Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
ANCHORAGE: Archaeology Opens a Window into 3000 years of Marine Ecology in the Western Aleutian Islands
Alaska Region, July 1, 2008
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A unique window into the biological history of the Aleutian Islands is provided by the zooarchaeology of early human sites. In 1991, a seabird biologist and two archaeologists began a collaboration to understand the history of seabird populations in the Aleutian Islands.  After a few tentative years the project was reborn as the Western Aleutians Archaeological and Paleobiological Project or WAAPP.  Fieldwork for WAAPP ended in 2003 with excavations and surveys on six islands, in 11 sites.  Since the beginning project archaeologists worked with biologists to explicitly address environmental questions such as climate change, and acquire baseline data on nearshore habitats.  The WAAPP is the first and only large scale archaeological project to systematically collect and analyze fish, shellfish and bird remains for environmental information.  The results of the project are beginning to hit print.  In 2005 the journal Fisheries Oceanography published “The Palaeoenvironment of humans and marine birds of the Aleutian Islands: three millennia of change” by Douglas Causey, Debra G. Corbett, Christine Lefevre, Dixie L. West, Arkady B. Savinetsky, Nina K. Kiseleva And Bulat F. Khassanov.

Now, hot off the press, the University of California Press has published “Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Environments: A global perspective” edited by Torben C. Rick and Jon M. Erlandson, University of California Press, 2008. (ISBN 9780520253438.)  Chapter 3, “Aleut Hunters, Sea Otters and Sea Cows” by D. Corbett, D. Causey, M. Clements, P. Koch, A. Doroff, C. Lefevre and D. West, describes the effects of Aleut hunting on sea otter populations and the results for the near shore ”reefs” surrounding the islands.  As scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service try to understand recent dramatic changes in the Bering Sea ecosystem this article provides critical information on climate changes and human impacts over the last 3,000 years.

The book contains 11 articles from all over the world spanning 20,000 years of human use of marine resources.  Many of the articles document sustainable long term strategies for use of their rich marine resources.  Some of the other articles discuss the effects of unsustainable strategies on the environment and people and their culture. In all cases archaeological data are being used to provide information to address biological and ecological concerns.  This book is a unique collaboration using archaeological data to address modern environmental and management issues affecting millions of people worldwide.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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