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Malyk-Selivanova, Natalia, 1998

Determination of geological sources for prehistoric chert artifacts, northwestern Alaska

Bibliographic Reference

Malyk-Selivanova, Natalia, 1998, Determination of geological sources for prehistoric chert artifacts, northwestern Alaska: New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Ph.D. dissertation, 295 p.


The determination of the prehistoric human routes in northwestern Alaska is important for studying the peopling of North America. However, archaeological data do not provide sufficient information for reconstruction of prehistoric migration networks. Most sites are surficial and chert artifacts are often the only surviving prehistoric relics. Therefore, chert sourcing in northwestern Alaska is crucial as it provides a unique opportunity for tracing inter-group contacts. The research involved a regional geological-geochemical approach to 'sourcing' of prehistoric chert artifacts. Artifact-outcrop correlation is based on the idea that both the artifact and outcrop have an identical geologic history that is recorded by unique petrological, mineralogical, and geochemical signatures. Developing a regional database of signatures that distinguish each chert outcrop variety is fundamental to the approach. Artifacts are compared with the database using statistics to determine artifact source. Analytical techniques include instrumental neutron activation analysis, electron microprobe analysis, X-ray diffraction, inductively coupled plasma source mass spectrometry, optical microscopy, and hand-specimen study. Twelve chert varieties from nine chert outcrops in the western Brooks Range were studied. The research revealed important geologic implications regarding depositional environment, provenance, and diagenesis of these Paleozoic-Mesozoic chert deposits. Outcrop data were compared with 289 chert artifacts from 57 prehistoric sites in northwestern Alaska by the superposition of artifact data on geochemical fields obtained for each outcrop at one, two, and three standard deviations from the means of signature values. Four outcrops were identified as prehistoric chert quarries based on their statistically significant correlation with 51 artifacts from 29 prehistoric sites. Results are summarized in maps that show the geographic and cultural distribution of cherts from each quarry throughout prehistoric time. They show wide distribution of cherts from quarry area to Bering Strait coast, Chukchi Sea, and to the Kobuk valley, as well as the possible expansion across the Bering Strait to the Arctic Ocean, and to the northeast. Four quarries were used by many prehistoric groups from the American Paleo-Arctic tradition (~10,000 yr B.P.) to the Arctic Woodland Eskimo (1,000 to Recent). Results of chert sourcing provide critical information for the reconstruction of prehistoric routes in the western part of eastern Beringia.

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