Anna Prentiss, Professor in UM Anthropology, recently was awarded an NSF EAGER grant of $299,994 to initiate the Togiak Archaeological and Paleoecological Project. This is the first major study of human, climate, and marine/terrestrial resource relationships spanning the past 1,000 years in the northern Bristol Bay area of SW Alaska. Bristol Bay ecology is now a very hot topic in political, ecological, and economic circles.
The Togiak Archaeological and Paleoecological Project is a long-term study of Yup’ik Eskimo village establishment and growth, traditional subsistence variability, and technology in the context of climate change during the past 1000 years. With a research focus on the Old Togiak archaeological site, the project will contribute towards an enhanced understanding of the ancient history of the Bristol Bay Yup’ik people from the early Thule period through developments during the early Colonial period. It will also contribute to a deeper scientific understanding of relationships between human predation pressure, changing climate regimes and variability in key prey populations, especially emphasizing salmon and several species of pinnipeds. Research at the Old Togiak site will be conducted in collaboration with Togiak Traditional Council, Bristol Bay Native Association, and the descendent community.
The Old Togiak site is a house mound village consisting of one large mound stretching at least 130 meters in length adjacent to at least six other somewhat smaller mounds. Depressions on the surface of some mounds suggest an array of late-dating house structures and cache pits, in addition to some illicit modern excavations. Previous excavations at the Old Togiak site focused exclusively on the large mound and revealed deeply stratified deposits (at least four meters) that included indicators of house structures, clay-lined cache pits, possible outdoor activity areas, and shell midden material along with excellent preservation of organic artifacts and food remains.
This research will seek to reconstruct the history of the Togiak house mounds and develop an initial paleoecological model for the period of occupation. This will be accomplished by conducting extensive geophysical investigations emphasizing magnetometry, electrical resistivity, and ground penetrating radar. The geophysical work will be accompanied by geoarchaeological assessment of landform development and site formation processes. Finally, subsurface sampling across the site will be accomplished using a deep coring system from which samples for radiocarbon dating and paleoecological analysis will be extracted.