— Paleo-Eskimos are the ancient ancestors of modern Natives in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Travel with archaeologists into the field in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska, as they dig for artifacts from these long-ago traditions, uncovering examples of cunning technology and hunting prowess which allowed humans to survive harsh and changeable conditions in the Arctic.
The Matcharak Lake site excavated by Andy Tremane holds artifacts representing a distinctive stone tool technology called the Denbigh Flint Complex (say DEN-bee). Denbigh people were the first humans to spread and colonize most of Arctic North America 5000 years ago. At Lake Matcharak archaeologists uncovered a Paleo-Eskimo hunting camp containing Denbigh-era artifacts and animal bones. Although 75-100 Denbigh sites are known in Alaska, only a handful (literally) of bone fragments are known from all of these sites. The condition of shallow permafrost and the ongoing formation of peat at Matcharak Lake were just right to preserve the animal remains of many Denbigh meals.
The Matcharak Peninsula site excavated by Joe Keeney holds artifacts representing the tool technology crafted by Northern Archaic people. Artifacts and animal bones preserved here are as much as 7,000 years old. “Up until the point that the Matcharak Peninsula Site was found, you could essentially fit all the identifiable materials from these Northern Archaic sites into a shoebox,” Keeney stated; Northern Archaic artifacts were so rare. “That makes this a very unique site that has such good preservation.” The Matcharak Peninsula Site is older than the Matcharak Lake site. Although as Keeney puts it: “It’s not so much that is is older, it’s that it is different.” The site holds the largest collection of well-preserved bones from the Northern Archaic time period.
The discovery of the ancient hunting camps containing bone middens (prehistoric trash dumps) will allow the archaeologists to reconstruct the behavior of these ancient Native Alaskans.