling gray whales (Krupnik 1993). We have previously demonstrated that prehistoric Thule Eskimos in the Canadian Arctic (descended from Thule Eskimos of North Alaska) likewise concentrated upon yearling bowheads (McCartney and Savelle 1993). While there are several reasons for this selection, animal manageability is probably one of the most important. That is, preferred animals are those which can be easily towed to the ice or shore edge and easily processed. Calves, while presumably desirable, would tend to be avoided as they are still with their mothers and, therefore, more dangerous to hunt. Accordingly, we can expect the archaeological mortality profile ‘signatures’ of active hunting vs. pure scavenging to differ significantly. Furthermore, we can anticipate that during the initial (incipient) development of active whaling, while selection would be for smaller animals, there would nevertheless be a much wider size/age range than among fully-developed whaling societies. In these instances, we can expect a mix of hunting and scavenging (O’Connell et al. 1988) and/or perhaps less deliberate selection because of fewer opportunities (Savelle and McCartney 1994).

Methods. Traditional techniques for determining the age at death of mammalian archaeofauna, such as those based on tooth eruption and wear and dental annuli, are not appropriate for bowheads or other baleen whales, since they lack teeth. Accordingly, an osteometric approach that focuses on four elements (crania, mandibles, scapulae, and cervical vertebrae) will be employed. For the bowhead, the osteometric measurement schedule was initially designed in 1975 by Edward Mitchell (cetacean biologist and paleontologist, then with the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada) as part of McCartney’s Canadian whale bone study, and were slightly modified in 1976. This schedule has subsequently served as the standard for all age/size determinations made by us in the Canadian Arctic (see also Gerlach et al. 1993 for an alternative measurement series on bowhead scapulae).

The bone measurements employed in the schedule are those that are (1) indices of animal growth, (2) based on osteological measurement points that nonbiologists can recognize in the field, and (3) suitable for bowhead and other whale bones in an archaeological context. These include 16 cranial, 12 mandibular, five scapular, and five cervical vertebral measurements. A control sample of skeletal elements from 14 North Alaskan bowheads of known size at death, collected by Floyd Durham and housed in the Los Angeles County Museum, was measured by McCartney in 1980. Measurements from this sample were used to generate a series of multiple linear regression models. These models, in turn, are applied to archaeological measurements in order to determine original whale lengths. Similar models were generated during summer, 1997, for gray and minke whales and measurements were also gathered for small-sample species (fin, humpback, blue).

Taphonomic Analysis of Whale Bone Assemblages

Rationale. By taphonomic analysis is meant the interpretation of individual whale bone assemblages within the context of carcass processing and bone transport and use (Lyman 1994). In the context of edible product removal, the manner in which whale carcasses are processed will initially be determined by the state of the carcass. Carcasses that are scavenged will tend to have less edible products (due to putrefaction and disarticulation by natural processes, including nonhuman scavengers). These processes will vary with individual carcasses, and thus meat/bone availability will also vary. Under such circumstances, carcass part (meat and accompanying bone) transport from carcass location will tend to be nonselective (O’Connell et al. 1988).

Carcasses which are the result of fresh kills, on the other hand, can be expected to be processed in a manner consistent with the overall distribution of edible products on a complete animal (Binford 1978; O’Connell et al. 1988; Metcalfe and Jones 1988), that is, according to the food utility value of individual parts. Accordingly, and other factors being equal, whale hunting would be expected to be characterized by bone assemblages in which bones associated with high food values have been selectively transported and are thus over- represented at residential sites. Note that the nutrition-related bone selection and transport are complementary too, but do not override architectural utility factors considered immediately below.

The same reasoning may be applied to the selection and transport of bones for construction purposes. That is, bone assemblages within dwellings and other features that derive from scavenged carcasses can be expected to show a relatively wide range of bone types, since they are being obtained from randomly encountered and often incomplete carcasses. Bone assemblages derived from whales that have been actively killed, on the other hand, can be expected to show a greater degree of selection for those bone elements that are high in architectural utility, since (1) there are more animals to select bones from, and (2) each kill potentially represents a complete skeleton, thereby allowing for consistent selection of high utility parts. While architectural utility would, in most instances, mask or cancel any effects of food utility in the bone transport, in both contexts scavenged bone assemblages would exhibit less selection for specific bone types based on ‘ideal’ food or architectural value.

Methods. A bowhead whale meat utility index has recently been derived by us (Savelle 1997), and is based on estimated associated flesh weight per skeletal portion and modified from an equivalent index for smaller cetaceans (Savelle and Friesen 1996). Based on a recent study of the interspecific application of food utility indices by Friesen et al. (n.d.), this index should be generally applicable to all large baleen whales.

A bowhead whale bone architectural utility index, based on bone length, shape, and weight, has also recently been derived by us (Savelle 1997). Although this index should be generally applicable to other large baleen whales, refinements will be made on the basis of data collected on comparative specimens for other species in California museums last summer. The various utility indices will be applied to individual bone assemblages from the various sites examined.


Whale Species Identification and Population Biology

Rationale. Most whale parts, such as crania, scapulae, and many vertebrae, are relatively easy to identify to species, especially for species that we have studied in detail (bowhead, gray, minke, fin, humpback, blue whales) which are distinct. Other skeletal elements and worn fragments of bowhead, gray, and other species can be difficult to identify. Besides routine field identifications and comparisons, it is possible to carry out more detailed laboratory analyses on some samples. In addition, several important biological questions that relate to the general body of knowledge gained through this project will be investigated, including the potential of dietary composition of the whales, assessments of environmental (prey) changes, and further diagnostic tests that determine which species are present, including their sex and possibly the relatedness of animals of the same species at the same or different sites. Since the bowhead stocks in the eastern Canadian Arctic and the Okhotsk Sea were once all descendants of the western arctic stocks, further analyses of ancient DNA would provide an unusual tool for understanding the relationship between these stocks, how they have been exploited by Native hunters over the past several thousand years, and whether there is evidence for a cessation and resurgent hunting of whales by Natives that has been suggested in the literature (cf., Krupnik 1993). If such a rise and fall in Native whaling has occurred in the Arctic, then there should be some evidence for it in the archaeological sites of Chukotka and Alaska.

Methods. With the cooperation of communities to be visited, small samples of bones or other tissue will be collected and analyzed for species identification and possibly for differences within species (geographic groups), using the distinctive "d-loop" of the mitochondrial control region of DNA (see e.g., Paabo 1989; Baker and Palumbi 1996). This work on ancient cetacean DNA is new, and there are no other published accounts for bowheads and gray whales. Bone fragments will also be analyzed for stable isotope ratios, such as 13C/12C and 15N/14N (Lee-Thorp et al. 1989; Lajtha and Michener 1994) as a means to test whether large-scale changes in the dietary component of the population(s) occurred over a rather narrow geographic range (see Schell et al. 1989 for background). Measurement of naturally occurring stable isotopes is being used routinely as a quantitative tool for studying trophic relationships through assessing the inorganic (hydroxyapatite) and organic (collagenous) material that comes from the diet (Ambrose and Norr 1993). It remains to be shown whether this can be successfully applied to ancient bone, but the prospect opens up a considerable field for assessing past environments under which humans and their prey co-evolved. Blood and other proteins (where identified) may also be sampled to determine which species of fauna (including the whales) were utilized at the archaeological sites (see e.g., Gerlach et al. 1996). We are investigating the possibility of having bone samples analyzed at a new conservation genetics laboratory at Harvard University.

