Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Gateway to the Americas: New Archaeological Evidence on North American Origins (Award# 0703980)

PI: Dixon, E. James (
Phone: (505) 277.4210 
Institute/Department: Maxwell Museum of Anthropology,  
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ASSP
Program Manager: Dr. Anna Kerttula (
Discipline(s): | Social and Human Sciences |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This research project investigates alternative theories regarding the origins of Native Americans, the nature of their original adaptation, and when and how they first colonized the Americas. During the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), continental glaciers lowered global sea level, exposing the Bering Land Bridge. Glaciers also blocked the entry of humans migrating from Asia to the Americas. However, archeological discoveries indicate that humans had colonized areas south of the ice sheets prior to the end of the last Ice Age (c 11,000 years radiocarbon ago). Based on these data, the PI questions the predominant theory that the Bering Land Bridge and southward migration through central North America was the original route of human entry to the Americas. Alternatively, the coastal migration hypothesis suggests that between 16,000 and 12,000 years ago humans using watercraft may have first entered the Americas by colonizing refugia and deglaciated areas of the continental shelf of the Northwest (NW) Coast of North America exposed by lower sea levels. Native American oral histories, recent discovery of artifacts on the ocean floor, and refined paleoenvironmental and geological data, make it possible to identify specific locales where ancient submerged sites may be located in SE Alaska. This research will analyze these data and employ Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modeling of LGM and post-LGM paleogeography to identify specific under water locales on the continental shelf of Southeast (SE) Alaska that exhibit high archeological potential. Identified site locales and select areas exhibiting high archeological potential will be surveyed and sampled using marine archeological techniques including side scan sonar, a remotely operated vehicle including video cameras, and bottom sediment sampling in an effort to test the coastal migration hypothesis.

Logistics Summary:
With this project, the research team will explore the PI’s hypothesis that the Americas may have been settled by coastal migration along the continental shelf of Southeastern Alaska. In June 2010, a team of five will assemble at the research area: the continental shelf of the Alexander Archipelago, located in SE Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. With assistance from the Sealaska Heritage Institute, the PI will review indigenous oral histories and interview Native and non-Native residents willing to share their knowledge relating to the possible discovery of artifacts from the underwater locales in the Alexander Archipelago. This information will be utilized in identifying potential survey areas. The research area encompasses several locales where artifacts from the ocean floor have been reported: one site is approximately six miles north of On Your Knees Cave, the oldest terrestrial archeological site known from SE Alaska; another is located offshore Suemez Island, a known source of obsidian; a third is potentially offshore of Kosciusko Island. The survey will be conducted using a boat outfitted with an ROV with underwater video capability, side scan sonar, grab sampler, and other equipment. The research team will analyze imagery and samples for evidence of ancient human occupation, possibly returning some samples to the home institute for further analysis.

CPS will provide the remotely operated vehicle and side scan sonar. The PI will arrange all other logistics and pay for them through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2010Alaska - Alexander Archipelago06 / 15 / 2010 07 / 15 / 20105

Generated from:
Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "0703980", IPY = "ALL" 
     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1