Aleutian Archaeology: Identifying Cultural and Environmental Relationships c. 6000 BP to 250 BP
Caroline Funk Principal Investigator
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Dr. Caroline Funk and a collaborative, multidisciplinary team of six federal agency and academic colleagues from across the United States will conduct one year of field research and laboratory analyses centered on Kiska Island, Western Aleutians, Alaska. They will research human impacts on resources and environmental/ecological histories by studying the prehistoric Aleut archaeological record and the environmental history of Kiska Island. The team will work to develop an environmental/ecological history of the area and a history of human use of Kiska Island, to identify potential areas of human impact on the environment, and to contribute to global debates about long-term human intersections with coast/island environments. These broad objectives are accomplished by cooperative research in the anthro-, geo-, and biosciences to answer a series of questions: how did prehistoric Rat Islands Aleut live within and conceive of their landscape and how did the environment shape Rat Islands Aleut culture? What physical and climatic conditions and events did Rat Islands Aleut, the environment, and indigenous plant and animal species endure? What role did humans have in shaping the form and characteristics of landscapes, seascapes, and non-human species? <br/><br/>To understand the interactions between Aleuts and their environment, variations in plant and animal species present in archaeological sites are compared to known or our newly defined climate trends, seismic records, volcanic events, and events and processes in Kiska Island Aleut prehistory. Field work includes archaeological survey aimed toward locating new archaeological sites, testing known and newly discovered sites, and geo-survey to map geomorphological and geological features. On and off site coring provides pollen and plant macrofossil data and lake coring provides high resolution tephra data. Island intertidal survey sets baseline data for modeling the regional food web. Laboratory analyses are performed on all materials collected during fieldwork, creating the multidisciplinary, comparative data sets necessary to test our hypotheses about recursive human/environment impacts. Lithic and organic artifact analyses and faunal analyses provide data about Aleut identity and resource use. Lithic artifact sourcing (XRF) may grant insight into Aleut contacts outside of the Rat Islands group. Pollen and plant macrofossils provide information about Aleut plant use and paloeclimate. Sea mammal population characteristics as measured by isotope and trace element analyses performed on archaeological specimens provide information about prehistoric subsistence harvests and marine ecosystem dynamics when combined with the new food web models. Geological tephrastratigraphy development and geomorphological studies provide information about large-scale environmental events that may have impacted humans and their resources. <br/><br/>The research contributes valuable data regarding human and large-scale environmental event impacts to studies of the North. Entirely new environmental and human histories of Kiska Island and Rat Islands Aleuts developed from our synergy of anthropology/archaeology, bioscience, and geoscience link to regional and global data sets to expand understanding of the form and function of island ecosystems and human relationships with them. The work aids in restoration ecology and land management decisions, while advancing socionatural and identity theories about small-scale society impacts on their landscapes. A project website, public talks, and scholarly articles and presentations ensure that the work is broadly disseminated in Aleut, public, land management, and scientific communities.