American Paleoarctic Tradition

The American Paleo-Arctic Tradition is an archaeological technological tradition encompassing a number of well-defined technocomplexes and archaeological cultures, from the Denali Complex in Interior Alaska and the Yukon Territory to the Akmak and Kobuk Complexes in Northwest Alaska dating from about 13,500 to 2000 calendar years ago. First defined in 1970 by Douglas D. Anderson on the basis of the Akmak and Kobuk complexes at Onion Portage, Trail

Creek Cave 2, and several Brooks Range sites, the American Paleo-Arctic Tradition has been enlarged by various researchers to encompass or equate with Frederick Hadleigh West's Denali Complex and later Beringian Tradition, and John Cook's Chindadn and Athapaskan Complexes. The American Paleo-Arctic Tradition does not appear to be associated with the Arctic Small Tool Tradition or Northern Archaic Tradition, which postdates the former. The geographic distributions of the American Paleo-Arctic Tradition are Alaska, Yukon Territory, and northwest British Columbia, although similar artifact types are found in Siberia, as far west as Lake Baikal. Important American Paleo-Arctic Tradition sites include Onion Portage, Dry Creek, Swan Point, Campus, Donnelly Ridge, Teklanika West, Panguingue Creek, various Tangle Lake sites, Healy Lake, Jay Creek Ridge, Gerstle River, and Annie Lake.

Although there is some variability in diagnostic artifact types, the key types include specialized wedge-shaped microblade cores from which regular, parallel-sided microblades were detached, platform rejuvenation tablets struck from these cores to facilitate microblade removal, burins and burin spalls made on flakes, large blades on prepared pebbles, and biconvex bifaces. Other artifact types found in American Paleo-Arctic tradition sites include endscrapers on blades or flakes (sometimes with graver spurs, or burinated), boulder spall scrapers, and utilized flakes. Siberian and Alaskan evidence indicates that microb-lades were retouched and inserted into slotted bone or antler points, possibly used with atl atls (spear throwers).

Numerous dated sites have been documented, ranging from Swan Point (13,500 years ago) to various sites dating from 12,500 to 7500 years ago. Increasing evidence indicates that many hallmarks of this tradition, including wedge-shaped microblade cores, continued to the middle to late Holocene, at least to 2000 years ago in Alaska.

The largest American Paleo-Arctic Tradition or Denali site is Dry Creek Component 2, which yielded almost 29,000 artifacts, including 121 microblade cores or core fragments, over one thousand microb-lades, burins, small lanceolate projectile points, bifaces, scrapers, retouched flakes, and hammerstones. However, the vast majority of the 303 sites with microblade technology in interior Alaska (10% of the total number of sites) are small lithic concentrations averaging less than 500 artifacts each.

Since the original discovery of microblade technology in Alaska in 1939 and the increase in cultural resource management-related archaeological investigations in the 1970s and 1980s, the delineation of a late Pleistocene-early Holocene microblade-using tra dition has occupied the attention of northern archaeologists. Regional or temporal variants have been described in the literature. In 1981, West incorporated all microblade technologies (excluding Denbigh) into a Beringian Tradition, which included the Dyuktai Culture of Siberia.

The favored prey species of populations using American Paleo-Arctic Tradition (or Denali complex) technology appears to have been caribou and other large game such as bison, wapiti, and sheep. Small game and waterfowl were also present in American Paleo-Arctic Tradition sites. Preferred site locales included hills overlooking river and stream confluences and lake margins. Mobility appears to have been high, based on lithic material sourcing and the portability of the toolkit. Almost all American Paleo-Arctic Tradition sites in Eastern Beringia are relatively small lithic scatters, the largest of which (Dry Creek Component 2) is considered a "spike camp,," or a short-term logistical hunting base. No residential bases have been located in this area, and some archaeologists speculate that these sites would have been near the large braided rivers, and thus probably destroyed due to erosion. Small ephemeral hunting camps typify the American Paleo-Arctic Tradition settlement pattern. Spatial analyses from various sites indicate that specialized tool clusters were used, perhaps indicative of seasonal or prey-specific toolkits. Recent work finds a correlation of American Paleo-Arctic Tradition occupations and cooler, windier climates, perhaps relating to subsistence strategies.

The American Paleo-Arctic Tradition is potentially important in various scenarios of the peopling of the Americas. In the early 20th century, Edward Nelson and Froelich Rainey noted that certain chipped stone technologies found in Alaska were similar or identical to those found in Mongolia. Wedge-shaped microb-lade cores were one of the first technological linkages between the Old and New Worlds. Sites with this specific microblade core and burin technology occur from about 20,000 years ago in the Aldan region, and later in areas further east. The first documented human occupation in far eastern Siberia occurs around 16,000 years ago at Ushki, and is apparently unrelated technologically to the American Paleo-Arctic tradition. Microblade sites occur later (~13,000 years ago), roughly coinciding with the first archaeological sites in Alaska. Some archaeologists believe that the earliest occupation of Alaska was by a nonmicroblade tradition, termed the Nenana Complex, supported by technological similarities among Walker Road, Dry Creek Component I and Ushki-1, level 7. Others believe that the first occupation in Alaska was by microblade-using peoples, supported by a radiocarbon date of 13,500 years at Swan Point. There appears to be no valid technological relationship between the American Paleo-Arctic Tradition and the various Paleo-Indian complexes further south in North America. With the paucity of dated, excavated sites, and the recent resurgence of interest in various coastal migration models, the relationship of the American Paleo-Arctic tradition and the first inhabitants of the New World remains unclear. Despite the various temporal, technological, typological, and cultural historical issues relating to the American Paleo-Arctic Tradition, it occupies an integral place in the prehistory of the Arctic and Subarctic, the peopling of the New World, and various ecological paradigms.

Ben A. Potter

See also Beringia; Dyuktai Culture; Rainey, Froelich

Further Reading

Anderson, Douglas, "Microblade traditions in Northwestern

Alaska." Arctic Anthropology, 7(2) (1970): 2-16 Bonnichsen, Robson & Karen L. Turnmire (editors), Ice Age People of North America: Environments, Origins, and Adaptations, Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1999 Dikov, Nikolai N., Asia at the Juncture with America in Antiquity, translated by Richard L. Bland, originally published by Nauka, St Petersburg; English version published by the US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Beringian Program, Anchorage, Alaska, 1997 Dixon, E. James, "Cultural chronology of Central Interior

Alaska." Arctic Anthropology, 22(1) (1985): 47-66 "Mason, Owen K., Peter M. Bowers & David M. Hopkins, "The Early Holocene Milankovitch thermal maximum and humans: adverse conditions for the Denali complex of Eastern Beringia." Quaternary Science Review, 20 (2001): 525-548

Powers, W. Roger, R. Dale Guthrie & John F. Hoffecker, Dry Creek: Archaeology and Paleoecology of a Late Pleistocene Hunting Camp, Final Report, Prepared for the National Park Service, 1983

Rainey, Froelich, "Archaeology of Central Alaska." Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska, 12(2) (1939): 92-100

West, Frederick Hadleigh, "The Donnelly Ridge site and the definition of an early core and blade complex in Central Alaska." American Antiquity, 32(2) (1967): 360-382

-, (editor), 1996 American Beginnings: The Prehistory and Palaeoecology of Beringia. , Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996

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