Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Collaborative Research: Glacial Retreat and the Cultural Landscape of Ice Floe Sealing at Yakutat Bay, Alaska (Award# 1203417)

PI: Crowell, Aron L (
Phone: (907) 929.9207 
Institute/Department: Smithsonian Institution, Arctic Studies Center 
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 multidisciplinary study of the ancient, historical, and contemporary harvest of harbor seals at icefloe pupping grounds near Hubbard Glacier in Yakutat Bay, Alaska, will examine the reshaping of both an environment and a human hunting system in response to Late Holocene climate change. It joins indigenous knowledge, language, and oral heritage with the material and chronometric evidence of archaeology, geology, and paleoenvironmental studies to document the cultural history and landscape of Yakutat Bay, where dramatic glacial recession after C. E. 1100 attracted major concentrations of harbor seals and opened the fiord for Sugpiaq, Eyak, Ahtna, and Tlingit settlement. The PI hypothesizes that a clan-based system of local and external access rights developed around Yakutat sealing because of its economic centrality for peoples of the eastern Gulf of Alaska; that sealing camps shifted from the outer to the inner bay over time to follow the receding glacial front; and that the locations, artifact assemblages, faunal remains, and spatial layouts of camps express the cultural and social organization of hunting in different eras. The researchers suggest that situated knowledge of Yakutat Bay’s human and environmental history is encoded in living oral traditions and multilingual toponyms (place names) that richly delineate this nine-century cultural landscape, and that oral heritage can be chronologically correlated with archaeological and geological data. The study leads from the past to the present day, when the continuity of sealing and of the community’s cultural and linguistic heritage are matters of urgent local concern. The methodologies and results of this study are highly relevant to questions of human adaptation and resiliency in the changing North and to the challenge of building coherence between indigenous and scientific knowledge systems.

Logistics Summary:
For this study of ancient, historical, and contemporary harvest of harbor seals, researchers on this collaboration between PIs Crowell (1203417, Smithsonian, LEAD) and Mann (1203271, UAF) will conduct field studies at Yakutat Bay, Alaska. The effort will include archaeological surveys in areas on both the east and west sides of the bay; excavations at ten archaeological sites; and geological studies of glacial recession and geomorphology along the coasts on both sides of the bay. Field research in 2012 focused on a two-week effort in June: an archaeological reconnaissance for subsequent field seasons, and completion of cultural interviews and translations by a field team of six. In 2013, researchers will conduct 7 weeks of fieldwork in June/July. They will maintain one main archaeology/geology field base camp (Indian Camp Creek) for an interdisciplinary research team of 10 people. At a second short-term base camp (YAK-011 or Tlaxata) a research team of 5 will survey and map the area for two weeks. In addition, the team will work at adjacent archaeological sites (accessible by foot) and at three remote lake sites (accessed by inflatable boat, helicopter, and fixed-wing aircraft). A third research team will work intermittently in Yakutat village and at on-site locations around the bay to conduct oral history and linguistic interviews. In 2014, researchers will assemble in Yakutat Bay in June for eight weeks of archaeological, geological, and oral historical research similar to that which was conducted in 2013. The team of up to ~14 will establish/occupy two base camps, the first at Knight Island on the east side of the bay and the second at Spoon River on the west side.

In 2012, CPS will provide an inflatable boat, outboard, limited camping, safety and communications gear/equipment. In 2013 and ‘14, in addition to the items in 2012, CPS will provide another inflatable boat and outboard motors, small boat training, additional camping equipment, camp manager, assistance from CPS staff with the camp put-in, personnel change-overs, and/or take-out, a solar power system and both fixed-wing and helicopter support. For 2014 only, CPS will add a boat charter. The PI will arrange and pay for all other logistics.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2012Alaska - Yakutat Bay06 / 10 / 2012 06 / 24 / 20126
2013Alaska - Indian Camp Creek06 / 19 / 2013 07 / 29 / 201320
2014Alaska - Knight Island06 / 17 / 2014 07 / 06 / 201420
2014Alaska - Spoon River07 / 07 / 2014 08 / 07 / 201411

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Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "1203417", IPY = "ALL" 
     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1