An Archaeological Test of the Effects of the White River Ash Eruptions

Patrick O. Mullen

Abstract

The hypothesis that Athapaskan speakers in Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory were displaced by volcanic eruptions at 1147 and 1830 cal B.P. is tested using radiocarbon dates as a proxy for population. Published data concerning the extent of the ash lobes were digitized in GIS to select dates recovered from anthropogenic contexts from within the affected areas and from regions thought to have absorbed the immigrant populations. Changes in the frequency of calibrated, taphonomic-bias-corrected radiocarbon dates from the areas of the White River Ash (WRA) eruptions suggest that both eruptions precipitated migration events. Results are tentative due to limited sample sizes, but demonstrate the potential to use radiocarbon dates to track regional abandonment and migrations caused by catastrophic events.

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