Broken Mammoth Archaeological Project - Tanana Valley Prehistory

The traditional terminology developed in the 1960s and early 1970s is not completely satisfactory to address the archaeological record for the Tanana Valley. Archaeologists, while tending to retain traditional terms, nevertheless have modified them to specific needs, e.g, adding projectile points to the American Paleo-Arctic tradition and Denali Complex or including microblade technology in the Northern Archaic tradition. We also see terms like "Denali Phase" and "Late Denali Complex" which add to the confusion. To lessen this confusion and avoid forcing local data into chronological pigeonholes established elsewhere, I have divided time into five broad periods.

BERINGIAN PERIOD (> 11,000 yr. BP) - The earliest yet discovered archaeological remains in the region include assemblages with microblades (e.g., Swan Point and Healy Lake) and assemblages lacking microblades (Nenana complex). Although this phenomena appears confusing, differences in assemblage compositions may reflect differences in site habitat, function, or seasonality. The term American Paleo-Arctic tradition seems inappropriate for this material as does use of Denali Complex or Nenana Complex. The term East Beringian tradition is proposed to include these earliest assemblages. This was before the forest was established, and while a land connection still existed between Alaska and Siberia.

TRANSITIONAL PERIOD (11,000 TO 8,500 yr. BP) - During this period the American Paleo-Arctic tradition (which is conceived of as geographically widespread with technological variation) develops as an Alaskan phenomenon. It is manifest as a local variant that includes projectile points, and as such is restricted in time and space. Included within this lumping are aspects of both the Denali and Chindadn complexes. The land connection with Siberia disappears and the region undergoes changes, such as, animal extinctions, climatic change, and the beginning of forestation.

EARLY TAIGA PERIOD (8,500 to 5,000 BP) - The boreal forest becomes fully established during this time. The American Paleo-Arctic tradition gives way over time to the Northern Archaic tradition. This is referred to as the Transitional Northern Archaic and is only poorly known for the region. There is continued debate on the issue of migration of new peoples into Alaska with the recognition of an "Archaic" tradition.

MIDDLE TAIGA PERIOD (5,000 to ca. 2,500 yr. BP) - The local Tanana variant of the Northern Archaic tradition includes continuation of microblade and burin technology from the previous period. The use of the term Northern Archaic is somewhat problematic and should possibly be discarded in favor of a neutral term.

LATE TAIGA PERIOD (ca. 2,500 yr. BP to modern) - This period represents a continuation of basic Tanana variant of the Northern Archaic tradition traits, but with the eventual loss of microblade technology. Around 1,500 yr. BP technological change marks the beginning of the Athapaskan tradition, which leads to ethnically recognizable Athapaskan groups.