Journeys to Hakaadan Kuyuudax^, the Sky Worlds

Author: Debra G. Corbett | Nanutset Heritage

One question I hear as an archaeologist working in the Aleutian Islands is “what was their religion like?” or “What did they believe”?  Everyone familiar with ancient Aleutian people quickly moves past the obvious fact they were hunters and fishermen to deeper questions about what gave their lives meaning.  Archaeology is a poor tool for this deeper understanding, so I began researching traditional religion (Marsh 1954).

It seems to me that the basic structure of the Aleut belief system is similar to those of the Yupik, Inuit, and Inupiaq people of Alaska, Canada and Greenland.  In my readings, it became obvious that spiritual beliefs permeate traditional folktales. Folktales from the Aleutians can help to explain what gave peoples’ lives meaning.

There is too much to cover here, but one tiny element of Aleut spirituality involved travels to Hakaadan Kuyuudax^, a paradise-like sky world, warm, with light, food and lots of leisure time. The souls of the dead have a path to the Hakaadan Kuyuudax^ where they become birds and await their rebirth. Living humans can enter the sky world through a hole reached by climbing a bridge, or mountain or some other path.  Two Aleut stories explicitly describe a visit to Hakaadan Kuyuudax^.

Moon Man and his sister, Sun, share a house in Hakaadan Kuyuudax^{.  In The Moon’s Sister (story 15 in Bergsland and Dirks) Sun, has a human son who wants to visit his Uncle Moon.  She tells him to walk until he finds “daylight coming from above”.  Days later he finds the light, grabs it tightly, stops breathing (dying), and is pulled to the sky.  In the Sky, he encounters several Star Beings before arriving at his Uncle’s House.  He finds a rough grass mat and unrolls it releasing heat, the Sun, which burns his face. Moon arrives home in evening and the nephew becomes the Moon in his place.

Aleutian sunset

And he followed a path of light to the west.

A shaman’s journey is told in Tanang Awaa Alix^ Anĝaĝitaĝin (story 3, Bergsland and Dirks).  A boy wants to find a wife in a land from which no one returns.  His parents give him magic protectors.  He travels, ascending to the sky on a pathway of light: “up there he is walking along the daylight that is going west”. In Hakaadan Kuyuudax^, which is called Unimga or Unimax in this story, he faces a series of challenges. The first is a village of his dead relatives who help his quest.  Passing them he enters another house and fights a series of monsters, using his magic protectors and cunning.  He alone, of all those who had traveled to Hakaadan Kuyuudax^, manages to return. This story matches more closely Shaman journeys in Eskimo tales.

Other stories provide more clues about Hakaadan Kuyuudax^.  The sky world has multiple levels, at least two, probably three or more.  The first is occupied by the Moon, Sun, and constellations.  This level also has at least one village occupied by the souls of dead humans.  The second level is occupied by several species of monster, including Giants, “demons”, people of incredible appearance, frightful animals, and small girls and boys.  If there is a 3rd level it too is occupied by giants.

sky from Mound 14

View of the sky from KIS-051 Mound site, Kiska Island: Google Earth. Accessed 7/19/2016.

As the Tiglax steams through the Aleutian waters, the researchers and crew on board sail through ancient land- and seascape imbued with sentient entities. When the rare sunset shines in the summer evenings, it is easy to imagine taking a journey upward and westward…


Further Reading

Jochelson, Waldemar. 1990. Unangan Ungiikangin Kayuk Tunusangin: Unangam Uniikangis Ama Tunuzangis:Aleut Tales and Narratives. Collected 1909-1910 by Waldemar Jochelson: Alaska Native Language Center.

Marsh, Gordon H. 1954. A Comparative Survey of Eskimo-Aleut Religion. Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska 3(1):21-36.


M/V Tiglax Sails for Science

Authors: Lisa Spitler and Jeff Williams | Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

Tiglax SketchThe M/V Tiglax (TEKH-lah – Aleut for eagle) is essential to managing the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The boat is 120 feet long and operates with a crew of 6. Fourteen scientists can live and work aboard. She has wet and dry labs and freezers for storing samples. Tiglax can deploy midwater and bottom trawls for sampling fish and plankton, and hosts bioacoustic transducers and data processors for sampling fish/plankton densities; and a SBE-21 thermosalinograph for diving seabird studies.

