Scientists report findings about ancient Alaska

Posted: Monday, April 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- From the Bering Sea to the rain forests of Southeast, archaeologists dug and sifted through thousands of years of Alaska history last year, uncovering a past more complex and varied than once thought.

In Anchorage, scores of scientists from the United States, Canada and Russia presented about 120 reports during the annual four-day meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association.

Among the projects discussed was the multiyear excavation of a massive, ancient Aleut community that thrived for 1,200 years on an Alaska Peninsula ridge with direct access to both Bering Sea salmon and Pacific Ocean marine mammals.

Other sessions focused on evidence that the first people to settle North America could have traveled along the coast.

Vast stretches of Southeast would have been dry while glaciers locked up the Interior, enabling ancient people to move south, possibly in skin boats, according to one report. Other scientists presented information about excavations at village sites.

The report about the ancient settlement near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula comes after archaeologists have found increasing evidence that Aleut people often developed large communities as they took advantage of the rich marine resources.

Between about 1,100 B.C. and A.D. 100, hundreds of families were drawn to what is now Morzhovoi Bay west of Cold Bay, where they settled on a ridge that would have offered direct access to the Pacific and the Bering Sea. The team found remains of 19 kinds of mammals, 17 kinds of shellfish, 13 kinds of fish and 41 kinds of birds, including species from both sides of the peninsula.

At the site, now called Adamagan, a team from Idaho State University has uncovered evidence of at least 250 houses and hundreds of storage pits, thousands of sophisticated tools and tons of ancient garbage. Adamagan clearly evolved into a regional center with as many as 1,000 residents, lead archaeologist Herbert Maschner said.

Though no one can know for sure why Adamagan disappeared, Maschner's students and associates found clues in rising sea levels and changing coastal geography. For instance, a spit closed off access to the Bering Sea, creating a lake where there had once been a tidal channel.

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