Archaeologists working in central Alaska have found over 1,000 fish specimens, possibly pointing to the early existence of subsistence farming among Ice Age North Americans.
By examining fish remains found at six archaeological sites in eastern Beringia, eastern Alaska, the team of archaeologists identified salmon, burbot, whitefish and pike believed to have been caught between 13,000 and 11,800 years ago. The team’s research was published today in Science Advances.
“It is no exaggeration to say that we really know next to nothing about the uses of freshwater fish in the Paleoindians. The very few early examples that we have are from non-anthropogenic contexts,” Ben Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and lead author of the study, explained in an email to Gizmodo. “Our research sheds much-needed light on these ancient livelihood behaviors.”
Potter said that direct evidence of freshwater fisheries in the region is at most a few thousand years old, and evidence of sea fisheries off the continent is about 11,800 years old.
The team examined remains at six locations along the Tanana River in central Alaska: Upward Sun River, XBD-318, Broken Mammoth, Mead, Cook, and Hollembaek Hill. They also compared the clusters found at these sites to other nearby sites.
The bones were analyzed zooarchaeologically to determine their nature. This means that the researchers carefully examined and compared their anatomical features, dimensions and physical properties. The team performed, and did, a biomolecular analysis of the remains using stable isotope analysis carry out measurements of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the collagen of the fish. The team also extracted DNA from some fish remains to identify the species of 16 specimens.
Hunting and fishing have a long history in America. last year, Archaeologists found 15,700-year-old stone projectiles in Idaho, pushing back the known age of some of the continent’s oldest tools. In 2020, another team figured this out Females hunted in at least some hunter-gatherer groups in South America during the early Holocene, suggesting that the traditional gender roles assigned to such ancient groups need to be reconsidered. And about 2,000 years ago the ancient Calusa people of Southwest Florida designed and built elaborate “water places” in local estuaries to farm fish.
Fishing among Ice Age Native Americans Groups in Alaska were probably not among them According to Potter, they were the main source of food, as fishing probably made up around 10% of their diet.
“More significant is its potential importance as a buffer feed when high-value prey is not secured,” he said. “This likely played a role in the choice of residential base camps – to take advantage of both local freshwater fish and small game.”
The team theorize that the fishery may have been a response to climatological and environmental changes as the cool Pleistocene gave way to the warmer Holocene. As the last ice age thawed in the rearview mirror, ancient people diversified their food sources, including harvesting seasonal fish.
More evidence along the, ahem, pike side – will surely illustrate the importance of seasonal fish in the diet of Paleoamericans in Beringia.
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