Consultants and Cooperation

Savelle and McCartney will be responsible for continuing the counting and measuring of whale bone elements at archaeological sites and for conducting the taphonomic analyses. Braham, Savelle, and McCartney will cooperate in basic species identification (as outlined above) and radiocarbon dating of samples. Braham, former Director of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, will also participate in the analyses of whale parts and will contribute biological expertise on the ecology of cetaceans and early whaling (see e.g., Braham 1986, 1995; Braham et al. 1980). He will also coordinate specimen identification and biochemical analyses (DNA, stable isotopic ratios, and blood proteins) for species confirmation, relatedness, and potential assessment of dietary composition. He carried out preliminary cranial and skeletal measurements at abandoned sites near Gambell and Kialegak on St. Lawrence Island in 1977 and 1978 (see e.g., Marquette and Braham 1982), and is familiar with the logistics needed and whaling history of the island. All of the co-PIs will participate, in appropriate combinations, in the publication of data collected.


Contributions to the Overall Project

Whale biometrics and taphonomy are related to all other aspects of the project. We will work closely with George on bowhead morphometric information of changing shapes of maturing animals (reflected in bones) and development of new regression models for original whale length of medium and large animals, with Dixon and Mason on climatic implications for site chronology and impact of ice patterns on various whaling locales, with Harritt on the interpretation of whale bones excavated/collected at the archaeological sites located at Wales, and with Anungazuk, Bodenhorn, Larson, and Jolles on Native whaling knowledge and practices represented at a number of contemporary communities. In turn, our data about species represented, numbers, and size/ages of animals will be useful to other project personnel in order to give some comparative background about specifics of traditional whaling that continued until the latter part of the 19th century, when Yankee whaling practices (bomb dart/shoulder guns, block and tackle, etc.) were introduced (see e.g., VanStone 1958; Bockstoce 1986; Braham 1989; Bockstoce and Burns 1993; Stoker and Krupnik 1993).


Bowhead Morphometrics: Age, Growth, and Body Mass

Craig George (Department of Wildlife Management, North Slope Borough)

The bowhead whale has historically been, and continues to be, a substantial subsistence food source for maritime Eskimos (Gerlach et al. 1993). While there is considerable published literature on descriptive aspects of bowhead whale hunting, little has been published on bowhead morphometrics and growth-age relationships (Marquette 1977; Nerini et al. 1984; Schell et al. 1989; George et al. 1988; Gerlach et al. 1993). This dearth of information hinders archaeologists’ attempting to interpret the significance of faunal remains at prehistoric whaling sites. Such information is also needed for management purposes (Givens et al. 1995). A thorough statistical treatment of the morphometrics of bowhead whales over a range of increasing sizes (beyond small ones; see McCartney and Savelle 1993) could provide information about (1) changes in shape of animals with length, (2) models for estimating ages of animals using hard tissue (other than baleen), and (3) estimations on the mass and therefore food value of whales to aboriginal whaling societies. Such data should elucidate issues regarding morphological variants such as the ingutuks and ingutuvuks which are recognized by Inupiat whale hunters (see Braham et al. 1980).

Alaskan Eskimos currently hunt the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort sea stock of bowhead whales under regulation with a harvest quota that was established by the International Whaling Commission (Tillman 1980). Harvest quotas are influenced by estimates of bowhead whale population size and trends which are periodically updated from ongoing census studies (IWC 1989; Zeh et al. 1988; Zeh and Raftery 1989; Zeh et al. 1991). Basic data on the annual harvest are gathered by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC), and more detailed morphometric data and tissue collection are gathered by the Department of Wildlife Management of the North Slope Borough.

Examination of harvested animals provides the opportunity to obtain morphometric and body weight data and various specimen materials. Specimen materials are distributed to a wide range of cooperating scientists, so as to better understand aspects of basic biology (reproduction, anatomy, food habits, aging, etc.) and likely effects should the animal encounter an oil spill (Albert 1988; Haldiman et al. 1985; Lowry and Frost 1984; Schell et al. 1989; George et al. 1988; Tarpley et al. 1987; Suydam et al. 1995).

The DWM has a good working relationship with Native whale hunters in Alaska, and so have permission from the AEWC and Barrow Whaling Captains’ Association to do detailed postmortem studies on the 10-20 or more animals landed each year at Barrow. Thus, additional data can be added to this bowhead tissue/mass data set. Currently, the DWM does all of the Barrow postmortem examinations; in the other whaling villages, length, sex, and harvest date are noted by whaling captains and are relayed to the AEWC and NOAA. Harvest statistics are carefully checked for accuracy and against AEWC records; annual reports of harvest statistics are written by the DWM for the IWC (see e.g., Suydam et al. 1995).

Proportional Mass of Tissues and Body Parts, Age-Length, and Soft Tissue Morphometrics

A detailed description of the bowhead butchering process used at Barrow will be documented. This documentation will include both Eskimo and standard anatomical terms for the tissues removed and disarticulation points. George will also describe the methods used to haul the animals onto the shorefast ice in spring and onto the beach in autumn. We have precise butchering time data for over 30 animals, which can be used to model the butchering effort-whale mass relationship for various sized animals. Number of crews present at the butchering site will be associated with butchering time and efficiency for selected whales where such data are recorded.

Total mass has been estimated for five juvenile bowheads, ranging from 7.5 to 12.8 m. Total mass is also available for two full-term fetuses (George et al. 1992) For each whale, tissues were weighed separately. These include the following: baleen, skin and blubber mass, muscle, liver, kidney, lung, stomach, bone, skull, tongue, and mandible. Thus, the proportions of each tissue type can be calculated. From these data, the proportion of total edible mass and total caloric value can be estimated. Within this data set is information on the allocation of crew shares. Crew share data include the mass of muscle, maktak, heart, kidney, tongue, and intestines for each crew. These data are available for the five whales that were weighed and for portions of other, larger whales. Objectives: (1) to develop a length-mass model for bowheads (separately for males and females) of 7-12.8 m in length and general length-mass models for whales measuring up to 17 m; (2) to develop an age-length model for bowheads; (3) to estimate body proportions and food yields for whales between 7-12.8 m long; and (4) to quantitatively describe the morphometric relationships of soft tissues for bowheads between 7-17 m long.

Estimates of bowhead whale age (racemization technique) and morphometric data are available for a significant number of whales (see methods). These data are unpublished and will be used to develop age-length models and in describing the general morphology of bowheads.


