Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Paleoindian Technology in Beringia--A Technological and Morphological Analysis of the Northern Fluted-Point Complex
Under the supervision of Dr. Ted Goebel, Heather Smith's doctoral dissertation research will investigate the technology, morphology, and context of Alaskan fluted projectile points, focusing on the new assemblage from Serpentine Hot Springs (BEN-192), a unique site in Beringia found to contain a fluted-point assemblage in a buried and clearly datable context. Fluted points are widespread in the Americas, but in the Beringian area of north and northwest Alaska problematic and un-datable contexts have prevented interpretations of their meaning, especially in the context of human dispersal across the Americas, and we still know virtually nothing about their adaptive context in late-glacial Arctic and Subarctic ecosystems. Thus far, their attribution to the early period of Alaskan prehistory has been based predominantly on typology alone. The research attempts to resolve this problem by addressing the question: What are the culture-historical and adaptive contexts of Alaskan fluted points? Excavations at Serpentine Hot Springs in 2005 and 2009-2011 have recovered fluted points from a stratigraphically sealed context in association with features interpreted as fire-hearths and charcoal from these features consistently produced dates averaging 10,200-10,000 radiocarbon years before present (14C BP). Prior to this discovery, a clear understanding of the context and significance of fluted points in Beringian archaeology and first Americans research has been impossible. The primary research goals of this project are to 1) characterize the technology and morphology of fluted projectile points recovered from Serpentine Hot Springs and other Alaskan sites, 2) characterize technological activities carried out at Serpentine Hot Springs and other fluted point sites in Alaska, 3) interpret the technological organization of the 'northern fluted-point complex', especially in regards to settlement and mobility, and 4) investigate the origins of Alaskan fluted points. The research will combine standard lithic analyses of non-metric and metric variables with geometric morphometric analyses to obtain a meaningful statistical expression of fluted-point technology and shape. In this part of the analysis, Smith will draw on materials from 19 archaeological sites in Alaska to establish technological and morphological relationships between the fluted points. In the next component of the analysis, Smith will address the technological organization implemented by Alaskan fluted-point makers, thereby facilitating evaluation of northern Paleoindian behavior in terms of tool-stone acquisition, transport, and mobility. Investigation of technological organization will be based on analyses of complete lithic assemblages (including debitage) obtained from Serpentine Hot Springs, Putu, and eight Batza Téna localities where potentially 'typologically clean' assemblages have been found. To investigate the origins of fluted-point technology in Alaska and place Alaskan fluted points in the context of the Paleoindian occupation of the American continents, fluted-point collections from localities in Canada and the continental United States will be comparatively analyzed in regards to technology and morphology. Fluted-point variability and correlations in morphology will be analyzed by a new form of shape-analysis which utilizes geometric morphometrics and allows the entire geometry of the artifacts to be preserved throughout analysis, serving to increase the power of statistical expression. The analyses will require travel to museums in Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska; Washington DC; Laramie, WY; Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta; Victoria, British Columbia; and Ottawa, Toronto, and London, Ontario to study artifact collections curated at these institutions. Funding of the research will enable Ph.D. candidate H. Smith to conduct analyses necessary to place the Serpentine Hot Springs assemblage and the Alaskan fluted-point complex into the greater context of human adaptation during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Research objectives will result in generalizations that will advance our understanding of prehistoric hunter-gatherer risk management in the Arctic, and how Northern Paleoindians met the adaptive challenges imposed by an ecosystem experiencing dramatic climate change at the end of the Pleistocene.