In a season, the Tiglax may sail to Forrester and St. Lazaria Islands in Southeast Alaska, or into Bering Sea as far as St. Matthew Island. Her main operations area is, however, the Aleutian Chain. Tiglax typically spends 120-160 days at sea covering as many as 20,000 nautical miles (at a top speed of 10 knots) traveling from the home port of Homer, Alaska out to Attu Island at the extreme west end of the Aleutian chain and back, several times a season.

The main role of the Tiglax is to transport service personnel, equipment, and supplies between work sites throughout the refuge. This year Tiglax departs Homer on May 17 to deploy FWS biologists and biological technicians at field camps in the Semidi Islands, on Aiktak, Buldir, Kiska, and Attu. These scientists focus on studying seabird colonies, but also work on reestablishing endangered habitats, they identify and monitor archaeological and historic sites, they monitor bird populations and human impacts on habitats, they maintain remote field facilities, and they patrol refuge waters.

 Tiglax also serves as a seagoing research platform and living quarters for scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or other federal or state agencies and universities. This year’s FWS projects include removal of invasive foxes from islands to restore native bird populations, collecting background information on contaminants left over from World War II, and monitoring other contaminant cleanup efforts on Attu and Amchitka, studying Kasatochi Island as she recovers from an eruption in 2008, lichen research on Adak, and visiting remote bird nesting colonies.

Non FWS partners include the National Marine Fisheries Service for sea lion studies, the University of Alaska, Institute of Marine Sciences and School of Fisheries, The Alaska Volcano Observatory, and the US Navy.

Stay with us for the “Summer of the Tiglax” as we report in on monitoring and research activities supported and facilitated by the Tiglax and crew!


World War Two-period Defensive Fortifications at Eareckson Air Station, Shemya Island

Jason Rogers | PhD: Northern Land Use Research Alaska, LLC, Senior Project Archaeologist

The landscape of Shemya Island in the western Aleutian chain is dominated by military structures, many of which date from the Second World War. The western Aleutians were of considerable strategic importance to the United States during this period due to their proximity to Japan. In June, 1942, Dutch Harbor on the island of Unalaska was attacked by bombers and fighter aircraft of the Japanese Imperial Navy. Just days later, the islands of Kiska and Attu were occupied by Japanese forces. In the spring of 1943, military commanders decided to establish an air base in the western Aleutians to provide fighter protection for troops attempting to reoccupy the islands.  Shemya Island was chosen for its relatively flat geography, and for its proximity to Attu. In May 1943, during the U.S. campaign to retake Attu Island the U.S. Army began work on a secret air base at Shemya. Between June and August 1943, runways for fighters and bombers, with hangars and other support facilities, were constructed. Between 1943 and 1945 the airfield was used to launch bombing raids on Japanese military targets in the northern Kurile Islands. During this period, Shemya also played a role in the WWII Lend-Lease program as a refueling stop for planes en route from North America to Siberia.

While many of the large structures such as aircraft hangars were recorded and documented for historic preservation purposes in the 1990s, the extensive remains of defensive fortifications remained uninvestigated. In May 2015, historical background and field investigations of WWII-period defensive fortifications on Shemya Island were undertaken at the request of the U.S. Air Force.

The WWII-period sites documented for this project were classified into two general categories: Pillbox Bunkers (20) and Gun Emplacement and Fire Control Complexes (7). Bunkers were further classified as machine-gun pillboxes (Figure 1) or 37 mm artillery bunkers (Figure 2). Gun emplacements consist of large anti-aircraft complexes (Figure 3), and 155 mm coastal defense complexes.

Figure 1Figure 1. Machine-gun pillbox.

Figure 2Figure 2. 37 mm artillery bunker.

Figure 3Figure 3. 90 mm fixed mount gun emplacement, part of a large anti-aircraft complex.

The military constructed Shemya’s defensive fortifications with three main objectives: 1) to defend the island from waterborne invasion; 2) to defend the island from marine bombardment; and 3) to defend the island’s facilities from aerial bombing or strafing.  The types of defense systems and their spatial arrangement on the island correspond to these objectives. Pillbox bunkers were primarily directed against the possibility of invasion via landing craft and personnel. The 155 mm coastal defense batteries were primarily directed against battleships and other foreign marine fleet elements. Anti-aircraft complexes were intended to protect the island – especially the runway – from aerial bombardment and strafing.