(1) Length-Mass Model. A length-mass model for bowheads will be refined for animals between 7.5-12.8 m long. The department has complete weight for five whales (7.5-12.8 m) and two full-term fetuses (4 m). This is a singular data set, and no other mass data for bowheads exist to our knowledge. Initial work has been completed, using a weighted regression approach (George and Thompson, in prep.). The result will be a predictive model for estimating mass of bowhead whales with an associated variance. Total mass for bowheads greater than 13 m is not available. The approach for predicting mass for larger whales will use inference from available (unpublished) data on total blubber mass as well as the existing model for length and girth.

(2) Age-Length Relationships. A length-age model for bowheads can be determined with the use of the aspartic acid racemization technique (Bada et al. 1980; Bada 1984). Initially, this technique was not considered reliable for aging bowheads (Nerini 1983). However, new information on age and growth for young bowheads using carbon-isotope analysis of baleen suggests that the racemization technique is giving reliable age information for bowheads (Schell et al. 1989). Work is in progress to calculate the variance associated with the age estimates from the racemization technique. Since the early work, the technique has apparently been further refined and is used in human forensics and for a number of mammal species (Bada 1984; Zhao and Bada 1995). Both the baleen aging technique and aspartic acid technique point to the general agreement that sexual maturity occurs at about 20 years of age. There is also a growing body of evidence that bowheads exceed 100 years of age (Nerini 1983; North Slope Borough unpublished data). This assumption is based, in part, on the recovery of five whales with primitive harpoon heads imbedded in them. By matching these points with collections at the Smithsonian Institution (by Dr. Stephen Loring), these points may have been placed by Eskimo whalers 100-130 years ago (Weintraub 1996). Age estimates are available for approximately 50 animals. Length-age relationships for both sexes will be developed. Age estimates can be used to model changes in hard tissues with age. These models could be applied to faunal remains in order to estimate the ages of harvested whales.

(3) Bowhead Soft Tissue Morphometrics. Length, sex, date of harvest, and location information are available for over 350 whales landed by Inupiat Eskimos (Braham et al. 1984; Marquette 1979; George et al. 1988; Suydam et al. 1995). These whales range from 7-17 m in length. A combination of complete and incomplete morphometric measurements are available for approximately 175 whales. Measurements include the following: (a) length, (b) snout to blowhole, (c) baleen length, (d) fluke width, (e) posterior flipper width, (f) anterior flipper width, (g) girth at axilla, (h) girth at peduncle, (i) dorsal and ventral blubber thickness, (j) mandible length, (k) scapula length, and (l) skull length. Additional data include the whales’ sex, date landed, captain, location where struck, coloration, stomach contents, and general comments. As noted above, the DWM is in a position to gather additional detailed morphometric data for 10-20 or more whales each year. Two of the DWM biologists (T. Albert and J.C. George) have lived and worked in Barrow for 20 years. They have developed a close relationship with the whale hunters and have examined over 100 animals.

Contributions to the Overall Project

Development of the above-mentioned quantitative size/shape/mass models is directly related to the research of other project personnel. It will be possible for the first time to quantify soft tissue biomass based on live animal size, which keys into the biometric component work conducted at archaeological sites as well as sociocultural information about the importance of whale products within a community. McCartney and Savelle have heretofore concentrated on small bowheads because they are most common at old village sites. However, the lengths of occasional larger animal cannot be treated with as much accuracy as will be possible from regression models derived from medium and large sized specimens. Butchering patterns are also of uppermost interest to the archaeologists, who are attempting to establish taphonomic patterns at old village sites. Further, data on butchering patterns collected at the communities to be studied by the sociocultural team may be compared between villages and in relation to biological constraints faced by any hunting group when butchering such large animals.


Wales Archaeology

Roger Harritt (ENRI) and Herbert Anungazuk (Native Consultant)

Wales has a long history as one of the major permanent whaling villages of the western coast of Alaska (Braund and Moorehead 1995; Ellanna 1983; Stoker 1984), as is displayed by several archaeological sites in and around the present village. Wales residents stopped and then restarted whaling during the second half of this century. With a current population of slightly under 200, Wales continues to rely heavily on subsistence harvests: bowheads, bearded seal, walrus, beluga, shellfish, fish, ducks, greens, berries, and a limited number of musk ox (interviews, 1996; see also Braund 1980; Anungazuk 1995). Wales was thus deemed as an ideal site for interdisciplinary research, and an initial 10 days of fieldwork was undertaken in August, 1996. Four project members visited Wales in August-September: Harritt, Bodenhorn, Mason, and Anungazuk. Anungazuk was born in Wales, and has an extensive knowledge of that community’s residents. Harritt and Mason concentrated on inspecting and testing the archaeological sites, while Bodenhorn and Anungazuk interviewed local residents about various aspects of whaling in this region. The work was done simultaneously and information was compared on a daily basis.

Current knowledge about the development of whaling in northwestern Alaska may be summarized as follows. Whaling is believed to have evolved within Birnirk culture with influence from Punuk culture, a well-known scenario that was initially advanced by Collins (1937) and later reaffirmed by Ford (1959) and Stanford (1976). Alaskan Birnirk sites are distributed in coastal areas from Norton Sound to Point Barrow (Ford 1959; Gerlach and Mason 1992). Birnirk settlements range in size from two or three single-family houses to as many as the 16 houses at Point Barrow (Anderson 1984; Harritt 1995). In contrast, Siberian Punuk settlements are larger and more densely distributed than Birnirk settlements, and usually have very large middens and whale bones in abundance (Ackerman 1984). The large Siberian Punuk houses are interpreted as communal dwellings that may have accommodated as many as 30-80 inhabitants, and they may reflect an overall increase in population in central and western Bering Strait (Krupnik 1983). In Siberia, elements that appeared in coastal cultures by 300 BC began trends that persisted into historic times, with an important shift to single-family dwellings sometime around AD 1500 (cf., Krupnik 1983). Alaskan Punuk remains encountered at Nunagiak were interpreted by Ford (1959) as those of a house, although outlines of a dwelling were not discovered, nor were probable dimensions recorded. Other Punuk remains found on Alaskan shores are restricted to implements such as particular types of harpoon heads that are usually found in association with Birnirk remains. Sites with some combination of Birnirk and Punuk cultural elements include Kurigitavik, Cape Krusenstern, and Point Hope (Gerlach and Mason 1992; Larsen and Rainey 1948).

Changes that occurred after AD 600 in Alaska did not substantially alter the basic technologies that had been developed by Birnirk people. The appearance of Punuk art and tools at Kurigitavik (Wales) dates to around AD 600, and Punuk whaling harpoon heads appear in the vicinity of Point Barrow at around AD 800, marking the advent of Siberian whaling techniques on Alaskan shores (Stanford 1976).

