Zooarchaeological Analysis of a Late Holocene Multicomponent Village Site near Shaktoolik, Norton Sound, Alaska

Jason I. Miszaniec, Christyann M. Darwent, John Darwent and Kelly A. Eldridge


Artifact and settlement data suggest that precolonial subsistence strategies in northwestern Alaska went through an economic transition with increased importance placed on local fish and small game between AD 1400 and AD 1500. From a North American Arctic perspective, this process has been defined as “regionalization.” Here, we present results from a zooarchaeological analysis of over 31,700 faunal remains from the Shaktoolik Airport Site (NOB-072), a large multicomponent precolonial village site adjacent to the Native Village of Shaktoolik in Norton Sound, Alaska. Faunal specimens were derived from 1/4-inch (6.35-mm) screened and bulk sediment samples taken from midden deposits generated during two distinct archaeological or cultural phases from AD 1280 to the mid-1800s: 1) Nukleet, a regional variant of the Western Thule culture, and 2) three chronological periods associated with precolonial Yup’ik occupations. Comparison among archaeological deposits indicates that faunal assemblage composition varies spatially across the site and likely represents discrete seasonal activity areas. Faunal remains from bulk sediment samples also highlight the importance of small forage fish and shellfish, further emphasizing the need for sampling sites using fine-mesh screening. Based on our analysis, precolonial Yup’ik subsistence strategies diversified around AD 1500, coinciding with a broader regionalization trend. This shift may have been in response to the onset of the Little Ice Age (AD 1500–1850), but it could also have been in response to demographic pressure from increased regional populations.

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