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Alaskan Activity Area Analysis: Combining Archaeological Chemistry and Ethnoarchaeology

(2002 - present)

In western Alaska, Kelly J. Knudson and Lisa Frink are utilizing ethnoarchaeology and archaeological chemistry to investigate current subsistence activities and the persistence or transformation of these activities over time. This research will address the following questions: How are subsistence activities spatially and relationally organized? How do changing environmental, economic, and social factors constrain the development and organization of activities and affect our understanding of prehistoric subsistence practices? How have production strategies and their associated archaeological signatures changed or remained similar? What are the soil chemical signatures of various activities and how can these markers clearly indicate past activity areas? This is particularly important since it is often difficult for archaeologists to identify activity areas, particularly at ephemeral sites such as seasonal subsistence camps. Analysis of the trace element concentrations in soil samples that have been modified by humans allows archaeologists to identify and understand past activities.

The current work on Nelson Island expands upon and complements Knudson and Frink’s previous work with Brian Hoffman and T. Douglas Price in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta of western Alaska. There, even seasonal subsistence camps that were occupied for a few weeks had distinct, anthropogenic signatures in fish drying and fish processing areas. In addition, the permafrost layer, poor soil drainage and cold soil temperatures ensure that these types of soil in western Alaska are slow-weathering, which means that the soils retain anthropogenic signatures after abandonment.

Research Team
Kelly J. Knudson (SHESC) and Lisa Frink (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Principal Investigators

Funding Sources
National Geographic Society (in review)
National Science Foundation (in preparation)

Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Laboratory for Archaeological Chemistry, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Presentations & Publications
Kelly J. Knudson, Lisa Frink, Brian Hoffman and T. Douglas Price. 2004. "Chemical Characterization of Arctic Soils: Activity Area Analysis in Contemporary Yup’ik Fish Camps Using ICP-AES." Journal of Archaeological Science 31 (4): 443-456.

"Fish Heads, Fish Heads: Activity Area Analysis in Contemporary Yup’ik Fish Camps in Western Alaska through Chemical Characterization of Soils" by Kelly J. Knudson, Lisa Frink, Brian Hoffman and T. Douglas Price. Presented at the 1st Annual Archaeological Sciences of the Americas Symposium, Tucson, AZ, September 23-26, 2004.

Contact: Kelly J. Knudson