The archaeology/geomorphology component will focus on three interrelated problems. The first is the cultural historical development and spread of whaling technologies as expressed through analysis of tool and feature categories and stylistic connections between these categories. The second is determining how these technologies influenced the community and settlement patterns of whale hunting societies in the project area over the last 2300 years. Emphasis is placed on the formative Okvik-Old Bering Sea-Punuk-Birnirk-Early Western Thule cultures (c. 300 BC-AD 1200). The focus of archaeological field investigations will be on the Wales locality with comparisons to other coastal archaeological sites. A third focus, described in more detail below, will be on establishing whether or not temporal separation of site use in the Wales locality is related directly to different ages of the formation of the landforms on which the sites are located.

Wales must be considered as a high priority because of past and on-going destruction of archaeological remains at these sites, which have provided some of the bases for initial definitions of prehistoric Alaskan Eskimo culture by Henry Collins and Diamond Jenness. A review of museum collections from Wales that are housed in the Smithsonian Institution and the Canadian Museum of Civilization is needed to combine new collection proveniences and interlocality relationships with much less precise early information from the Wales area. All of the Wales collections contain objects related to whale hunting, including items made of whale bone and baleen and weapons used in the hunt. Other comparisons will focus on elements of technology, such as harpoon head forms and decorations and their distributions across the region. Collections from other whaling village sites with these types of artifacts from the region are also stored in Washington, D.C., New York City, Magadan and Moscow. Studies of these collections will be in conjunction with the proposed field study. New information produced in the other project components will add to a re-evaluation and synthesis of the origins and spread of traditional Eskimo whale hunting in the western North American Arctic.

Analysis of non-cetacean faunal remains from testing and excavation at Wales will focus on identification and relative numbers of non-cetacean species. Comparisons between dated faunal collections related to specific prehistoric cultures will reveal the relative importance of different species that are present, and provide a basis for comparisons between other whaling villages within the region as well. A collaboration with the North Slope Borough (NSB) Department of Wildlife Management has been established that is related to the archaeological fieldwork. This consists of an agreement to collect prehistoric whale tissue (especially blubber) for a comparative analysis of modern cetacean pollution levels and DNA analysis of Bering Strait whale stocks from prehistoric to modern times.

Analysis of the natural and cultural deposits at sites preceding and during their formation and analysis of climatic regimes in operation during periods of beach ridge formation provide insights into the environments in which prehistoric whale hunting was carried out. Geomorphological inquiry will examine specific ways in which environmental changes influenced these deposits. This investigation will shed light on relationships between coastal cultures and their environments prior to the time Punuk influences were felt on Alaskan shores and when Alaskan whaling villages underwent their initial developments.

The archaeological portion of the Wales 1998 fieldwork included the involvement of two field workers recruited in Wales. This participation consisted of paid temporary positions on the field crew. Data collection will occur in cooperation with the research being conducted by Anungazuk and Larson. Laboratory analysis, to be carried out at ENRI facilities in Anchorage, will also include one paid Inupiaq student. The same criteria used in recruiting for the field positions will be used for the laboratory work, with additional preference given to Wales Inupiaq students who are currently enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Present Knowledge

Punuk, Birnirk, and Thule remains were previously documented in the vicinity of Wales by Collins (e.g., 1964) and Jenness (Morrison 1991). This locality is the westernmost of mainland North America, and its relationship to Siberia is reflected not only in geographic proximity but also in some shared cultural elements for these periods that occur on both shores. The Wales area has been of critical importance in early examinations of the prehistoric cultural development of North American Eskimo areas, and remains a key location in any inquiry into the development of whale hunting in the region. Fieldwork conducted in August, 1996, revealed that sites in the Wales locality have been extensively damaged as a result of housing construction, installation of facilities, and vandalism; these processes continue to threaten the archaeological remains in the area. The testing and excavation program proposed for this locality will mitigate the on-going destruction and provide insights into both the relationships between these prehistoric cultures, dating to 300 BC-AD 1200, and the ways in which whale hunting technology was acquired by Alaskan Eskimo ancestors as well.

There are a number of deficiencies in the previously collected data from Wales that prohibit making new interpretations regarding occupations, based on existing collections. Certain types of information, such as faunal and stratigraphic relationships between cultural deposits, were not recorded and precise relationships with radiometric samples were not obtained during the 1920s by Collins or Jenness or by others prior to 1996. The coarseness of the temporal relationships for the relative ages of the Wales collections is not resolved by radiometric dates obtained by Collins (1964), because the assay techniques employed were the solid carbon technique, a method that produced age determinations with extremely large sigmas by modern standards. Recent preparation for publication of a manuscript written by Collins describing his Kurigitavik mound excavations has revealed and exacerbated problems with Kurigitavik artifact origins in the Collins' collection (D. Dumond, pers. comm., 1996). In this regard, specific information was not obtained for precise stratigraphic relationships between artifact types and specific forms such as toggling harpoon head styles related to Punuk and Birnirk types (cf., Yamaura 1979), nor was it considered possible that sites in the locality were occupied at different times by discrete groups bearing these respective cultures.

Kurigitavik mound (TEL-079) is a crucial location for examining Alaskan Punuk remains with the benefit of more precise modern techniques; the 1996 reconnaissance revealed that it has been dug into in recent times, but the Wales village corporation has presently instituted a village-wide ban on artifact mining of this area. Preliminary work in 1996 by Harritt and Mason at the Hillside site (TEL-025), the most heavily damaged one in the Wales locality, revealed that intact, buried archaeological deposits presently still exist. New radiometric dates have also been obtained for one partially damaged area of the site as a result of 1996 efforts. Undisturbed cultural deposits found in the archaeological test were also radiometrically dated to 1270 years in age, indicating the presence of deeper and older cultural deposits. Digging and natural erosion are presently ongoing processes at the Hillside site.

The limited 1996 work also resulted in the establishment of preliminary limiting ages for the landforms upon which the Wales sites are located. In the case of Kurigitavik, a probable maximum age of 3300-3000 years is postulated on the basis of radiometric age determinations and correspondences with dated beach ridges to the northwest. An age of more than 1500 years was established for the Beach site based on a radiometric age for a peat layer in a swale that was in place prior to the formation of the beach ridge. Although the ages of habitation deposits at the Hillside site remain problematic, a probable habitation deposit found in a gully exposure was dated to approximately 870 years in age.


Two widely different landforms provide the setting for prehistory in the Wales region, the sandy beach and dune ridge plain and the slopes of Wales Mountain. Both landforms are extremely sensitive to climatic changes and have already yielded insights to the climates that influenced past human behaviors in the Bering Straits region. The beach ridges are less than 5000 years old, and respond to rates of sea level rise, wind direction, and sediment availability. The history of slope evolution at the Hillside site will be examined in conjunction with archaeological research. Natural gully exposures will be thoroughly described and dated. This database will be coupled with detailed analyses of archaeological stratigraphy in order to assess the role of humans in slope evolution and to address the nature of gully formation. The priorities for assessing the role of climate in the evolution of the Wales Beach site will be met by excavating a series of test trenches 1-2 m deep within the present settlement. Chronometric data will be obtained from buried organic horizons within the trenches and will be coupled with data on bed thickness, orientation and grain size, and associated buried paleosols in order to reconstruct past environmental conditions. The geomorphology of the Kurigitavik mound site will be investigated using a series of ice auger cores to obtain a stratified sequence that will elucidate the history of the ridge formation that underlies the frozen mound itself.

