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  • Introduction
  • Julie A. Esdale and Jeffrey T. Rasic

The papers in this volume were first presented in 2007 at the 34th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association in a session entitled “Current Perspectives on the Northern Archaic,” organized by the editors. The objective of the symposium was to discuss recent research and current interpretations of the middle Holocene archaeological record of interior Alaska and adjacent parts of northwest Canada that are typically conceived of as an expression of a Northern Archaic cultural tradition.

Interest in this topic was spurred by the editors’ own research in interior Alaska, particularly in the northern portion of the state. That work raised questions of a very basic but intractable sort, such as how can a Northern Archaic assemblage be reliably detected, and whether this label, “Northern Archaic” is a useful construct for describing a portion of the northern archaeological record. How is the considerable variability seen among Northern Archaic assemblages best explained and what human behaviors and adaptations account for this record? These are not new questions. Forty years ago, in 1968, the nature of notched projectile point discoveries in the north was discussed in a forum at the American Anthropology Association (AAA) meetings in Seattle (transcript by Ackerman 1968). Participants included Robert Humphrey, Edwin Hall, John Campbell, Herbert Alexander, Ed Hasley, John Cook, James Millar, Allan Bryan, Moreau Maxwell, Brian Reeves, Michael Krauss, William Irving, Don Dumond, Joan Townsend, Carl Borden, and Robert McKennan. Also, two of the current contributors, Robert Ackerman and Douglas Anderson, were presenters and key discussants in that session, which speculated on the age, affiliation, and origin of northern notched projectile point sites.

The term “Northern Archaic tradition” was proposed by Douglas Anderson to describe the middle Holocene notched and lanceolate point levels excavated at Onion Portage during the 1960s (Anderson 1968a, 1968b). The term gained further currency as a result of research at sites like Ratekin (Skarland and Keim 1958), Tuktu (Campbell 1961), and Security Cove (Ackerman 1967). Today it is the primary label used to describe assemblages dating to between roughly 6500 and 3000 B.P. in interior Alaska. The forty-year anniversary of this AAA session seems an opportune time to revisit recurring issues regarding the Northern Archaic.

Despite these several decades of research across Alaska and western Canada, it is peculiar that the Northern Archaic is not better understood. The earlier, and presumably less-well preserved, record of late Pleistocene and early Holocene hunter-gatherers is, in fact, better known or at least more frequently discussed. This is not for a lack of data about Northern Archaic sites or interesting questions regarding Northern Archaic life ways. New data pertinent to the Northern Archaic have continually accrued in the form of new artifact assemblages and radiocarbon dates from both stratified and surficial contexts, as well as new ice patch discoveries of hafted notched projectile points (Hare et al. 2004).

After examining the historical background (Esdale) and environmental settings (Mason and Bigelow) of the Northern Archaic, these papers elaborate on some of the earliest known Northern Archaic sites (Anderson and Ackerman) and investigate key topics in hunter-gatherer research relevant to this period. Much is discussed here regarding middle Holocene diet breadth, landscape use, and site patterns (Patterson, Potter, Wilson and Rasic), artifact assemblage variability (Esdale, Potter, Rasic and Slobodina), and the use of multiple weapon systems (Rasic and Slobodina, Potter).

The editors would like to thank the participants in the 2007 Alaska Anthropological Association annual meeting (Owen Mason, Nancy Bigelow, Douglas Anderson, Robert Ackerman, Michael Kunz, Constance Adkins, Aaron Wilson, Charles Holmes, Natasha Slobodina, Robert Gal, [End Page 1] Jeff Speakman, and William Workman) and other interested individuals (Don Dumond, James Kari) for their perceptive ideas and stimulating discussions. We wish to thank the contributors to the volume for their cooperation in preparing this issue of Arctic Anthropology. We gratefully acknowledge Susan Kaplan’s keen editorial guidance and Stacy Ericson’s careful copy editing work. We have benefited tremendously from the contributions of the symposium participants, and interactions with them and other colleagues too numerous to mention. We hope this work advances our collective understanding of the Northern Archaic period and raises important questions about...


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