Alaskan Anthropology

Denbigh-Flint-ComplexThe Alaska Anthropology Association recently focused on ancient sites throughout northern and western parts of the state through its yearly month-long festivities. The theme of the event was the Denbigh Flint Complex – a pre-Eskimo archaeological culture of North America, uncovered in1948 in Iyatayet, Alaska. Typical to the Denbigh complex – that predates 2500 BC – is small flaked blades; small, chipped side and end blades; burins; scrapers; knives; and points of ancient American types.

The Denbigh people were distant ancestors of modern Inupiat. They were technologically-minded, founding new lands that established what was needed for the next four millennia of Arctic survival. Further, according to Chief of Resources for Gates of the Arctic National Park and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, Jeff Rasic, “they were also the first people to set foot in the Canadian Arctic, all the way across to Greenland — one of the biggest human migrations in human history. The launching pad for all that was right there in Northwestern Alaska.”

It was quite fitting that the Alaska Anthropology Association focused on the Denbighs in their annual celebrations since it’s exactly 50 years since works were first published about these people. Further, it was the Denbighs who were the first humans that colonized most of Arctic North America. That took place close to 5,000 years ago.

One way of studying the Denbigh people is by unearthing various animals. Scientists can then use these to figure out what the people were eating, how game and marine mammals were processed and how they migrated based on the seasons. Rasic added that these were “the best ever craftspeople of stone tools from Alaska. They made incredibly fine tools that were functional, but also beautiful. They’re little works of art and nobody before or after Denbigh ever matched that quality. The Denbigh people were very specialized in how they hunted and gathered food in all these different environments.”

Rasic also discovered that these people were “restless” having moved across the region toward Greenland, despite maintaining connections with their Russian roots. He added that it was important for Northwestern Alaskans to “know that their own backyard is this unique (link) to human history on a global scale.”

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