Although radiometric age determinations from samples obtained in 1996 established that the oldest part of the Wales beach ridge complex is more than 3200 years old, additional transects at intervals of 5-15 km will be used to further document the evolution of the entire complex. A portable soil probe and ice auger will be used to extract stratified sand and peat deposits. Special attention will be directed at the lengthy cutbank exposures at an inlet located approximately 15 km north and east of Wales and along Lopp Lagoon. In order to reconstruct a region-wide paleoclimatic and geomorphic context, Mason will describe the geological stratigraphy of sites on the Wales beach ridge complex, the Point Hope spit, Kivalina, and other localities. Detailed stratigraphic observations recorded using standard techniques, measured sections, sediment characteristics, and photographs have been obtained previously by Mason. Mason will collect paleosol samples from the Wales vicinity, and John Dixon will aid in their description and interpretation(Dixon 1991). Radiocarbon assays, with appropriate fractionation and calibration corrections, will be used to establish time referents. The results will establish the conditions responsible for deposits present, substrate formation, and surface abandonment. The interdigitating noncultural stratigraphy will reveal variable climatic and storm conditions by using primary sedimentary structures as diagnota. Periods of site abandonment should be discernable on the basis of soil formation or by the presence of unconformable surfaces. The stratigraphy of the Wales area should also correlate closely with other Chukchi complexes that reveal increased storminess from 3300 to 1700 radiocarbon yrs BP and from 1200 to 1700 14C yrs BP.

Interviews will be conducted with local Native Elders about their understanding of changes in the nature of the interactions between sea levels, sea ice, climate, and coastal geomorphologic processes in each community visited.


Herbert Anungazuk, an Inupiat who was born in Wales, has agreed to participate in the work as a consultant and liaison. Anungazuk is also a whaling captain and is knowledgeable about specific whale hunting practices at Wales. He will therefore be an invaluable participant in the work. He is currently employed by the U.S. National Park Service and resides in Anchorage. Anungazuk accompanied Harritt, Mason, and Bodenhorn to Wales in August, 1996, for the abbreviated geological, archaeological, and sociocultural fieldwork and has assisted in further project planning. His involvement will also include making additional trips to Wales over the course of the project to observe the archaeological work in progress and to accompany Bodenhorn on some of her interviews. Anungazuk will also provide his expertise over the course of collections analysis, especially with regard to artifacts related to whale hunting and the faunal analysis.

Contribution to Overall Project

The following contributions will result from the Wales area research. (1) The Wales geomorphological work will expand current knowledge of both (a) the geologic history of the landforms on which whaling villages are located, and (b) the prevailing climatic conditions at the times they were initially inhabited. Wales data will be directly comparable to existing data from other sites such as Point Hope and the Barrow region sites. (2) The archaeological sampling of three Wales sites will reveal more precise temporal and cultural relationships between the Punuk, Birnirk, and Thule ancestors of modern Inupiaq whale hunters. The stratigraphic and temporal relationships between Punuk and Birnirk deposits will be clearly defined and thus their cultural connections can also be better understood. Possible connections of Alaskan Thule culture with these earlier cultures can then be evaluated, as can the origins of present-day Inupiat from the precontact cultures. (3) Radiometric and stratigraphic dating of excavated whale bones will provide a secure temporal dimension to the whale biometrics determined for this locality. Spatial and temporal relationship between prehistoric technologies and related whale species of specific ages will establish new insights into whale size selection patterns in the Bering Strait region. Finally, (4) archaeological evidence of whale hunting at Wales will provide both a temporal and cultural context for modern-day whale hunting. The non-cetacean and cetacean faunal analyses will enhance the archaeological reconstruction of subsistence used at Wales sites. Whale availability, hunting success, and alternative hunted animals can be compared with zooarchaeological date from other whaling sites such as Walakpa and Point Hope.

The Wales archaeology project has received funds dedicated specifically for archaeology and beginning in 1999, was separated from the 1998 multidiciplinary project. The Wales project will continue at least until 2003.


Sociocultural Component

Herbert Anungazuk (Native Consultant), Barbara Bodenhorn (University of Cambridge), Carol Jolles (Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis), Mary Ann Larson (University of Nevada Reno)
[Note: This portion of the research is conducted with funds secured by ENRI-UAA.
ENRI is also responsible for managing the work.]

This second phase of the proposed research will follow up on the goals and findings of the initial (1996-1997) year. These are to examine historical and contemporary factors associated with shifts in whaling strategies: changes in the division of labor, gendered and otherwise; factors affecting the choice of when, where, and how to pursue the whale hunt (fall/spring, specific conditions, for example) and how the hunt is conducted; and other social and cultural consequences such as changes in distribution and celebratory practices. Whereas the emphasis during the first year was on structured key informant interviews, more time will be spent in the second and third years conducting archival research to explore site and historically specific shifting whaling practices in the early part of the century and the environmental conditions in which they occurred. All of the above intersect with and will enrich the analysis of data gathered by other members of the research group. An underlying interest, specific to both the archaeological and the cultural anthropological teams, is the development of very particular community practices in conjunction with intense interaction across community boundaries. This, we believe, is a new focus in arctic research and will provide a substantial contribution to the field.

Justification of Sites

As the archaeological record suggests, the coastline of northern and northwestern Alaska has been heavily utilized for marine mammal harvesting. Barrow, Point Hope, and Wales all have long histories as major permanent communities centrally organized around Inupiaq whaling. With Little Diomede and St. Lawrence Island, these communities have been linked through trade, warfare, and intermarriage, although in different ways at different times. Similarly, of course, all communities experienced enormous upheaval during the course of the recent historical period (since 1860), which played out under the influence of the particular conditions facing each community. Today, these villages continue to follow linked but separable paths in terms of the ways in which whaling is conducted locally and the role it continues to play socially. Thus, these villages offer an enormous range of data for all of the disciplines involved in the project. Barrow and Wales are organized to pursue whales in more than one season. In Barrow, for instance, although the spring hunt is more important ritually, fall whales have often provided a greater amount of meat to the community, both before and after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) imposed a quota on the harvest. Wales and Little Diomede have both successfully reinstated whaling after a hiatus (especially timely given current arguments before the IWC concerning the introduction of new members). Point Hope is in a pivotal position between northern and northwestern whaling communities, and continues to be perceived as the `most traditional` of Alaskan whaling villages. The research personnel have on-going relationships in virtually all of these communities. It would naturally be ideal to include ALL of the member villages. Kaktovik and Nuiqsut, as purely fall whaling villages, have distinct historical backgrounds influencing the ways in which whaling is conducted today. Kivalina also has its own history as well as its own present whaling practices. However, time and cost constraints preclude the study of these villages.

