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

  • MA Thesis Defense: A Dental Metric Biodistance Analysis of the Rong and the A’chik.

    Friday, April 29, at 3pm AK time
    Little is known about the population history and genetic affinities of many of the tribal groups of northeastern India, including the Rong and the A’chik. This study employs tooth size allocation analysis to test hypotheses concerning their origins and the impact of sex-biased post-marital residence patterns. Due to matrilineality and matrilocality, A’chik females ought to express less variability than males and be more isolated phenetically from members of other groups. The opposite should be true for the Rong who are patrilineal and patrilocal. Despite patrilineality, Rong females should share some affinities to members of other groups due to the widespread practice of hypergamous marriages. Mesiodistal and buccolingual dimensions of the permanent teeth were measured among 166 A’chik and 185 Rong individuals. These data were compared to that obtained among 1151 members of seven ethnic groups from other regions of South Asia. Group centroids from canonical variates were plotted in three dimensions to assess similarities among samples. Canonical variates, from both sex-pooled and non-pooled analysis, identify the Rong and A’chik as possessing closer affinities to each other than to members of the other groups, thereby supporting the hypothesis that members of these two tribal groups share a population history different from that of ethnic groups of other regions of the subcontinent. The sex-pooled analysis indicated a closer relationship between the Rong males and the A’chik and a more distant relationship between the Rong males and the other groups than expected. Overall the results support findings from genetic studies and population histories. ------ Please join us Friday, April 29, at 3pm AK time, for the MA thesis defense by Mary Ashley Stough. Please reach out to Mary Ashley at <> to receive the zoom link.
  • Sled dogs as gifts: An ethnography of dog exchanges among kennels in Alaska

    May 6th 9am-11am AKST
    Allison Cruz Anthropology MA Thesis Defense Friday, May 6, 9am-11am AKST Room 302 Bunnell Building and via Zoom Sled dogs as gifts: An ethnography of dog exchanges among kennels in Alaska Abstract: This thesis investigates the social relationships that develop through the circulation of sled dogs among Alaskan kennels. Drawing on multisited ethnographic fieldwork in and around Fairbanks, AK, as well as on anthropological literature on kinship, personhood, and gift-giving economies, it examines how sled dogs are acquired and exchanged in Alaska. It also offers a novel perspective on the value of “bloodlines” and the “special relationships” that unite breeders, mushers and sled dogs. A main argument is that Alaskan sled dogs are exchanged as relational gifts (rather than commodities). Research results reveal that the value of sled dogs as gifts reflects the bond that exists in human-canine relationships. This relation stems from the specific forms of interaction that are at work in the interspecies team. It is also characterized by a profoundly spiritual dimension that reveals itself out on “the trail,” a liminal space cutting across the Alaskan “wilderness.” The overall findings of this work determine that sled dogs, as relational gifts, are central figures within the mushing community and play a key role in creating multifaceted connections within and among kennels in Alaska.
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    2022 Archaeological Field School Deadline Extended

    Founded in 1902 on the north bank of the Tanana River, The Chena Townsite was a bustling goldrush town home to thousands of miners and settlers that flocked to the region in search of prosperity. Chena rivaled its close neighbor Fairbanks as the commercial center of mining operations in the Alaska Interior. The rivalry lasted only a few short decades, however, before Fairbanks emerged victorious. Chena became a ghost town by 1920 and was all but forgotten. Little remains of the once thriving town. In the past two decades however, archaeologists have mapped, surveyed, and begun to excavate parts of Chena in hopes of better understanding its birth and abandonment. This year we will continue this research by conducting archaeological survey and excavations at the site where Chena once stood. The Chena Townsite is located just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Students will live in their own accommodations and report to the site daily. Students will provide their own lunches, but all tools and equipment will be provided. Participants will learn the fundamental skills of archaeological fieldwork while excavating and documenting historic structures and artifacts. They will examine artifacts, botanicals, sediments, and faunal materials to learn analytical techniques while providing insight into the lives of the traders, miners, and other members of this short-lived historic community. Instructor: Dr. Justin Cramb Email: 2022 Summer Session II - June 27th - August 5th ANTH: F490 Archaeological Field School (6 credits) Application Deadline: May1st, 2022
  • Materializing Haa Aani: Tlingit Beading Practices and the Land

    Megan Smetzer Acting Curator of Western Ethnology Canadian Museum of History Lecturer of Art History Capilano University --The increasingly rich array of cultural expressions created by contemporary women artists for use in communities as well as for display in museums and galleries results directly from the resilience of previous generations of Tlingit women. The mothers, grandmothers, and aunties of the four artists introduced in this seminar persisted through the darkest years of settler colonialism, making and selling beadwork that set the stage for the revival of expansion of weaving, carving, painting, installation and other cultural and artistic practices. Though the work of revitalization is far from over, Tlingit women are, as they have always been, the backbone of this cultural shift –making tangible haa aani (honoring and utilizing the land), acknowledging and representing latseen (strength of body, mind, and spirit) and haa shuká (honoring ancestors and future generations), all of which contribute to the assertion of wooch yáx (maintaining social and spiritual balance and harmony). - FOR ZOOM ACCESS INQUIRIES, PLEASE EMAIL DR. BRIAN HEMPHILL BHEMPHILL@ALASKA.EDU
  • The 2022 Otto William Geist Fund Grant Application is now open!

    The O. W. Geist Fund was established by Otto Geist in 1963 for the purposes of: • Acquisitions of archaeological or paleontological material for the University. • Financing in whole or in part expeditions for archaeological or paleontological field research. • Fellowship grants for students majoring in anthropology (archaeology) or paleontology. The application deadline is March 18th, 2022.
  • Film Showing - - “A Thousand Years Unfolding Archaeology at the Cape” A film by Sarah Betcher

    Located on a spit of the Seward Peninsula, excavations conducted at the Cape Espenberg site since 2016 have yielded the remains of a well-preserved wooden house. Interpretive analyses of these remains alongside local Inupiaq historical narratives of Shishmaref, have generated a richer and deeper understanding of this region’s heritage. - - FOR ZOOM ACCESS INQUIRIES, PLEASE EMAIL DR. BRIAN HEMPHILL BHEMPHILL@ALASKA.EDU
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    Christian Thomas - Special Projects Archaeologist, Government of the Yukon What is an Arrow? What are we Hunting? Insights in ancient Dene hunting technologies from the Yukon Ice Patch Project

    January 28th 3-5pm
    Every year for millennia, in the mountainscapes of the southern Yukon, hunting groups set out into their traditional hunting territories to harvest mountain caribou and thinhorn sheep. Today, hunting weapons that were lost in the snow are melting free from ancient ice. In this talk, Christian Thomas of the Yukon Ice Patch Research group discusses the many layered insights these discoveries have evidenced about the materials and crafting techniques used to sustain this outstanding hunting tradition. ANTHROPOLOGY COLLOQUIUM JANUARY 28TH 3-5 PM via Zoom (email Dr. Brian Hemphill at for Zoom link)
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.