Archaeology at Raven Bluff, Northwestern Alaska

Helicopter supply drop Raven Bluff
Helicopter supply drop at Raven Bluff / Courtesy BLM

Archaeologists continue excavating a 12,000 year old prehistoric site overlooking the Kivalina River, yielding evidence of generations of wandering hunters. During the 2010 summer season, what they have found is contributing new insights– and contrary new evidence– into the thinking on how humans spread throughout North American at the close of the Pleistocene.

The Raven Bluff site was discovered in 2007 by BLM archaeologist Bill Hedman and a crew conducting an archaeological site survey in the far northwest corner of Alaska. The Bering Land Bridge between Russia and North America may have still existed–or had just submerged for the last time–when hunters first frequented Raven Bluff.

Archaeology at Raven Bluff Northwestern Alaska
Pit crew archaeologists in dig site / Courtesy BLM

Jeff Rasic, archaeologist and curator for the University of Alaska Museum, guides the digging crew in finding some of the oldest preserved animal bone found anywhere in the America Arctic. Rapid soil accumulation, low acidity, and perennially frozen conditions resulted in excellent bone preservation.

The notion that people at this time period were bison hunters in Northern Alaska is being put to the test; 12,000 years ago, what is now moist tundra was a drier, grassier landscape grazed by animals that included bison.

fluted point fragments Raven Bluff
Three fragments of a fluted point found at the Raven Bluff archeological site, Alaska / Courtesy BLM

Another established scientific hypothesis being tested is how the use of certain stone tools spread in North America. The lower levels of the site produced a very significant find of a roughly 12,000 year-old fluted projectile point base, marking the first time such a tool has been definitely dated in the north. “The idea for decades has been that fluted projectile point technology originated in Alaska or perhaps Siberia and was carried south into the Americas,” explains Rasic. This model suggests that the Raven Bluff tool should be older than similar points found further south on the continent. , so it may be that they did not originate in the north, but came from the south. So the question now is, does this represent a migration of people, or the spread of an idea from the south?”

Liz O’Connell 2011

(Archaeology at Raven Bluff Northwestern Alaska)

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