Broken Mammoth Archaeological Project - Introduction to Research

Why and where sites occur in the landscape continue to be crucial questions for archaeologists. The problem of finding sites becomes increasingly difficult the farther back in time one goes. The oldest sites may be deeply buried in loess or flood deposits, or they could be shallow surface scatters that lack context and perhaps have become mixed with more recent material. Or they simply may no longer exist because of natural erosion. In the Alaskan interior, boreal forest, taiga, and muskeg vegetation further hinder our ability to locate archaeological sites.

The Broken Mammoth Site
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The oldest archaeological sites yet known in Alaska are found in the Tanana Valley between the Alaska Range and the Tanana-Yukon Upland. Radiocarbon determinations for these sites are between 11,000 and 12,000 yr. BP using both conventional and Atomic Mass Spectrometer dates. Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene loess deposits, rich with calcium carbonate, have preserved butchered remains of birds and mammals in unequivocal stratigraphic context with human-made stone tools and hearth charcoal at three sites near Shaw Creek in the middle Tanana Valley, the Broken Mammoth, Mead, and Swan Point sites. Investigations at these three archaeological sites have yielded data to show that a broad-based hunting and foraging economy was practiced in Eastern Beringia at the end of the last ice age. These sites are the oldest in Alaska to contain evidence of artifacts directly associated with extinct mammals such as wapiti, bison, and mammoth. The co-occurrence of human tools and animal bones in these three sites provide a rare opportunity to refine our knowledge about human adaptation to environmental change.