A Case Study in Recognizing Prehistoric Subsistence Organization through the Interpretation of Faunal Remains

Martina L. Steffen


The distribution of food in space and time influences hunter-gatherer settlement and subsistence patterning in generalizable ways. In North Slope, Alaska, where caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are abundant annually in predictable locations, storage equalizes availability across relative scarcity. This study examined an assemblage of caribou long-bone specimens from an activity area at the Croxton archaeological site for evidence of mass processing for bone-marrow storage outside of the meal course as an indicator of production efficiency in an economy of scale. The archaeological faunal samples were compared on three criteria with ethnoarchaeological meal-midden and mass-processing model assemblages. The analysis indicated that the archaeological specimens are short and variable and are not biased toward marrow-rich skeletal elements, indicating that they probably resulted from meal middens and not from marrow massprocessing debris. The results of this study suggest that meal-based access to a full spectrum of nutrient sources was emphasized over efficiency in marrow extraction and storage in the archaeological faunal samples. This study demonstrates that analyzes of faunal remains based on models of subsistence organization can be useful in the development of perspectives about past food systems.

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