Tag Archives: Beringia

Salmon fishing 11,500 years ago in central Alaska

Excavations at the Upper Sun River Site, Tanana Valley, Alaska. Photo: Ben Potter

Excavations at the Upward Sun River Site, Tanana Valley, Alaska. Photo: Ben Potter via adn.com

There’s been quite a bit of buzz surrounding a new paper by Carrin Halffman et al. documenting the use of  salmon at the Upward Sun River Site (more) which is on the Tanana River: a tributary of the Yukon River, but about 1,400 kilometres upstream from the ocean (and much further still from the paleo-rivermouth during Beringian times).  The authors report this as both the earliest evidence of salmon exploitation in the Americas, and the first evidence of Pleistocene salmon use.  The first I am on board with, the second I may quibble a little with lower down. (And this is all assuming we don’t consider eastern Beringia to be effectively part of Asia at this time!). But it’s a remarkable find and a very carefully researched and presented paper. [edit: be sure to read comments from Ben Potter below which tweaks some information in this post.]

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Fluted Points from the Bering Land Bridge

Fluted points from the Serpentine Hot Springs Site, Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Source: Bering Land Bridge NPS

For many years, archaeologists considered the so-called “Clovis” Culture to be the remains of the first humans to enter the Americas.  These people were said to come via the Bering Land Bridge, a subcontinental land mass which joins North America to Northeast Asia.  Clovis culture was distinguished by a very characteristic type of stone spear point which had a long flake removed from the base on each side, forming a “flute” which considerably thinned the base of the point. Such fluting was a hallmark of Clovis and another, slightly more recent, culture: Folsom.

Clovis was thought to have arrived into the Americas from the present-day Yukon area through an “ice free corridor”.  However, for many years,  Clovis points and the rest of Clovis culture, were unknown from north of the ice sheets and there was a sustained research agenda to find Clovis, or to find Clovis antecedents, in Yukon, NWT or Alaska.  While the occasional fluted point became known from surface finds, those from solid archaeological context did not.

It is therefore interesting to see a site, Serpentine Hot Springs, has come to light on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula (the bit that sticks out closest to Asia – map) which has revealed numerous fluted points.  Continue reading

Seward Peninsula Mastodon Tusk – “too old”, therefore Too Old.

Worked 35,000 year old mammoth tusk from Alaska. Note scale! Source: Gelvin-Reymuller et al.

This is getting a little out of the area, but I’ve just run across a report by Gelvin-Reymuller et al.  (download PDF) on the finding of a worked mammoth tusk from the north side of the Seward Peninsula.  That is on the west-central Alaska coast near the closest approach to Asia, and hence smack in the middle of Beringia.  The tusk is interesting in its own right, of course, but doubly so when we see that it was dated to well before the last glacial maximum:

Though the age of the tusk is only peripherally relevant to the significance of the reduction described in this paper, the tusk was sampled for dating. A single bone collagen sample from the tusk was dated by Beta Analytic, Inc. following standard pretreatment and analytical procedures. A 5.2 g of sample was first removed from an inner area, well beneath a surficial treatment of Elmer’s Glue-All which the tusk’s discoverer had initially applied to the surface. The resultant AMS date was 35,150 +/- 530 BP (Beta-189092). …… The latest mammoth remains in mainland Alaska are dated to around 11,400 BP.   Since the age of this tusk places it beyond the range of initial human habitation in the New World, as currently understood, we posit that the tusk was worked by later inhabitants of the area.

The authors note that it is possible to diagnose from the reduction strategies used whether ivory was worked when fresh/green or when already subfossilized,  though curiously they draw no such conclusions about this particular piece.  I find it intriguing how a central Beringian artifact made on a 35,000 year old material is so readily characterized as a recent manufacture.  While this piece would pre-date the earliest known record of extreme NE Asia and while I wouldn’t second-guess the authors nor impugn their motives and while it is certainly possible that a fossil mammoth tusk was worked at a much later date, I’m, uh, just sayin’.   This paper is interesting on a number of levels, not least as an example of stickhandling around competing paradigms.

Detail of working method of Alaskan tusk. Source: Gelvin-Reymuller et al