Prehistoric Landscape Use in the Central Alaska Range
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The mountainous upland landscapes of central Alaska play an important role in understanding key issues in Beringian archaeology, including human adaptation to new landscapes, changes in landscape use in response to environmental change, and factors driving lithic assemblage variability. There are three important research issues concerning hunter-gatherer upland use: (1) the timing of upland settlement, (2) changes in upland land-use strategies over time, and (3) the influence of upland activities on central Alaskan lithic assemblage variability. This study addresses these topics through (1) pollen analysis of a peat core from the upper Susitna River basin to provide local environmental context for human adaptation, (2) locating and investigating previously unknown archaeological sites in the upper Susitna basin, (3) archaeological testing of new and previously recorded sites in the upper Susitna basin, and (4) analysis of lithic assemblages from these sites as well as previously documented sites in the upper Susitna basin. This study found that humans first occupied the upper Susitna basin in the early Holocene, by 11,000-10,500 cal BP. This is at least 2000 years after the end of full glacial conditions, and 1000 years after first evidence of landscape recovery. Following the initial occupation, there is evidence for human use of the upper Susitna basin from the early through late Holocene. Initial early Holocene use appears to have been ephemeral, consisting of short-term logistical forays by mobile hunter-gatherers provisioned with lithic raw materials necessary for subsistence activities. Human activity in the upper Susitna basin intensified in the middle and late Holocene as modern vegetation patterns became established, when hunter-gatherers occupied the upper Susitna basin in a low-mobility land-use system, provisioning upland base camps with the lithic raw material necessary for subsistence activities, and foraying out to logistical resource extraction camps in the uplands of the upper Susitna basin. There are preliminary indications that vegetation may have been affected by Holocene tephra fall, and evidence for a hiatus in human occupation of the upper Susitna region during the middle Holocene, but it is unclear whether this was directly related to tephra deposition, or broader climate instability during the Neoglacial Period. A subtle shift in site location in the late Holocene may be tied to changing caribou hunting techniques. Throughout the Holocene, bifacial hunting weaponry was favored for upland subsistence activities.
Blong, John Christian (2016). Prehistoric Landscape Use in the Central Alaska Range. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from