From Tundra to Forest: Ceramic Distribution and Social Complexity in Northwest Alaska

Anderson, Shelby. From Tundra to Forest: Ceramic Distribution and Social Interaction in Northwest Alaska. Diss. U of Washington, 2011.
Adviser: 

This research is directed at addressing questions about the role of social networks in the evolution of social complexity in hunter-gatherers. Existing models of emergent complexity in northern hunter-gatherers point to the role of interaction across ecological zones in the development of a specialized maritime economy, increasingly complex social organization, and social inequality. Yet archaeological evidence of interaction remains, for the most part, unevaluated in relationship to these hypotheses. This study tests the hypothesis that the development and maintenance of social alliance and exchange systems was critical to the emergence of social complexity in Arctic peoples. Patterning of ceramic formal and compositional diversity data was used to evaluate the evidence for various behavioral processes, including mobility and social interaction, which shaped ceramic assemblages in NorthwestAlaska over the last 2000 years. Both chemical and preliminary mineralogical compositional analyses were carried out. A clay survey was conducted to assess the availability and diversity of ceramic raw materials across the region and to obtain clay samples for compositional analysis. Ceramic luminescence dates were obtained to refine the local chronology. Analysis was complicated by higher than expected fragmentation rates and related sample size and assemblage comparability issues. The results of clay chemical and preliminary ceramic mineralogical analysis indicate that future sourcing work should focus on studying temper rather than clay in Northwest Alaska. Microscopic methods for evaluating ceramic formal diversity are shown to be more reliable than macroscopic methods. Despite these issues, the correlation of some ceramic formal and compositional groups that date to the last 1000 years, and the non-random patterning of these data, indicate that ceramic exchange was taking place across the region and perhaps beyond it as well. Temporal patterns could not be evaluated because of sample size issues. Analysis of published and unpublished regional settlement pattern data, however, supports the existing model of significant change in settlement patterns and land use after 500 cal BP; future ceramic study should clarify why these changes in settlement patterns occurred. This research contributes new data and methodological approach to the study of hunter-gatherer pottery and social organization in the Arctic and beyond.

Status of Research or Work: 
Completed/published
Research Type: