Archeologist's career spans four decades

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Don Dumond has seen big changes in theories about the migration of early peoples through Alaska over his four decades working as an archaeologist in the state.

When he first started working in the early 1960s along the Brooks River in what is now Katmai National Park and Preserve, most archaeologists believed Alaska's diverse cultures had come from the Bering Strait region and fanned out across the state in textbook arrows.

But with each new field season came doubts and competing ideas, Dumond said in a lecture Tuesday capping the National Park Service's Alaska Archaeology Month. And over years, the understanding of Alaska's prehistory has grown more complex.

''Obviously a great deal has been learned,'' Dumond said in an interview Wednesday. ''It's made things a lot more complicated.''

Dumond, a retired professor from the University of Oregon and author of the classic work ''The Eskimos and Aleuts,'' is considered a ''grand thinker'' on Alaska archaeology.

Dumond has provided a framework for the complicated story of prehistory in Southwest Alaska, said National Park Service archaeologist Ted Birkedal.

''He gave us a spine to hang our work on. No one really knew anything about the peninsula until he worked there,'' Birkedal said. ''And he showed that people moved in and out of areas throughout Alaska'' rather than just migrating once from the Bering Strait region.

Due in part to Dumond's work, Birkedal said, the Bering region is now seen as a place that pumped out waves of migrations that influenced other Alaska Native cultures.

Based on his fieldwork -- mainly at sites on the Alaska Peninsula -- Dumond believes a maritime culture flourished on the Pacific side of the peninsula as early as 7,000 years ago. The earliest sites on the Bering Sea side date as far back as 9,000 years. The people there were using tools like those of cultures further north.

By 900 years ago, Dumond said, the cultures on both sides of the Aleutian Range had grown together. Linguistic evidence also suggests the areas became linked about that time, perhaps because a wave of people from the Bering Strait region moved in.

''The Brooks River area and Pacific Coast sites started looking very similar,'' he said. ''Groups of people seem to have continually pushed down from the north.''

Dumond says it was easier, in the early years, to think about the big picture of early migrations.

''These days, archaeologists have so much data to look at, they can choke themselves,'' he said. But the details have led to truer understanding, according to Dumond.

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