Demographic Fluctuations and the Emergence of Arctic Maritime Adaptations

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Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

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Our goal is to study the role of demographic change in the development and spread of maritime adaptations in the North American Arctic over the last 6000 years. We compile and analyze a regional radiocarbon database (n = 935) for northern Alaska, using Oxcal to analyze demographic patterns in summed probability distributions. We find that northern Alaskan populations grew significantly over the last 4500 years, although growth was punctuated by three periods of decline from approximately 3700 to 3125 cal BP, 1000 cal BP, and 600 cal BP. We assess possible alternative explanations for the observed demographic patterns (e.g. calibration and taphonomic effects, investigator bias). Region-wide erosion and calibration effects likely contribute to the dearth of radiocarbon dates around 1000 cal BP, and sampling bias may contribute to the post-600 cal BP decline. However, we conclude that the overall pattern reflects regional population growth, decline, and recovery. Population growth predates intensification of marine resource procurement by at least 1200 years; we hypothesize that population growth was a possible driver for late Holocene marine intensification in the Arctic. These findings have further implications for understanding the process of intensification and the development of complexity in coastal hunter-gatherer societies.


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