First Advisor

Shelby Anderson

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Anthropology and University Honors




Arctic regions -- Antiquities, Alaska -- Antiquities, Firing (Ceramics) -- Analysis




This research was conducted to investigate the initial firing temperatures (IFT) of pottery from two archaeological sites in Northwest Alaska. Arctic ceramics are consistently described as low-fired technology in archaeological and ethnographic literature. However, regional and temporal variation in the quality and hardness of arctic ceramics suggests variation in firing temperatures. To describe all Arctic pottery as low-fired ignores variation in firing temperatures and ultimately in the production process. Sherds from two archaeological locales, the Cape Krusenstern site complex and the Ahteut village site, were selected to represent sites with differential access to fuel resources. IFT’s were estimated by measuring color change in a stepwise refiring experiment. Preliminary results indicate that a majority of sherds from Cape Krusenstern had lower initial firing temperatures than did sherds from Ahteut. Additionally, this experiment indicates that (1) a majority of the sherds contained residual organic content, (2) shows the effects of the presence of organic content on a refiring experiment, and (3) confirms that vessels from these two sites were originally fired under reducing atmospheres. These results do provide a better understanding of the production process of arctic ceramics. The difference between the initial firing atmosphere and the refiring atmosphere, as well as the presence of organic content, may be masking the true indications of initial firing temperatures. Because of these confounding factors additional research, including alternative methods of estimating initial firing temperatures, are necessary. Beyond reconstructing the production process of Northwest Alaskan ceramics, understanding initial firing temperatures provides important information regarding environmental constraints on the ceramic production process and the methods precontact potters used to overcome them. This work also adds to our understanding of fuel use and management.


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