Living with Bears: Excavation of a Thule-Era House, St. Matthew Island, Alaska

Dennis Griffin

Abstract

Archaeological excavations were conducted in the only prehistoric house on St. Mathew Island, Alaska in 2012. St. Matthew Island is located in the Bering Sea far from the Alaska mainland, with some saying it is the most remote area in all of Alaska. The island is uninhabited and seldom visited due to its relatively isolated position, lack of commercial resources, and its status as part of a National Wildlife Bird Sanctuary. Besides being remote, St. Matthew had a year-round population of polar bears residing on the island until their local extinction in the 1890s. The single, Thule-period house depression—dating to the 1650s—was first identified on St. Matthew in 1957, with little information recorded about the site aside from its age and the presence of Thule pottery. The 2012 excavations were conducted to discover additional information on these early island residents regarding the season and length of site occupation, diet, where these early island residents originated from, and the focus of their visit. While actual fieldwork at this site was limited to three days, substantial information was obtained. A summary of these findings is included along with recommendations for future research.

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