Prehistoric Maritime Adaptations of the Subarctic and Subantarctic Zones: The Aleutian/Fuegian Connection Reconsidered

David R. Yesner


In 1975, Allen P. McCartney proposed that Aleutian and Fuegian populations shared a number of common subsistence and technology features, resulting from convergence in adaptation to maritime resources in cold archipelagos. As a result of recent excavations on the north Beagle Channel in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, as well as reconsideration of the historic and ethnographic records, it is now possible to flesh out such a comparative analysis in much greater detail. Both Aleutian and Fuegian populations exploited pinnipeds (sea lions and fur seals) and shellfish (mussels and limpets) in a cold, windy coastal zone, and both regions show an intriguing convergence in the history of subsistence, with a shift from sea mammal hunting to shellfish use occurring around 4,000 years ago. Although differences in resource use (i.e., greater dependence on terrestrial mammals [guanaco] in Tierra del Fuego versus the use of storable anadromous fish in the Aleutians) led to the development of greater sociopolitical complexity among the Aleuts, there is now archaeological evidence to suggest that greater complexity existed in precontact Fuegian populations as well. Most of the differences observed between the groups are probably the result of historical transformations brought about by the depredations of European sealers and whalers beginning in the late eighteenth century.

  • David R. Yesner, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Anchorage, 3211 Providence Dr., Anchorage, Alaska 99508

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