Northern Archaic Tradition Forty Years Later: Comments

Douglas D. Anderson


Forty years have passed since the existence of Northern Archaic (NAT), a cultural tradition in northwestern Alaska distinct from Arctic traditions such as Arctic Small Tool (AST) was proposed. The usefulness and even reality of NAT as originally conceived is revisited here to see if the concept continues to have merit or if it should be abandoned altogether. Originally, NAT was thought to represent an expansion of culture northward during middle Holocene times from the more temperate and sub-arctic regions of the continent into forest/tundra-edge habitats of northwestern North America. Although evidence for the tradition came from numerous sites in Alaska and the Southwest Yukon, the concept was fully developed from findings at Onion Portage. Although the sequence demonstrated a change over time from side-notched to lanceolate points, there was a total absence of a microblade industry throughout the entire 2,000 years. Recent findings of notched points associated with microblades in other northern Alaskan sites have demonstrated a far more complex prehistory in the region than originally thought. Discussion of the “notched point” problem stresses the idea that side-notching alone need not indicate a distinct cultural tradition.

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