Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Late Prehistoric Socio-Economic Organization in Northwest Alaska: a Study of Pottery Production and Distribution in the Arctic (Award# 0936696)

PI: Fitzhugh, Benjamin (
Phone: (206) 543.9604 
Institute/Department: U of Washington, Department of Anthropology 
IPY Project? NO
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ASSP
Program Manager: Dr. Anna Kerttula (
Discipline(s): | Social and Human Sciences\Anthropology | Social and Human Sciences\Archaeology |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5). This research, meant to enhance the co-PI Shelby Anderson’s doctoral dissertation, examines the history of emergent complexity in Northwest Alaska over the past 2000 years through a focused study of archaeological pottery from the coast of Kotzebue Sound and the adjacent river corridors into the Alaskan interior. Northwest Alaska witnessed significant social change over the past two millennia with the development of organized whale hunting, aggregated coastal villages, wealthy burials, and warfare. On both sides of the Bering Strait ethnic groups formed strong regional identities during this period that led to marked differences in material culture styles from sub-region to sub-region and eventually the expansion of Thule whale hunters eastward across the Canadian Arctic. The relationships, interaction, and evolution of these ethnic populations remain among the most unresolved issues in the archaeology of this region. This research attempts to shed light on these issues and their implications for changing social and political organization in Northwest Alaska through the study of the pottery used by these groups. Pottery composition, manufacture techniques, and stylistic variability from archaeological assemblages around Kotzebue Sound will allow the student P.I. to evaluate several predictions about social development between the first and second millennia A.D. These predictions include the expectation for increased population density, territoriality, and social asymmetry at the corporate group level (within and between settlements) with implications for the production and distribution of pottery from clay source to production, use and discard. Co-PI Anderson will study archived and newly acquired pottery collections from Cape Krusenstern, the northern coast of the Seward Peninsula including Cape Espenberg, the shores of Kotzebue Sound, and the Noatak and Kobuk River valleys. By understanding chemical composition of clays used in constructing the pots, the nature of pot manufacture (form, wall thickness, tempering, firing regime, etc), and variability in stylistic characteristics (of both decorated and non-decorated pottery), the co-PI will determine the degree of inter-regional pottery movement and inter- and intra-settlement differences in access to diverse sources, technologies, and/or styles of pots. Anderson will collect clay samples from geological sources around Kotzebue Sound and the Kobuk and Noatak Rivers for comparison to archaeological pottery samples. This will allow an estimation of the degree of pottery movement from source to deposition locales and a proxy for social interaction and movement. She also will conduct precision mapping and dating of archaeological features around this region in order to develop estimates of changes in regional population densities and distributions. Expanded radiocarbon and thermoluminescence chronologies will be built to refine and supplement existing chronological models for the region. This work is conducted in partnership and under permit with the National Park Service. Project results will be shared with Native Alaskans and other local groups in the Northwest Alaska community through public and school presentations, primarily in Kotzebue, Alaska. In addition, the PI will create/distribute to regional communities large laminated posters and a self-timed PowerPoint presentation describing the research. Project results will be disseminated more widely through presentation at professional conferences, the creation of a project Web site, and public and school presentations in the Seattle area. University of Washington undergraduate students will participate in the project, assisting in sample preparation while taking an independent lab course for credit, supervised by the Co-PI.

Logistics Summary:
This dissertation research project will explore the character and mechanisms of the emergence of complex social organization in Northwest Alaska with fieldwork in the summer of 2010. Methods will include compositional and stylistic analyses of ceramics and clay raw materials, as well as source provenance survey. Pottery samples will be taken from dated, multi-house settlements from both coastal and interior environments across the geologic regions of Northwest Alaska. This research will draw from the on-going projects at Cape Krusenstern (CAKR-part of a National Park Service funded grant), as well as the current Cape Espenberg project (Hoffecker, NSF grant 0755725), and from existing pottery collections from the other coastal and interior locations. in addition, the researchers will survey for raw material sources and collect clay and temper raw material samples from non-archaeological contexts near Cape Krusenstern, on the Kobuk River, and on the northern Seward Peninsula. Coastal sites selected for study include the CAKR beach ridge complex, the Kotzebue sites, the Cape Espenberg beach ridge complex, and pottery from several other coastal sites on the Seward Peninsula. Pottery from previously excavated sites on the Kobuk and Noatak Rivers will provide data from the interior of the region. In 2010, Co-PI Shelby Anderson and an additional researcher will work in Alaska from mid June to mid September. After conducting archival research in Anchorage, they will travel to Kotzebue, and from there put-in via fixed-wing plane to Cape Krusenstern, using National Park Service infrastructure while conducting a survey and collecting pottery and soil samples. After about a month at Cape Krusenstern, they will move again, this time basing at a Cape Espenberg field camp along with Hoffecker. At Cape Espenberg, they will assist with excavations and collect raw material samples. Later, they will conduct a source provenance survey on the Kobuk River, collecting raw material samples via boat, and tent-camping along the way. A guide will accompany them on this part of the trip, which will last about 2 weeks.

CPS will provide fixed-wing support to access field sites, camping and safety gear. The PI/Co-PI will arrange all other logistics--including use of NPS infrastructure (for accessing Cape Krusenstern) and the Hoffecker field camp--and pay for any additional costs via the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2010Alaska - Cape Espenberg08 / 04 / 2010 08 / 13 / 20101
2010Alaska - Cape Krusenstern06 / 20 / 2010 07 / 31 / 20102
2010Alaska - Imuruk Lake08 / 15 / 2010 08 / 15 / 20102
2010Alaska - Kobuk08 / 24 / 2010 09 / 07 / 20103
2010Alaska - Kotzebue06 / 15 / 2010 09 / 07 / 20102

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