UAF archaeologist discusses pre-historic Alaska

Joshua Reuther answers questions regarding the new information that puts prehistoric movements of Athabascans from the Interior out of sync with known carbon dated volcanic activity on Oct. 8.  Julia Taylor

Joshua Reuther answers questions regarding the new information that puts prehistoric movements of Athabascans from the Interior out of sync with known carbon dated volcanic activity. Photo by Julia Taylor

By Mikhail Ronnander

Sun Star Reporter

Curator of Archaeology Joshua D. Reuther presented a lecture title “Prehistoric Humans and Landscapes in Alaska: Lessons from Geo-archaeology” in Schaible Auditorium on Oct 8.

Reuther’s research is focused primarily on understanding changes in systems within ecological and environmental contexts in Subarctic and Arctic settings.

Reuther said one of the most interesting things he’s found is an 11,000 year old cremation site.

Reuther explained that it was really striking to him because the cremation was of a boy aged at 3 years, and his son was also about 3 at the time.

The first of the projects Reuther talked about was in relation to changes that occurred in the environment and caused the Tanana Valley to be attractive to early humans. He focused on soil changes in sand dunes near Delta Junction. Reuther theorizes that the Tanana Valley area was bountiful for humans 14,000 years ago because the constantly moving sand dunes led to grasses and low shrubs becoming the main vegetation. Further research is being done near Delta Junction at Shaw Creek, Quartz Lake and Upward Sun River.

Another project was about volcanic activity and it’s impact on early humans. The project looks at ancient eruptions and the area of effect. To find the area of effect, Reuther and his team dug large holes and looked at cutouts near the Richardson and Parks Highways to find the lines of volcanic ash in the soil. Then the team chemically analyzes the ash to find out what volcano it might be from. This gives them an area to study for human and animal moment during the time of the eruption. The current research has indicated that humans may have moved west to escape the fallout of ash.

Reuther said that some of the digs that he has participated in reached as deep as six meters. He is also doing some work with ice cores looking for changes in pollen and plant life at the time of the eruptions.

Reuther hopes to continue his research for a very long time and is inspired by the fact that some of his mentors, now 88, are still out in the field out-talking many of the younger fieldworkers.

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