Present Knowledge

Information gathered in Barrow and Wales in 1996-1997 reveals significant but markedly different mixtures of customary and shifting practices, highlighting the danger of labeling entire communities as "traditional" or "modern." Like Wales, Barrow has a long history of permanent settlement (Utquiagvik, Pignik, and Nuvuk) and of continuing dependence on subsistence harvests for social as well as physical nourishment (Murdoch 1892; Simpson 1875; Brower n.d.; Worl 1980; Worl and Smythe 1986; Bodenhorn 1989, 1994). Different ecological and sociopolitical conditions, however, have also led to significant differences between the two communities in terms of resource availability and in customary practices. Although famine and disease cut the population in Barrow as well as in Wales in the early part of this century, the influenza epidemics were not as devastating, nor have accounts of these events remained as marked in local historical narratives. Barrow became a magnet community by the late 19th century, and remained so for some time. Its population remained high enough to sustain whaling throughout this century, albeit at reduced levels in the middle decades (Marquette and Bockstoce 1980). The community attracted more than Inupiat, however. The non-Inupiaq population has fluctuated since the late 19th century, increasing dramatically at the height of the commercial whaling era and then again in the post-oil years of the last three decades (see e.g., Worl and Smythe 1986).

Wales continues to be a predominantly Inupiaq community, and participation in subsistence activities is high among women as well as men. Greens, berries, and shellfish, for example, form a substantial and valued part of the regular Wales diet. More and younger women gather these resources in Wales than in Barrow. English, however, is the primary language of most people and Inupiaq is spoken much less frequently than in Barrow. Inupiaq dancing was virtually eradicated in Wales during the 1950s, and dancers are currently invited from Little Diomede to help with whaling celebrations. People in their 40s and 50s talked of ‘catching’ the last qargi, but a sense that whaling captain husband-and-wife teams have social and political responsibility throughout the year was virtually absent in our interviews (this is a common sentiment expressed in Barrow; see Neakok, in Bodenhorn 1988; Pulo 1980 for Point Hope; Inupiat History, Language and Culture Commission 1991 Elders’ Conference, archives). This is a complicated issue to be addressed as results are analyzed further

In Barrow, several recent developments signal perhaps significant changes in whaling practices in the fall and the spring, and in the relationship between them. Although the imposition of whaling quotas by the IWC in 1978 greatly cut back fall whaling in Barrow for several years, Craig George noted that 1993 was the first post-quota year in which Barrow's fall harvest exceeded the spring. Several technological shifts have occurred in the process of beaching and butchering fall whales, none of which is used during the spring. In fact, during the last four fall whaling seasons (when Bodenhorn was fortunate to be in Barrow), many practices have never been precisely the same, including strategies for preserving meat and preventing polar bears from molesting the catch. In contrast, the spring hunt remains more marked in ritual terms and practices are more regularly institutionalized. However, the spring of 1997 was marked by an ice calving event when 142 people were caught on the ice. They were rescued by helicopter in close to zero visibility conditions, largely due to personal locator beacons. This generated a number of questions centered around the issue of knowledge and decision-making based on calculation of risk with particular reference to ice conditions and assumptions about the technology currently available to hunters. Thus, the interrelationship of changing technologies (mental and material) and shifting practices will continue to be a focus in the consideration of fall and spring whaling.

The social organization of whaling differs significantly across the member villages of the AEWC. Yet, as archival sources and current oral historical memories suggest, this particularity has developed and continues despite considerable mobility of ideas and people across community boundaries, both historically and in the present, through trade, marriage, warfare, and in response to cataclysmic events such as epidemics and famine. The fact that practices vary considerably across the Arctic has certainly been noted (see e.g., Burch 1980, 1994; Fitzhugh and Crowell 1988; Grayburn 1973; Kjellstrom 1973). But although many individual ethnographic village studies have been conducted (e.g., Brosted 1975; Hughes 1953, 1960; Jolles 1991; Libbey 1983; Luton 1986; Nelson 1981; Rainey 1947; Lowenstein 1981), less attention has been given to intraregional variation (although see Alaska Consultants 1984; Bodenhorn 1989; Braund and Moorehead 1995; Jolles 1991, 1995; Burch 1994) and still less to a consideration of a strong sense of community practice, despite intense movements of individuals across community boundaries.

Similarly, although ‘gender’ has been addressed with reference to the North (Ager 1980; Bodenhorn 1990, 1993; Briggs 1974; Burch 1975; Chance 1988; Chaussonnet 1988; Fienup-Riordan 1986, 1990; Friedl 1974; Giffen 1930; Guemple 1986; Guerin 1982; Hensel 1996; Jolles 1991; Kleinfeld 1981; Leacock 1982; Saladin D’Anglure 1977, 1978, 1980, 1986; Sharp 1994; Worl and Smythe 1986), to our knowledge no comparative studies have specifically looked at the issue of intraregional variations in the gender order. Since so many models of gender among hunting and gathering societies are determinist both in terms of biology and ecology (Cashdan 1986; Friedl 1974; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974, but cf Bodenhorn 1997), such comparative work will provide a significant contribution to larger, on-going debates in anthropological gender theory. This research will also contribute information that will address other broader anthropological issues, such as the interface between environmental factors and social organization, the impact of inter- and intracultural contact, and the role of development in culture change.

Most relevant to this project, local explanations for why things are done in a certain way suggest a strong, if not necessarily determined, environmental influence on variations in practice. In consultation across the disciplines involved, the general focus on the sociocultural component is to examine these very specific community practices within the context of intercommunity interactions. As a continuing project, the sociocultural component builds on information gathered during the first research season (1996-1997). It incorporates the specific skills, experiences, and interests of individual researchers: Anungazuk in Wales, St. Lawrence Island, and Diomedes; Bodenhorn in Barrow and Wales; Jolles in St. Lawrence Island and Diomedes; and Larson in Barrow, Point Hope, and Wales. As ethnohistorians, Anungazuk, Jolles, and Larson provide direct links with the archaeological components. As ethnographers and cultural anthropologists, Jolles and Bodenhorn focus primarily on contemporary practices, but with attention paid to the recent historical period. The intent is to combine the collection of in-depth information with strong comparative material which will serve to complement usefully the broad survey research currently being conducted in the region (see the ongoing work of Schweitzer, Golovko, and Anungazuk for the Bering Strait region and Braund and Associates for the North Slope).

