Team up with faculty on groundbreaking anthropological research.

The Department of Anthropology was founded in 1935 as part of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alaska. The first undergraduate degrees in Anthropology were given in 1959, the first MA degrees in 1968 and the first PhD degrees in 1988. We are the only anthropology program in the United States that maintains a holistic approach to circumpolar studies, providing instruction and research in all aspects of anthropology.

News and Events

  • Image by Gerad Smith

    UAF archaeological field school featured in American Archaeology

    December 6th, 2021
  • Cannon PhD

    Northern Dene Astronomical and Sky-Related Knowledge: A Comparative Anthropological Study

    September 17th
    Abstract The sky and its contents are routinely overlooked in Northern Dene ethnology as a meaningful part of linguistic and cultural knowledge. However, more than 11 years of primary fieldwork learning with and from Dene elders, speakers, and culture bearers from 12 ethnolinguistic groups across 32 communities in Alaska and Canada has shown that astronomical knowledge is deeply rooted in both practical and sacred ways of knowing. With a focus on detail and breadth, this comparative ethnological study utilized an experience-based approach to investigate the ways in which Northern Dene peoples perceive, conceptualize, and integrate the sky and its contents into systems of knowledge, practices, worldview, cosmology, and spirituality. At the center of these knowledge systems is a principal constellation often identified as the incarnated spirit of a Traveler-Transformer figure who circled the world in Distant Time. Although this Traveler is widely known in Dene mythology as the one who instilled balance and order in the world, his enigmatic transformation to the sky was traditionally known by spiritually gifted people. The “Traveler” constellation is not only a world custodian and archetype of an idealized medicine person, but it is also a teacher, ally, game keeper, and the embodiment of the world. Taken together, the Traveler on earth and in the sky provides a powerful conceptual model for behaviors and actions as a central organizing principal and locus of indigenous Northern Dene worldview, cosmology, and spirituality. Two other subsequent chapters focus on general concepts of stars, minor constellations, and the use of stars in time-reckoning, weather forecasting, and wayfinding. These are followed by a chapter pertaining to the sun and moon as highly animate and personified beings that also embody fundamental models for proper behaviors and actions. The final chapter, prior the conclusion, centers on socio-cosmic relationships between the Dene and a host of highly sentient atmospheric phenomena that bridge the divide between the upper cosmos and the lived world of humans. Collectively, this work underscores that the earth and sky are not exclusive to one another but are part and parcel to a unified Northern Dene cosmology and worldview that are deeply rooted in relational significances. This is among relatively few book-length studies in anthropology on the indigenous astronomical knowledge, perceptions, and practices of any extant culture in the world.
  • The Making of Alaskan Pastoral Traditions: Colonial encounters of the Sámi reindeer herders in Alaska

    May 7, 2021
    Abstract: In the late 1800s, two groups of Sámi people came to Alaska to teach reindeer herding to Alaska Native peoples. Thus, they became entangled with colonization and cultural assimilation schemes of the U.S. government. The immigrants’ contribution to the development of reindeer herding, as well as their experiences as Indigenous and colonized people, has not been fully addressed in the literature regarding reindeer herding in Alaska. The proposed research sheds light on the little-known stories of Sámi reindeer herders in Alaska by examining archival and bureaucratic materials and through photographic elicitation fieldwork in Alaska and northern Fennoscandia. A main objective is to build a nuanced understanding of the colonial encounters between the Alaska Sámi and the Native and non-Indigenous peoples who were involved in the Alaska Reindeer Project (ARP). In contrast to earlier essentializing narratives about the Alaska Sámi, this research focuses on their lived experiences within a nexus of colonial encounters. Methodologically, it applies the New Rhetoric textual analysis framework onto written materials to elucidate the cultures of colonialism. An important aspect of the research is its collaborative dimension: Preliminary findings as well as archival photographs will be discussed with Sámi local knowledge experts in Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino), Norway, during fieldwork. Along similar lines, another objective is to share the archival materials that are examined in the context of this research with contemporary Sámi communities.
  • Dr. Justin Cramb receives an URSA Innovative Technology and Education (ITE) Award.

    April, 16, 2021
    Dr. Cramb of the UAF Department of Anthropology received a 2021 URSA ITE award for his proposal titled Zooarchaeology Teaching Collection Improvement and Database Integration. The funding for this award will be used to purchase new curation materials for the skeletal comparative collection housed in Bunnell 408 and to integrate the collection into the Arctos online database management system. The collection of hundreds of comparative animal skeletons housed in the Zooarchaeology Laboratory is used to train students to correctly identify animal bones found at archaeological sites. The end goal of this project is to improve the accessibility of the collection for students and researchers. The integration with Arctos, a large international online database for cultural, biological, and archaeological collections, will allow students and other researchers to browse the collection remotely and to easily find, access, and engage with specimens in the physical collection. This will improve the teaching and research capabilities of the lab.
  • Dr. Elaine Drew receives UAF Honors College's 2021 Robert Piacenza Outstanding Teaching Award!!

    April 13th
    Dr. Elaine Drew is the recipient of the UAF Honors College's 2021 Robert Piacenza Excellence in Teaching Award! The award is facilitated through a process driven by the Honors Student Advisory Council, and the awardee is selected based upon student testimonials. We are swelling with pride in congratulating our esteemed colleague on this well-deserved recognition! We are also pleased to share these photos of Dr. Drew and her students at the Medical Anthropology Lab she has established at UAF; at the session on undergraduate research she led at the 2020 meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association; as a guest of the student-run KSUA Speaking of Anthropology show; and hosting a raffle at the celebration of the World Anthropology Day. Congratulations, Elaine! Thank you for all you do as a mentor, scholar, and caring generous contributor to the life of the UAF Anthropology Department.