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
  • Photo of the Broken Mammoth Site Courtesy of Dr. Josh Reuther

    NSF grant awarded to UAF archaeologists.

    A National Science Foundation research grant was awarded to UAF archaeologists Dr. Ben Potter (PI) and Dr. Josh Reuther (co-PI) in collaboration with Dr. Francois Lanoe (co-PI, University of Arizona) to analyze archaeological materials in central Alaska. The $931,466 grant will also support a post-doctoral fellow, graduate and undergraduate student research assistants, and incorporate a robust consultation process with local Native communities. Exploring subsistence economies, technological organization, and site structure in eastern Beringia: Legacy of the Broken Mammoth Site Understanding human adaptation associated with the peopling of the Americas is inextricably linked with climate change (the transition from the last Ice Age to the modern environment), animal extinctions (like mammoth), and human responses to these changes in Beringia, connecting Asia and North America. The Broken Mammoth site has figured heavily in debates about First American lifeways, with a vast repository of artifacts and butchered animal bones – far more diverse and numerous than other early Beringian sites. However, only minimal information has been published for the site despite 20 years of research. We will analyze this large collection to understand human adaptation from initial human settlement to the recent past, particularly exploring changes in foraging ecology and seasonal land use strategies, subsistence economy, and site activities through time. Broader impacts include providing primary data to address human-environmental interactions and broadening our understanding of this major human population expansion into the Americas. The project has a strong educational component, enhancing opportunities for underrepresented groups including a summit with regional Native leadership and tribal members. The primary benefit to society at large is to produce and analyze data that help address profound questions about how humans have interacted with their environment during periods of global climate change.
  • (A) Concreted shell and ash feature (G6-05) at ALA-11. (B) North lobe of concreted ash and shell feature G6-05. Red arrows indicate black layer sampled in this analysis (G6-05a).

    UAF’s Newest Archaeologist Tammy Buonasera just published a paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports!

    Abstract: Ash and black char samples from seven combustion features at CA-ALA-11, an Early to Middle Period (ca. 2500 cal BCE to 585 cal CE) shellmound site on the San Francisco Bay shoreline, were analyzed for lipid, isotope, and phytolith content. Three features were intermingled with human burials and four were from nearby contexts not directly associated with human remains. Unlike more fragile biomolecules and floral remains, lipids and phytoliths can survive exposure to high temperatures. Together, these techniques supply independent and complementary lines of data for considering past cultural practices, local ecology, and post-depositional contributions. Our results shed light on the function and content of several combustion features, highlighting the untapped potential of such applications in the archaeology of California and elsewhere in North America. We focus on two combustion features with very different purposes. One appears to be the burnt remains of a basket (or possibly, a woven mat) coated with bitumen. This feature was associated with a burial and the basket or other woven object may have been burned as part of the funerary ceremony. Another feature, not directly associated with a burial, was composed of burned oyster shells and layered with leaves from a broadleaf tree—seemingly the remains of an ancient cooking feature for baking/steaming shellfish. Though small, this study demonstrates that analysis of sediments from combustion features can provide behavioral and ecological insights while avoiding destructive analysis of artifacts or human remains. We conclude with simple recommendations for integrating phytolith and lipid analysis of combustion features in future archaeological projects.
  • UAF archaeologists, led by Dr. Ben Potter, publish a new paper in Science Advances!

    Abstract While freshwater and anadromous fish have been critical economic resources for late prehistoric and modern Native Americans, the origin and development of fishing is not well understood. We document the earliest known human use of freshwater and anadromous fish in North America by 13,000 and 11,800 years ago, respectively, from primary anthropogenic contexts in central Alaska (eastern Beringia). Fish use appears conditioned by broad climatic factors, as all occurrences but one are within the Younger Dryas chronozone. Earlier Bølling-Allerød and later early Holocene components, while exhibiting similar organic preservation, did not yield evidence of fishing, suggesting that this was a response to changing environmental factors, perhaps reductions in higher ranked resources such as large terrestrial mammals. Late Pleistocene and recent Indigenous peoples harvested similar fish taxa in the region (salmon, burbot, whitefish, and pike). We characterize late Pleistocene fishing in interior Beringia as an important element of broad-spectrum foraging rather than the intensive communal fishing and storage common among recent peoples.