Individual elements of defensive fortifications were designed, built, and integrated as components of a larger system. Understanding how each feature was situated on the landscape, and how each was meant to coordinate with the others, is important to gaining an understanding of the whole system. Patterns in the location and positioning of the various defensive fortification types correlate topographically to the landscape of Shemya Island (Figure 4). The flat-topped seamount presents an inclined planar geography, generally sloping gently upward from south to north. Bluffs on the island’s southern side average 6 to 8 m in elevation, while the high cliffs on the northern side reach 75 m. Machine gun and 37 mm artillery pillbox bunkers are concentrated on the more accessible south and west coasts, with concentrated coverage of shallow coves and beaches, as well as the island’s only harbor. Anti-aircraft and fire control positions are located at higher elevations at regular intervals along the length of the island, paralleling the main runway. The 90 mm guns situated in the anti-aircraft emplacements could also be used against ground targets if required. The two large 155 mm coastal defense positions are set on the northern cliffs – the island’s highest points. A single machine gun pillbox controls the only road leading from the sea level strand flats to the cliff tops on the north side of the island.

Figure 4Figure 4. Spatial patterning of Shemya Island’s WWII defensive fortification systems.


Cohen, Stan

1988    The Forgotten War. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Missoula, MT.

Rogers, Jason S., Morgan Blanchard, and Roberta Gordaoff

2015    Survey and Documentation of World War II Defensive Fortifications at Eareckson Air Station, Shemya Island, Alaska. Report prepared for Baer Engineering and U.S. Air Force 611 CES. Northern Land Use Research Alaska LLC, Anchorage.

Ross, James L.

1969    Construction and Operation of a World War II Army Air Force Forward Base: Shemya, Alaska, May 1943 – December 1945. Office of History, Alaskan Air Command, Anchorage.

Header image: Agattu Island from Shemya, with anti-aircraft gun emplacement in the foreground.

Gardening in the Aleutian Islands during the Russian Period

Author: Douglas Veltre | Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Anchorage |

(This material is largely based on “Gardening in Colonial Russian America: Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Perspectives from the Aleut Region, Alaska,” by Douglas Veltre, published in 2011 in Ethnoarchaeology 3(2):119-138.)

Russian fur hunters entered the Aleutian Islands region shortly after the 1741 voyages of Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikof.  Over the decades that followed, Russians extended their activities ever farther eastward and southward, so that by the early 1800s their presence extended to southeastern Alaska.  The early fur-hunting voyages were often of several years’ duration, with ships remaining in Aleutian waters until they had amassed a profitable number of sea otter, fur seal, and other furs.

Though the number of Russians in Alaska never exceeded about 800 at any one time, the Russian colonial period was a devastating time for many Alaska Native people, including Unangax^ (Aleuts).  As much as 90 percent of their population was lost through hostilities, introduced diseases, and accidental deaths.  In addition, traditional patterns of kinship, leadership, subsistence, technology, and religion were profoundly altered.

In 1974, I began three seasons of field research on the effects of the eighteenth century Russian arrival on the Unangax^ of Atka Island, in the central Aleutian Islands (Figure 1).  My primary focus was to investigate the archaeological visibility of contact: the changes in material culture, settlement use, food remains, etc. that could be taken as signs of the arrival of Russians in the region.  To supplement the archaeological findings and gain further insights on the contact period, I also researched Russian period documents and conducted oral history interviews with Unangax^ in Atka.

Veltre Fig 1

Figure 1: Korovinski and the village of Atka.  (Detail of a USGS map.)

Initial examination of several sites on the eastern portion of the island led to more intensive mapping, testing, and excavation at the site of Korovinski, on the Bering Sea coast, some 16 km (10 miles) from today’s village of Atka. Well known to today’s residents of Atka village through oral history, personal travel to the area, and written historical documentation, Korovinski was one of the ancestral villages to today’s village of Atka, which was formed around 1870.  Interestingly, it is one of the few old settlements in the state to be identified on modern USGS maps as a “site.”

Veltre Fig 2

Figure 2: The Korovinski site area, looking east-northeast.  Korovin Lagoon is to the left, Korovin Bay to the right.

As my archaeological investigation was to show, Korovinski was the locale of a large pre-Russian Unangax^ village from about 2,000 to 500 years ago, at which time a major volcanic eruption sent its occupants elsewhere.  It was not until the middle of the Russian period, around 1820, that Korovinski was again occupied, this time by both Russians and Unangax^.  The settlement served as the westernmost office of the Russian-American Company, having jurisdiction from the central Aleutians to Kamchatka.  Remains of well over 80 structures (including houses, a barn, warehouses, and a church) are dispersed over both the western and eastern low-lying spits at the mouth of Korovin Lagoon (Figure 3).  In the years after Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867, Korovinski residents moved to today’s village of Atka.

