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Collaborative Research: Impacts of Abrupt Environmental Change on North Pacific Human Ecosystem Dynamics using High Resolution Zooarchaeological Records from Coastal Washington


Project start
Project end
Type of project
Project theme
Society, economy and culture
Project topic
Culture & history

Project details

Science / project summary

This project will examine community response to abrupt environmental change through analysis of animal remains as they reflect subsistence practices and environmental conditions, from Tse-whit-zen, a previously excavated Lower Elwha Klallam village on the northwest coast of Washington, with occupation beginning around 2700 years ago and intensifying between about 1800-100 years ago. This time period spans several high-magnitude earthquakes, the Little Ice Age and Medieval Climatic Anomaly, and a gradual increase in sheltered intertidal habitat. The research team will explore how these events affected animal resources and different people within households and larger communities over time, using predictions drawn from foraging theory. The extraordinary integrity of the deposits, the detailed geoarchaeological field recording of deposits, the large and rigorously collected faunal samples from 7 time periods, and volumetrically comparable samples of birds, fish, shellfish, and mammals at Tse-whit-zen offer a high-resolution record of past human use of animal resources that is unparalleled in the North Pacific. The research project will provide models, methods and results of direct relevance to scholars working on Arctic systems and processes, given the parallels and direct linkages between the Northwest Coast and areas to the north. In both regions, boat-mobile foragers with maritime subsistence focused on fish, shellfish, and marine mammals, have adapted to complex, dynamic coastlines affected by periodic environmental, geomorphic and climatic changes. Global circulation patterns link the North Pacific and Arctic Oceans and migratory species bridge the two areas. Our project also provides an ideal comparative case study for the Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance, an NSF funded initiative developed to link Arctic Polar Ecodynamics to the broader global context. The project will be valuable to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe who were integrally involved in the excavation of the Tse-whit-zen site, are concerned about the future of the site and the collection. The researchers will share faunal data, publications and professional insights with tribal educators, wildlife managers, and cultural specialists involved in planning a museum. They will also be collaborating with local and state governmental agencies that will develop educational materials from our results, to meet a growing need to prepare the public for future earthquake-related events. The researchers anticipate that their work documenting fine-scale animal response to earthquakes, climate change, local shoreline change, and human exploitation strategies for several "species of concern" (e.g. salmonids, ground fish, sea mammals) will assist current wildlife management efforts.