NPR-A Meandering

The Northern Passages blog once again presents a recap of recent social media posts on the eponymous Facebook page.  The three entries below are based on an August 2015 trip in the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska.  The rafting and hiking trip was affiliated with the Conservation Lands Foundation, which -- as explained in Alphabet Soup -- takes an active interest in our national lands that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Populating America

This might be the oldest human site in the Western Hemisphere.

I have just returned from a rafting and hiking trip on the Nigu, Etivluk and Colville Rivers with a group from the Conservation Lands Foundation. As noted in previous posts, CLF focuses its conservation activities on lands that are owned by all of us and managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This is the first in a series of short posts about the trip.

We got to the Nigu River by flying from Fairbanks to Ivotuk, an unattended gravel airstrip near the Colville where a moderately large Cessna Caravan can land. We then transferred to smaller Helios for shuttle flights to our first campsite on the Nigu.

The photo below is taken from Ivotuk. The conical geological formation on the left, standing out from the surrounding tundra far to the north of the Brooks Range, is known as the Mesa site. Archaeologists have found ancient remains at this site that make it a candidate for the earliest known human inhabitation of the western hemisphere.

Here is more information from a BLM description of the site:

"In 1978, during routine field compliance survey, an archeological site was discovered within the southeastern portion of the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (NPR-A). Test excavations were conducted at the site in 1979. Charcoal recovered from the remains of ancient campfires was submitted for radiocarbon dating and yielded radiocarbon dates ranging from 12,000 to 13,700 calendar years before present.

"The age of the site and the style of artifacts recovered there indicated that its inhabitants were people known as Paleoindians. Paleoindians are the oldest scientifically documented human inhabitants of the New World.

"The Mesa Site is the first well-documented Paleoindian site to be found in the North American Arctic.

"The oldest date from the Mesa Site (13,700 years BP) is older than any dates for the Clovis people, the oldest known occupants of North America."

Pass the Remote

This is my second brief post about a recent trip on the Etivluk River in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, actually starting on the Nigu and ending up in the Colville River.

According to Wikipedia: “A bend in the [Etivluk] river about 15 miles from the mouth has been identified as one of the most remote locations in mainland Alaska. It is about 120 miles from the nearest towns of Ambler to the southwest and Atqasukto the north and farther from any other settled area in the state.”

The photo below was taken a few days ago near the location we estimated to be that most remote spot. The lengths some people will go to get away from it all!

Inuksuit and Rings

Speed and agility. Let’s say you are hunting caribou with a stone-tipped thrusting spear. The prey has the speed and agility advantage on the open arctic tundra. But what if you could get the animals into water, maybe a lake, and hunt them more nimbly from a kayak while they are swimming? The tables would be turned. Advantage hunter.

Ancient hunters sometimes used rock slabs, boulders and cairns to create stone fences or drivelines that would channel migrating caribou into arctic lakes, enabling them to be hunted in the water. Archaeologists believe that women, elderly people and children would run amongst the rocks to amplify their effect, and sometimes willow branches were attached to add additional wind-blown action. The rocks are referred to as inuksuit (plural of inuksuk).

Last year, I posted photos of slab-like inuksuit that I took while on an August camping trip with a small group of friends at Agiak Lake in the Gates of the Arctic National Park. One of those photos is the first picture below.

We also encountered caribou drivelines on my recent trip to the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. The fences in the NPR-A tended to be more boulder-like, reflecting the different geology of the region. See the second photo below.

At both locations, we also saw rings of stone that demarcated old dwellings, perhaps pit houses with sod roofs or other structures . As shown in the third photo below (and in this post's thumbnail image), these were more evident on the NPR-A trip than they had been at Agiak Lake, where they were more overgrown and incorporated into the tundra terrain.