Of particular interest at Korovinski are extensive garden plots (Figures 4-6) defined by sod walls about 1 m (3.3 feet) high.  Inside these walls, individual plots are often clearly furrowed.  Probably built to keep out domestic animals, such as the cattle and goats that Russians brought to the Aleutians, the walls could also have served to mark the ownership of the crops: those belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian-American Company, and so on.  Altogether, the various garden plots on both the Korovinski spit and the eastern spit cover an area of just over 19,000 m2 (1.9 hectares or 4.7 acres).

Veltre Fig 3

Figure 3: The locations of cultural remains at Korovinski.


Veltre Fig 4

Figure 4: Garden plots at the end of the main (western) Korovinski spit. Low altitude oblique photograph, looking west.

Veltre Fig 5

Figure 5: Detail of Korovinski spit gardens, with furrows visible in several of the plots. Low altitude photograph, looking down.

Veltre Fig 6

Figure 6: Gardens and surface depressions on the eastern spit at Korovinski. (Aerial photograph by AERO-METRIC, Inc., Alaska Division, Roll 26B, Frame 22, May 12, 1986.)

While it is not possible to say with certainty that all of the garden plots on both spits were planted at the same time, I think it is likely that most were.  Estimates of the gardens’ productivity are difficult to state with precision; nevertheless, contemporary yield figures for Alaskan potatoes suggests that the Korovinski gardens might have produced from about 11,700 to 85,800 kilograms (25,800 to 190,000 pounds) annually.  As the Korovinski gardens were the largest in the Aleutian Islands region, it is likely that the Russian-American Company shipped some of the Korovinski potatoes elsewhere in the region to help support its fur-hunting endeavors.

During the Russian period, potatoes were fairly widely cultivated in the Aleutian Islands region and elsewhere in Alaska, but usually in relatively small plots that have been lost to time.  The Korovinski gardens are unusual because of their size as well as the fact that they have not been destroyed by subsequent development of the area.  Another example of surviving gardens plots is in Unalaska, on the property of the Russian Orthodox Church.  A view from 1840s by the artist Voznesenskii clearly shows gardens adjacent to the church (Figure 7).  The low furrows from this plot remain today as faint reminders of the Russian era (Figure 8).

Veltre Fig 7

Figure 7: Gardens in Unalaska in 1843 by Voznesenskii (from Pavel Golovin, The End of Russian America, Oregon Historical Society, 1979, p. 125).


Veltre Fig 8

Figure 8: Gardens furrows in the church yard in Unalaska today.

NSF Sponsored Research in the Aleutian region since 1961

Caroline Funk | University at Buffalo

Funding for work and research in the Aleutian region comes from many federal, state, and private sources. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of the larger sources of funding and the searchable online NSF awards database is a good source for information about the diversity of work performed in the region ( Last week I made a quick “Simple Search” on the search term “Aleut*” in award titles and abstracts. This query gave me a list of 314 active and expired awards from 18 separate NSF organizations since 1961 – totaling $256,082,759. Probably my quick search did not capture all funding awards related to research in the region, but it does provide a snapshot of the kinds research funded over the past three or four generations of scholars.

The greatest funding dollar amount has come from the Division of Ocean Sciences (~ $182 million). The greatest number of awards is from the Division of Earth Sciences (139).

NSF divisions table

The list of NSF programs – rather than the large-scale NSF organization – that awarded lead funding on the projects provides better insight into the subject of the awards. More than half of the total funding amount for the region was expended on one large project – ARRV – CONSTRUCTION. The Petrology and Geochemistry and Arctic Social Sciences programs have funded the greatest number of projects, with 44 Petrology projects totaling ~$5.3 million and 34 Social Science projects totaling ~$6.5 million. Our research note posts have highlighted more of these kinds of research projects because there are more of them to highlight.

NSF programs table

Universities and other institutions in Alaska have received the largest number of awards.

NSF states

The spreadsheet link below includes the results of my search. The results are sorted from oldest to newest awards.  The last field in the spreadsheet has the abstract of each award, providing details about the intended activities and outcomes.

Dec 9 NSF Aleutian Award Search Results


Monitoring Archaeological Site Condition

Author: Debra G. Corbett | Nanutset Heritage

Environmental changes pose numerous threats to the living and ancient cultural heritage of the Aleutian Islands.  Prehistoric sites are vulnerable to erosion caused by increased storminess and rising sea levels.  Changing economic conditions may increase the incidence of vandalism and looting, and introduction of grazing animals causes erosion and trampling.

