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Anderson, P.M., 1982

Reconstructing the past: the synthesis of archaeological and palynological data, northern Alaska and northwestern Canada

Bibliographic Reference

Anderson, P.M., 1982, Reconstructing the past: the synthesis of archaeological and palynological data, northern Alaska and northwestern Canada: Providence, Rhode Island, Brown University, Ph.D. dissertation, 559 p.


Northwestern North America is an especially good area to analyze the merger of archaeological, ecological, and ethnographic data used to reconstruct the past because archaeological and ethnographic studies in this region are often ecologically oriented. When attempting such an analysis the archaeologist must pay particular attention to the types of data and type and scale of synthesis of these data. In this study, I examine the subsistence-settlement portion of the ethnographic record of the nineteenth century Alaskan Eskimo and the vegetational history of Alaska and northwest Canada over the past 15000 years in order to: (1) summarize a disparate set of data, (2) evaluate the ethnographic and vegetational patterns apparent at different time and space scales, and (3) discuss the implications of these patterns to the archaeological record. I conclude from the ethnographic study that it is difficult to differentiate subsistence-settlement systems of the northwestern Alaskan Eskimos on the basis of the material culture, faunal resources, settlement location, or intensity of use of subsistence resources alone. Patterns in the palynological data are summarized on three spatial scales: local (single site), regional (northwest Alaska), and extra-regional (Alaska and northwest Canada). While the biostratigraphy of the region is fairly uniform, there is variability in the chronostratigraphy. This variability is summarized in isopoll and isochrone maps that show the dominance of birch pollen from 14000 to 11000 BP, an early (9000 BP) appearance of spruce pollen in the east, and an early (9000 BP) appearance of alder pollen in the west. The period 9000-5000 BP is characterized by increasing percentages of spruce and alder pollen with decreasing percentages of birch, grass, and sedge pollen. Modern vegetational patterns appear between 3000-5000 BP. The information gained from the ethnographic and palynological research is used to evaluate previous interpretations of the American Paleoarctic and Northern Archaic traditions. The case study from northwestern North America provides a basis for a theoretical discussion of scales of synthesis, comparability of ethnographic, environmental, and archaeological data bases, problems with interdisciplinary studies, and ways to construct logically consistent models of the past.

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