OPP-0080798 "Late Prehistoric Cultural Dynamics and the Subsistence Parameters of Whaling at Wales, Alaska."

ABSTRACT: The Wales archaeology project focuses on a community in Alaska that, during contact period, comprised a population of at least 500 individuals. Historically the village was a primary socioeconomic center in northwest Alaska. Wales people engaged in trade and warfare with Asiatic Eskimos; these activities may have drawn the large Wales population to the location. This circumstance provides perhaps the best opportunity in western Alaska to examine the possibility of social ranking in late prehistoric Eskimo society. The results of this analysis will therefore pertain directly to sociopolitical and socioterritorial studies of hunter-gatherer groups worldwide, and they will contribute substantially to increased understanding of developing complexity in egalitarian societies as they are transformed into formally ranked social groups such as those that have been documented in the Northwest Coast culture area. Analyses of trait distributions will also examine relations between the late prehistoric Eskimo manifestations at three sites in the Wales locality. The sites contain faunal remains, which can illuminate the context in which the prehistoric human predation of whales was carried out against the background of simultaneous exploitation of various non-cetacean marine and terrestrial fauna. Preliminary findings indicate that non-cetacean sea mammals played a much larger role in the economy of Wales than has been suggested previously, and they raise a number of questions concerning the carrying capacity of the local resources in relation to the exceedingly large number of human inhabitants of the locality. Further development of the faunal database and accompanying analysis will illuminate how the large, concentrated population used local resources. The results will contribute to an increased precision in interpretations of the role of mega-fauna in prehistoric Pleistocene and Holocene human subsistence economies.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Polar Programs (PLR)
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Anna Kerttula de Echave
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University of Alaska Anchorage Campus
United States
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