There have been no systematic efforts to document changes in Aleutian sites.  Fortunately a regional baseline of site conditions exists.  The Aleut Corporation applied for over 300 cemetery and historic sites significant in Aleut history under ANCSA.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) investigated these sites prior to their conveyance to TAC.  As a result we have detailed maps and descriptions of these sites conditions at a known point in time.   Recently a small number of sites were revisited by archaeologists, making updates possible.  Sites on Agattu, Tanaga, Little Kiska and Kanaga were visited.

Agattu, 2013

Sites ATU-00057 and ATU-00230 in Karab Cove on Agattu Island were not part of TAC’s claims but BIA archaeologists described both in 1989.  At ATU-00057 they noted a minor amount of erosion along the stream banks.  No erosion was reported at ATU-00230.  In 2013 archaeologists made a brief visit to both sites.  Site vegetation was just sprouting so visibility was excellent.  Erosion is continuing at ATU-00057, but the BIA estimate of less than 5% of the site damaged is a reasonable assessment.   There were no signs of erosion at ATU-00230.

Tanaga, 2013

XGI-00030, a cave, was plundered by T.P. Bank in 1950-51.  Bank recovered artifacts of stone, bone and wood.  BIA investigators in 2000, described worked wood from scaffolding, and fragments of grass matting, animal bones and shells, and other organic materials left behind by Bank.  A visit to the cave in 2013 showed no new disturbance to the cave.

Little Kiska Island, 2014

Little Kiska Site KIS-00002, was excavated by Hrdlicka in 1936.   In 1989 BIA noted extensive WWII disturbance but no erosion.  No erosion was apparent in 1997, but by 2010 a large exposure had appeared.  In 2014 an archaeologist spent a day documenting the erosion.  Sixty meters of the 150 meter long midden is actively eroding.  The site face has, by best estimates, lost between 1 and 2 meters of midden.

Archaeological site KIS-00002 on Little Kiska Island is actively eroding.

Archaeological site KIS-00002 on Little Kiska Island is actively eroding.

Kanaga Island, 2015

ADK-00059 was investigated by BIA in 1999.  FWS and independent archaeologists visited in June 2015.  This site is situated well back from the modern shoreline and shows no sign of recent visits or natural erosion.

Archaeological site ADK-00059 on Kanaga Island appears to be stable.

Archaeological site ADK-00059 on Kanaga Island appears to be stable.

Five sites were examined for condition between 2013 and 2015.  None have been subject to recent vandalism.   Two sites, ATU-00057, and KIS-00002, are actively eroding.  Erosion at the first is ongoing but minor and poses little threat to the long term integrity of the site.  Major erosion is obvious at KIS-00002.  Since it is inside well-protected Kiska Harbor increased storminess is unlikely to be the cause.  One possibility may be changes in site elevation due to earthquakes.

Clams and Climate: Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction in the North Pacific Ocean

This blog is reposted from the Stable Isotopes in Zooarchaeology wordpress site. They are a Working Group of the International Council for Archaeozoology. Please cite their webpage in any use of this material.

Author: Christine Bassett | University of Alabama

The archaeological record reflects fluctuating marine conditions from the Aleutian Islands to the Northwest coast of North America during the Late Holocene (Wanner et al., 2008). Though not widely tested, recent research suggests that conditions may have cooled enough during the Late Holocene cold phase to allow sea ice to accumulate as far south as the Northern Pacific Ocean. My research is focused on establishing sclerochronological analysis of Saxidomus gigantea as a means of detecting differences in sea surface temperatures in the Northern Pacific Ocean. Sclerochronological and isotopic analysis of skeletal carbonates can provide a proxy for sea surface temperatures as well as the length of seasons during the recent geological record. My research will contribute to a larger project focusing on human and animal adaptation to climate change led by Fred Andrus (Univerisity of Alabama), Catherine West (Boston University), and Mike Etnier (Portland State University) by providing an additional proxy for reconstructing environmental conditions in the Late Holocene.

Figure 1. Cross-section of mature shell, age seven years, magnification 10x. The arrow denotes the distance between two annual winter growth lines (modified from Hallmann et al., 2009).

Figure 1. Cross-section of mature shell, age seven years, magnification 10x. The arrow denotes the distance between two annual winter growth lines (modified from Hallmann et al., 2009).

