CPEP Seminar – Climate Resilience in the Archaeological Record: A case study from Norton Sound, Alaska

Speaker: Jason Miszaniec, Museum Scientist, University of Wisconsin Zoological Museum

Increases in global mean temperatures are impacting Arctic regions, resulting in warming ocean temperatures, and reduced yearly sea ice extent. Such changes have cascading ecological effects that disproportionally impact Indigenous coastal communities. A key area of concern to coastal groups is food security.

To understand the long-term outcomes of these changes on coastal foodways, retrospective studies are a powerful tool to evaluate how human and non-human communities coped with past climate events over thousands of years. Excavations in Norton Sound, western Alaska have revealed a rich archaeological record representing the last 4,000 years of human history in the region.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the region was a population hub, supporting large coastal settlements reliant on a wide economic base of marine, riverine, and terrestrial resources. This period was marked by a series of warming and cooling climatic events spanning mid-to late Holocene cooling, the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (900–1300 CE), and the Little Ice Age (1300–1800 CE).  Throughout the history of Norton Sound the region saw periods of population growth, collapses, abandonment, and replacement. Resilience theory is applied as a framework to trace patterns of stability and change in human and environmental systems in the region.

This talk will draw on faunal remains from ancient midden deposits and stable isotope chemistry to identify characteristics of resilient foodways during three temporal periods: 2310–1340 BCE, 500 BCE–500 CE, and 1000 CE–1850 CE. Resilient food systems in Norton Sound were characterized by diverse and flexible subsistence strategies.

In addition to providing valuable environmental data, archaeological case studies are key in conceptualizing cultural and societal adaptive strategies that were used in the past to mitigate the effects of climate uncertainty.

Hosted by the Climate, People and the Environment Program (CPEP).


Nov 2 2021


4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


811 Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences
1225 W. Dayton St.