Specialized Processing of Aquatic Resources in Prehistoric Alaskan Pottery? A Lipid-Residue Analysis of Ceramic Sherds from the Thule-Period Site of Nunalleq, Alaska

Thomas F G Farrell, Peter Jordan, Karine Taché, Alexandre Lucquin, Kevin Gibbs, Ana Jorge, Kate Britton, Oliver E Craig and Rick Knecht


Largely missing from the debate surrounding the use of pottery among arctic and subarctic hunter-gatherers are site-based biomolecular studies of vessel contents. This study used lipid-residue analysis to elucidate vessel function at Nunalleq (GDN-248), a late Thule-period coastal village site in the Yup’ik area of Western Alaska. In total, 31 pottery sherds and five soil samples were analyzed using gas chromatography and/or gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The ubiquitous presence of aquatic biomarkers in all the pottery sherds suggests that pottery function at the site was directly linked to the use of aquatic resources. This indication of relatively specialized use of pottery at Nunalleq is particularly interesting when considered within the context of the site’s broader subsistence strategies, which included use of both aquatic and terrestrial resources. These findings appear to support a more general association between higher-latitude pottery traditions and the use of aquatic resources, though this topic requires further research.

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