Sclerochronology is the study of the growth of invertebrate skeletons. I work exclusively with bivalves, whose distinct growth lines mark regular biologically and environmentally controlled growth intervals (Hallmann et al., 2009). Isotopic analysis of oxygen (δ18O) from growth lines can identify winter growth bands between successive growing seasons. Nadine Hallman and her colleagues (2009) examined the life history of S. giganteus and compared shell precipitation during the organism’s life with oxygen isotopic analysis. They determined that dark bands (Fig. 1) largely co-occurred with peaks in δ18O (Fig. 2). These dark bands mark the beginning and end of a season of growth and the interval between them represent the length of one growing season.

Figure 2. Upper: Shell oxygen isotope record (δ18O, black bars) compared with reconstructed temperature (Tδ18O, light grey curve) and sea surface temperature (SST, dark grey curve) data collected from Lower: Daily growth increment width time series (n = number of increments per year. The blue bars represent the annual winter growth lines measured in (A). Positive δ18O values correspond with winter growth lines while negative δ18O were sampled from the portion of the shell between winter growth lines. Oxygen isotope data confirms annual winter growth lines. Specimen collected September, 9 2007 (modified from Hallmann et al., 2009).

Figure 2. Upper: Shell oxygen isotope record (δ18O, black bars) compared with reconstructed temperature (Tδ18O, light grey curve) and sea surface temperature (SST, dark grey curve) data collected from Lower: Daily growth increment width time series (n = number of increments per year. The blue bars represent the annual winter growth lines measured in (A). Positive δ18O values correspond with winter growth lines while negative δ18O were sampled from the portion of the shell between winter growth lines. Oxygen isotope data confirms annual winter growth lines. Specimen collected September, 9 2007 (modified from Hallmann et al., 2009).

Measuring and comparing the lengths of seasonal shell growth from shells collected at higher latitudes with shells collected from slightly lower latitudes could provide a means of assessing changes in the length of growth seasons, possibly indicating differential sea surfaces temperatures between latitudes. Applying this method to ancient archaeological shells would allow me to test for changes in the length of growing season and by extension, the presence of cold conditions – and possibly sea ice – in the Northern Pacific Ocean during the Late Holocene.

Figure 3. Collection sites have not yet been determined. Potential site candidates are located along the Gulf of Alaska and include Unalaska (A) and Kodiak Islands (B), Alaska and Dundas Island, B.C. (C) (modified from NASA satellite image).

Figure 3. Collection sites have not yet been determined. Potential site candidates are located along the Gulf of Alaska and include Unalaska (A) and Kodiak Islands (B), Alaska and Dundas Island, B.C. (C) (modified from NASA satellite image).

Figure 4. Image of winter growth line in an acetate peel made from S. gigantea cross-section at 40X magnification (Personal image by Bassett, 2014).

Figure 4. Image of winter growth line in an acetate peel made from S. gigantea cross-section at 40X magnification (Personal image by Bassett, 2014).

To accomplish this, I plan to collect samples of Saxidomus gigantea from Alaska and Northern British Columbia (Fig. 3). I will analyze δ18O profiles across the organism’s second or third year of growth, the most ontogenetically reliable period of growth, to determine that winter growth bands correspond to peaks in δ18O so that later sclerochronological analysis can be performed. For sclerochronological analysis, I will prepare acetate peels (Fig. 4) so that I can then count lunar-daily growth lines between winter growth bands to quantitatively measure the length of the growing season. Assuming I can detect a difference in the length of the growing season between samples collected at different latitudes, I will apply the same method to ancient samples from the same regions. If the method tested here is successful, sclerochronological analysis of bivalves may be able to contribute to δ18O data interpretation and comparative studies with other organisms to provide a more comprehensive view of changes in SST through recent geological history. Understanding climate in the past contributes greatly to archaeological research that seeks to understand how human behavior, particularly the exploitation of floral and faunal resources, changes as components of the environment change.


Hallmann, N., Burchell, M., Schone, B.R., Irvine, G.V., Maxwell, D., 2009, High-resolution sclerochronological analysis of the bivalve mollusk Saxidomus gigantea from Alaska and British Columbia: techniques for revealing environmental archives and archaeological seasonality. Journal of Archaeological Science, v. 36, pp. 2353-2364.

Wanner, H., Beer, J., Butikofer, J., Crowley, T.J., Cubasch, U., Fluckiger, J., Goosse, H., Grosjean, M., Joos, F., Kaplan, J.O., Kuttel, M., Muller, S.A., Prentice, C., Solomina, O., Stocker, T.F., Tarasov, P., Wagner, M., and Widmann, M., 2008, Mid- to Late Holocene climate change: an overview. Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 27, no. 19-20, pp. 1791-1828.