An example of this cooperative approach and its focus on both historical and recent practices would be the courses taught by Bodenhorn in Barrow in the spring of 1997. Outcomes from these two classes include: an audio-tape of Martha Aiken's presentation (transcribed), an unedited video of the workshop, and student-generated booklets, accounts, Inupiaq/English glossaries, annotated bibliographies, and photographs. This information, currently archived in Barrow at the Tuzzy Library, the Inupiat, History, Language and Culture Commission, and the Barrow Whaling Women's Association, constitutes a substantive contribution to both local and academic knowledge. In addition, two of the students' accounts were published in the North Slope Borough Newsletter over the course of the summer. Further workshops are planned for the coming year.

Research Activities During the 1998-1999 Field Seasons

(1) All researchers will conduct structured key informant interviews as well as occasional group discussions in order to build a significant body of ethnographic data that is useful to the project as a whole. The data will be used in conjunction with the Wales archaeological field school that will be conducted by Harritt and during McCartney and Savelle’s site visits to the Bering Strait region, including St. Lawrence and Little Diomede. Larson will be in Wales for much of the field school, and will also be traveling to Point Hope and Barrow. She will build on the information gathered on qargit activities during the 1996 and 1997 seasons to continue her comparative research on the organization and social processes acted out through qargit membership, with particular reference to variations and changes in the role of whaling captains and crews and the community at large.

(2) Jolles and Anungazuk conducted follow-up visits in Little Diomede in order to build a substantial body of data. Heretofore, almost no work has been conducted on Little Diomede. With the exception of recent family history data collected by Schweitzer, Goloba and Anungazuk, the community on Diomede stands to lose its history of whaling if work with Elders is not carried out in the very near future. Elders and others in the community expressed avid interest in contributing to the history-building process.

In 1997, initial work in Little Diomede showed a community with at least five qargit. Some are no longer visible, but the stone, dirt, whale bone, and driftwood structures of several are located within the village center. Men continue to whale, although unsuccessfully, and whaling remains a powerful social and cultural component of the contemporary community. Recording the history and customary practices associated with whaling in this community could not occur at a more timely moment.

The extent of interaction with other communities, particularly Wales, Teller, possibly King Island, and Nome, should prove extremely interesting and will dovetail with Larson's work, as initial research by Jolles and Anungazuk on St. Lawrence and Little Diomede also indicates variation in qargit use between Inupiat and Yup'ik communities in Bering Strait. Little Diomede Elders now living in Nome, Fairbanks and possibly

Teller will also be sought out to gather general information about subsistence practices and about historical and contemporary interactions with others communities.

(3) As stated above, one of the most important aspects of this next stage of research is to concentrate on particular historical shifts in whaling practices and their social implications. Detailed information for the historical period is clearly more accessible than that for earlier eras. For this project, specific periods are proposed which show significant potential for contributing to the overarching research problematic. Bodenhorn and Jolles will use key informant interviews and archival materials to ask how whaling practices of the early 20th century structured social lives and/or in what ways they were being modified by shifts in surrounding conditions. Larson’s archival work on Point Hope, Wales, and Barrow is largely completed, although she will continue to provide expertise on archival records for other members of the research team and will utilize the completed research to inform her interviews.

With reference to the changing social organization of whaling on the North Slope, the era between the two World Wars has been relatively ignored. The three decades between 1914 and 1945 brought enormous changes to the region. The time span divides into two periods: 1914-1929 and 1930-1945, each presenting different problems. The former is generally characterized as a trapping era because, in the aftermath of commercial whaling, Inupiat had turned to this activity in order to supply their commodity needs (see e.g., Bockstoce 1988; Burch 1975, 1994). The whale harvest, however, increased during this time (Marquette and Bockstoce 1980), suggesting a continuing social importance of whaling even though it had ceased to be of commercial value. The second period, however, saw a significant drop in the number of whales caught. Little discussion exists regarding the social implications of these shifts. Current research continues to provide important information about ways in which customary Inupiaq and introduced Euroamerican institutions were interacting in the early 20th century (Lowenstein on missionary activities at Point Hope, Larson on shifts in the qargi, and Schweitzer on movements across Bering Strait to name but three). The present research will contribute to this field of inquiry while providing specific information related to the interdisciplinary project’s overall research goals.

In response to the potentially changing emphases on fall and spring whaling in Barrow today, Bodenhorn will focus her historical research on shifts in whaling harvest levels, but more specifically on the question of fall whaling, whether or not its organization has customarily been different from the spring hunt, whether the relationship between the two seems to be constant or shifting, and under what sorts of conditions one or the other seems to decrease. Elders who were active in subsistence before 1950 will be approached for information about this during the current project. Archival research included reviewing transcripts from the 1991 Elders' Conference on whaling, held at IHLC, and reviewing GIS ice tape interviews, stored at the Rasmuson Library in Fairbanks. During the 1998 research season, three weeks of archival research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are proposed. Potentially useful archives include the Episcopal records, the Presbyterian mission records, the Van Valen collection, the Rainey collection, and the Clarence Andrews journal.

Between 1934 and 1945, St. Lawrence Island was witness to substantial cultural change, including an island-wide Christian baptism and the enrollment of most men into the Alaska territorial guard. These two circumstances affected traditional whaling practices and other subsistence patterns on the island. Thus, World War II itself becomes a marker for social change among islanders, affecting not only traditional whaling activities, but also much of the conduct of daily life. The extent of these changes, as they pertain to whaling, will be an important focus. Anungazuk and Jolles together will also bolster archival research through interviews with Elders who are actively engaged in subsistence work during and prior to World War II. To augment earlier documentary research, Jolles will examine the recently catalogued Henry Bascom Collins Collection and other related St. Lawrence Island collections at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History and National Anthropological Archives. With the assistance of Mary Larson and local St. Lawrence Island researchers, she will review oral history collections about St. Lawrence Island, the Otto Geist Collection, and the Dorothea Leighton M.D. Collection at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

To summarize, activities during the next two field seasons will include: (1) further fieldwork in Little

Diomede to follow up on the first season’s work; (2) initial interview work in Point Hope; (3) continuing interviews in all participating communities to follow up on archival information; (4) provision of assistance to the non-sociocultural project members with regard to information/archival data; (5) the holding if two workshops (one in Nome and one in Barrow) in order to allow people involved in the documentation efforts up until that point to assess the information gathered and the resulting applications.


Geographic Information Systems Synthesis of Environmental Change

John Dixon (University of Arkansas), Owen Mason (University of Alaska Fairbanks),

This component examined the nature of the physical environment over time spans commensurate with those of the history of human whaling activity which covers approximately the last 2300 years. The goal of the environmental component of this project is to synthesize available historic and paleoenvironmental information in the context of a Geographic Information System (GIS) in order to examine changes in the physical environment that may account for, at least in part, variability in whaling activities over time spans ranging from seasons to millennia.

An important part of this research is the reconstruction of marine/coastal environments that have prevailed for past whale hunters. This reconstruction assists in understanding changes in whale distributions, whale hunting patterns, utilization of whale products, and indirect stress on communities through other whale-related animal fluctuations and climate instability. Centennial and decadal scale proxies have been used to understand climate, sea ice, sea levels, and coastal geomorphology before and during the past two millennia, the period of focus for whale hunting development (e.g., Dyke 1980; Dyke and Morris 1990; Dyke et al. 1996a, b; Mason 1992; Mason and Ludwig 1990; Mason et al. 1996).

