Evidence Of Ancient Alaska Salmon Fishing Found



Photo by Thomas Quine/Flickr

Photo by Thomas Quine/Flickr

I’m a big history geek and love stories like this one in the Alaska Dispatch. Evidence has been unearthed linking this state’s dependence and reverence for salmon fishing dates back thousands of years:

A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found the earliest known evidence Ice Age humans in North America used salmon as a food source. Ancient DNA and stable isotope analysis from salmon vertebrae bones found in Interior Alaska indicate sea-run chum salmon were consumed by North American hunters 11,500 years ago.

 The study notes that the findings are significant because it shows that Ice Age Paleoindians also fished, altering the understanding that the group was focused primarily on hunting big game. The study also notes that the findings at the Upward Sun River site — approximately 1,400 kilometers upriver from the coast — show chum salmon spawning runs were established by the end of the last Ice Age.

 “There’s such economic and cultural importance (of salmon) to Native Alaskans and Native Americans,” said Carrin Halffman, UAF biological anthropologist and lead author of the study. “To find out that salmon fishing has such deep roots in Alaska and North America is very significant.”


Dr. Ben Potter, UAF professor of anthropology and project director at the Upward Sun River site, said the findings also have broader implications toward understanding the technology, economy and settlement patterns of early Alaskans.


He said the salmon, with their large, annual runs, likely played into how early humans collected the resource and shaped their life patterns.


“It’s a very predictable resource, versus going after caribou, which is not quite as predictable,” Potter said.

 The bones were found in a hearth at the Upward Sun River site near the Tanana River located east of Fairbanks. The same site is the location of the oldest human remains ever found in the North American Arctic and subarctic.