Port Clarence Archaeology Project

More than 50 years ago Helge Larsen recognized the importance of the stratified Ipiutak and Neoeskimo deposits at Point Spencer, located on the Bering Sea coast of northern Alaska in the Port Clarence region.  In the late 1940s, Larsen and Charles Lucier investigated several sites at the Point as part of a larger effort to explain the development of western Alaskan maritime adaptations.  With intact stratified deposits dated across the Ipiutak-Neoeskimo transition and good organic preservation, Larsen and Lucier recognized the potential of Point Spencer sites to address key questions about socio-economic change over the last 2000 years.  Despite this potential, no research has taken place at Point Spencer in the intervening years.   Changing diet, subsistence practices, environmental change, and engagement with regional social and economic systems are factors archaeologists point to in explaining the development and spread of the Neoeskimo tradition across the North American Arctic.  Yet these ideas remain largely untested with new archaeological data.  This research will address these questions through data recovery, survey, and analysis of archaeological materials from the Port Clarence region of northern Alaska.


Helicopter supported survey identified illegal digging at sites around the region
(Photo by Shelby Anderson)

Illegal digging – also known as subsistence digging – at Point Spencer brings both urgency and risk to this project.  In 2010, it was estimated that approximately 40 acres of the site were disturbed, with more than 70 pits or disturbed areas created by digging.  Much of this digging took place in 2010 when the United States Coast Guard withdrew from their station at the Point.  Aerial surveys indicate that similar illegal digging activities are taking place at other archaeological sites around the Port Clarence region.  To address these issues, PSU and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiated a collaborative research project at Point Spencer in 2013.  Additional support for the project comes from the National Science Foundation, Bering Straits Native Corporation, and the National Park Service.

Current research goals include: 1) establishing the remaining integrity of sites threatened by illegal digging at Point Spencer and retrieving data from these sites before they are completely destroyed, 2) testing hypotheses about the development and spread of arctic maritime cultures during the last 2000 years in the dynamic Bering Strait region, with a focus on changing mobility, social interaction, and economic organization, 3) reconstructing local landscape history, and 4) evaluating the scope of illegal and subsistence digging activities at the site and develop a framework for collaboratively addressing this problem with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and local communities.  Fieldwork began in summer 2013 and will continue through 2014.

Updates on the project here.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number (NSF PLR-1341881).  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.  Support was also provided by the Bureau of Land Management (L13AC00083).

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