Climate and Culture Change in North and Northwest Alaska

Monday, 15 December 2014
Anne M. Jensen, UMIAQ, LLC, Anchorage, AK, United States
The role of climate as a driver of cultural change in North and Northwest Alaska during the last two millennia has been a subject of much discussion. It has been largely ignored by some and seen as the cause for the development of whaling and the Thule migration by others. Neither extreme is particularly satisfactory, because of the realities of the climatic constraints operating in the Arctic and given that the populations in question were interacting socially with and affected by members of their own and neighboring groups.

This paper looks at the current understanding of climate in North and Northwest Alaska for the last two millennia, a period during which there were some notable climate shifts, including the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the “Little Ice Age.” This time period encompassed some significant cultural alterations including the Birnirk/Thule transition, the Thule migration and the development of the regional variations that are characteristic of Late Western Thule. The timing of the climatic and cultural events has been examined to determine if there were instances when they coincided. Cultural changes which could be correlated to climate change were analyzed, to determine if the nature of the observed cultural changes plausibly can be related to the correlated climate change.