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The role of ecological barriers in the development of cultural boundaries during the later Holocene of the central Alaska peninsula

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Title: The role of ecological barriers in the development of cultural boundaries during the later Holocene of the central Alaska peninsula
Author(s): VanderHoek, Richard
Director of Research: Lewis, R.B.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Lewis, R.B.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Ambrose, Stanley H.; Emerson, Thomas E.; Workman, William B.
Department / Program: Anthropology
Discipline: Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Volcanism Aniakchak Alaska Peninsula Dead Zone pyroclastic flow cultural boundary sulfuric acid rain lichen caribou Arctic Small Tool tradition
Abstract: This study assesses the capability of very large volcanic eruptions to effect widespread ecological and cultural change. It focuses on the proximal and distal effects of the Aniakchak volcanic eruption that took place approximately 3400 rcy BP on the central Alaskan Peninsula. The research is based on archaeological and ecological data from the Alaska Peninsula, as well as literature reviews dealing with the ecological and cultural effects of very large volcanic eruptions, volcanic soils and revegetation of volcanic landscapes, and northern vegetation and wildlife. Analysis of the Aniakchak pollen and soil data show that the pyroclastic flow from the 3400 rcy BP eruption caused a 2500 km² zone of very low productivity on the Alaska Peninsula. This "Dead Zone" on the central Alaska Peninsula lasted for over 1000 years. Drawing on these data and the results of archaeological excavations and surveys throughout the Alaska Peninsula, this dissertation examines the thesis that the Aniakchak 3400 rcy BP eruption created a massive ecological barrier to human interaction and was a major factor in the separate development of modern Eskimo and Aleut populations and their distinctive cultural traditions. Distal volcanic effects include ash fall, sulfuric acid rain, and sulfur dioxide injected into the atmosphere. The ash fall and sulfuric acid rain from the Aniakchak eruption heavily impacted western Alaska to the northwest of the volcano. The ash fall and acid rain had pronounced negative effects on low-growing biota (especially lichen), small mammals and birds, ungulates, and probably land-locked fish. The eruptive effects were catastrophic for western Alaska caribou and the Arctic Small Tool populations that relied on them. The research results, which draw on several independent lines of evidence, unequivocally support the study’s main thesis as an explanation for the rise of Eskimo and Aleut populations and cultural traditions. Viewed generally, these results also make a strong case that northern volcanic eruptions have had greater impacts to subarctic/arctic populations than previously thought. Such eruptions had the potential to extirpate human populations from regions and leave them unpopulated for decades or centuries, particularly if the affected landscapes were confined by hostile environments.
Issue Date: 2010-01-06
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/14702
Rights Information: © 2009 by Richard VanderHoek. All rights reserved.
Date Available in IDEALS: 2010-01-06
2012-01-07
Date Deposited: December 2
 

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