Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Paleoethnobotany in interior Alaska
by Holloway, Caitlin R., M.A., University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2016, 234; 10104526
Abstract (Summary)

Vegetation and plant resources can impact forager mobility and subsistence strategies. However, misconceptions about the preservation of organics in subarctic archaeological contexts and underestimations of the importance of plant resources to foraging societies limit paleoethnobotanical research in high-latitude environments. This research draws upon concepts from human behavioral ecology to address questions relating to site seasonality, plant resource use, land use, and deposition and taphonomy. The model developed in this thesis outlines expectations of seasonal archaeobotanical assemblages for Late Pleistocene and Holocene sites in interior Alaska. I consider these expectations in light of plant macroremains found in anthropogenic features from Components 1 and 3 (approximately 13,300 and 11,500 cal yr BP, respectively) at the Upward Sun River site, located in central Alaska.

Site-specific methods include bulk sampling of feature matrix in the field and wet-sieving matrix in the laboratory to collect organic remains. Analytical measures of density, diversity, and ubiquity tie together the model expectations and the results from Upward Sun River. The dominance of common bearberry in the Component 1 archaeobotanical assemblage meets the expectations of a late summer or fall occupation. This suggests that site occupants may have focused on mitigating the risk of starvation in winter months by foraging for seasonally predictable and storable resources. The variability in results from the Component 3 features could relate to longer-term occupations that extended from mid-summer to early fall, in which site occupants foraged for locally available and predictable plant resources such as blueberry or low-bush cranberry species.

In this thesis, I argue that large mammal resources were a key component in Late Pleistocene and Holocene subsistence strategies. However, foragers were flexible in their behavior and also targeted small mammals, fish, waterfowl, and plant resources in response to environmental conditions and cultural preferences. The results illustrate the long-standing use of culturally and economically important plant resources in interior Alaska and draw attention to aspects of human behavior that are under-conceptualized in northern archaeology, such as the gendered division of labor, domestic behavior, and potential impacts of plant resource exploitation on mobility and land use.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Potter, Ben A.
Commitee: Bigelow, Nancy H., Clark, Jamie L., Reuther, Joshua D.
School: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- Alaska
Source: MAI 55/04M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Archaeology
Keywords: Archaeobotany, Human behavioral ecology, Macrobotanical remains, Paleoethnobotany, Plant macroremains, Subarctic
Publication Number: 10104526
ISBN: 9781339680460