Of particular interest to this study are measures of both direct and indirect influences on access of humans to whales. Central to this study are the parameters of sea ice concentration, sea ice extent, patterns of arctic pack ice drift and sea level change all of which have a profound influence on patterns of whale movement as well as patterns of whale hunting as dictated by ease of access to whales, both from land as well as sea. Of indirect relevance to the patterns of whale procurement in the Western Arctic over the past two millennia are patterns of climate changes, particularly those that have affected such parameters as sea ice concentration, extent, and drift.

While some of these issues have been addressed previously, to our knowledge there has been no systematic effort to understand how whaling societies have adjusted to the effects of environmental change on whale distributions. This study will assemble available environmental databases and improve existing sea level curves in order to understand how environmental parameters have fluctuated through time for which human and whale distribution data are available.


For the historic period, data are available for importation into a GIS platform from the National Snow and Ice Data Center and include Arctic Ocean Sea Ice Concentrations 1901-1990 and Sea Ice Extent Arctic Ocean 1973-1990. Arctic Ocean pack ice drift tracks are available for 1893-1973. All of these data sets were readily available and transferable by ftp from the National Data Center. Analysis of these data sets permits an annual and seasonal analysis of sea ice conditions and provides insights into annual and recurring conditions of whale-favorable and unfavorable times as recorded in the oral histories as recorded in the cultural anthropological component of this project. The sea ice data were entered into a GIS and annual maps produced of sea ice extent and concentration for the period of time covered by the data sets.

Long-term sea level histories are being built from both beach ridge geomorphology (Mason 1993; Mason and Jordan 1993, 1994; Mason et al. 1995; Mason et al. 1996, 1997) as well as from associated whale bone distributions (McCartney and Savelle 1993). This record will be extended both spatially and temporally as a result of this study. Sea level and geoarchaeological research will be conducted at localities along the coast of St. Lawrence Island, including but not limited to the Gambell beach ridge plain, the Kukulik and Ivgap mounds, the subtidal site of Tapham Kenlenga, and Okvik and Punuk type sites. The geoarchaeological research will involve stratigraphic analysis at eroding sites in order to place site abandonment and reuse into the context of environmental and sea level changes. Examination at the Gambell Hillside locality will provide a comparative and possible correlative record with the Wales site.

Changes in sea ice extent and concentration are direct reflections of annual and seasonal temperature patterns. Patterns of temperature change can be reconstructed from historical records. In addition, historic climate records extending back as far as the 1920s (Zhang et al. 1996) are available from the National Climate Center for several stations in Alaska. These include coastal stations and will be used to develop a database for comparison of human activity and whale behavior in the historic period. This climate record can be extended back some 300 years using dendroclimatological data available for Alaska as a whole (e.g., Blasing and Fritts 1975; Jacoby and D’Arrigo 1989, 1991, 1992, 1995; Jacoby et al. 1996 ) and for coastal Alaska in particular (Wiles et al. 1996). These databases have been obtained from the World Geophysical Data Center. In addition to providing an annual and seasonal climate record for the region, tree rings have also been shown to provide a useful guide to sea surface temperatures as well as to coastal land temperatures (Wiles et al. 1996). The former become critical in predicting fast ice extent and persistence, and these data are crucial in extending back the potential sea ice distribution patterns as extracted from sea surface temperatures.

It is stressed that this is a synthetic study that attempts to pull together available pre-existing environmental data bases and to assemble them in a GIS-compatible format for the purpose of combining a diversity of environmental information into a more comprehensive understanding of human adaptations to environmental change.

We also view this study as a preliminary one that will establish the viability of more detailed and encompassing studies of paleoenvironmental proxy indicators of climate change. Such indicators might include invertebrate studies such as those of Dyke et al. (1996) as well as sedimentological records from ocean cores. These data sets would be entered into a GIS and paleo-oceanographic patterns mapped.

Methods for Creating a Geographic Information System (GIS) Database

A comprehensive database of physical environment and cultural data for the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas will be created at the University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST), in order to correlate these data on a regional scale. CAST is a national center dedicated to applications of GIS, remote sensing, digital photogrammetry, and interoperability. This facility has over $7 mil worth of dedicated Intergraph, Inc. and other equipment, maintains several historic preservation resource databases, and has a trained staff that is familiar with regional manipulation of cultural and natural/biological data on a variety of GIS platforms and associated software options.

Substantial prior effort has been applied by researchers and research centers to obtain and organize data such as sea ice cover, climate, archaeological site locations, AVHRR-derived products, SAR products, and sea level. These data have largely resided in differing locations, computer formats, map scales, and projections. We have obtained a wide suite of existing digital data sets, and have georeferenced those that do not already have geocoordinates, and projecting (or reprojecting) these data to a consistent map projection.

The center has a wide suite of geoprocessing software (e.g., Arc/Info, Intergraph MGE, MapInfo, GRASS, InfoCAD, PCI, ERDAS, etc.), and has been able to transform any of the various data formats into a standard. Development of both vector and raster data sets in polar regions can present interesting projection challenges if the data were not originally focused on the polar regions (vector data are those collected as points, lines, and areas bounded by lines, whereas raster data are collected as cells or pixels; data can be converted from one for to another). Use of appropriate projection algorithms can address most vector data, while raster data can be more complicated. In any event, with the software systems available, it is unlikely that there is any data set extant that cannot be properly converted.

The data obtained for this project will be available to other researchers. Data will be placed on one of the center’s servers and will be accessible via a website currently under construction. The center already maintains a number of national and regional spatial and database/data sets on-line (, including the National Archaeological Database, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Database, national archaeological and paleo-climatic GIS data, and extensive regional and state spatial data.

Work Products

At its completion, this project will compile, in a GIS-compatible form, historical databases related to sea ice extent and concentration, tree-ring chronologies, and historical climate data for the region. In addition, it will produce a series of GIS-derived maps showing the location of both contemporary and prehistoric, whale-based villages and kill sites. The GIS analysis will be carried out in conjunction with the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies at the University of Arkansas. Accompanying maps of sea ice extent and concentration will also be produced for critical years as indicated by oral histories, whale biometrics on dated beach ridge sequences, and the climate record. Further, a series of maps showing progressive evolution of the coastline, based on data derived from beach ridge geomorphology, will be produced to show the evolution of human settlement patterns in response to changing sea level history.

A monograph is being produced relating to the ways that whale-based economies responded to environmental change over the past two millennia. As the research progresses, papers will be presented at national anthropology, archaeology, and geography meetings, in addition to the annual project meetings.

The study will produce a model of human responses to environmental change which can be applied to other resource-based northern economies such as those of the Sami, where the appropriate environmental and economic date are available.

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