Early Human Settlement in Arctic Alaska 2011

What Are They Doing?

Fluted projectile point from the Raven Bluff site.Fluted projectile point from the Raven Bluff site.

The team excavated portions of the Raven Bluff archaeological site, the remains of a prehistoric camp that dates to the very end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. The site in Northwestern Alaska is important because it contains the oldest well-preserved collection of archaeological animal bone in the American Arctic. This can teach us about ancient people’s diet, hunting tactics, and seasonal movements.

The site also contains fluted projectile points – a type of stone spear tip that is associated with many of the earliest archaeological sites in the continental United States. Fluted projectile points are found in Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada, but have never been reliably dated.

Because people migrated from north-to-south after entering the Americas from Asia across the Bering Land Bridge, fluted points in the far north are expected to be older than the fluted projectile points found in the continental United States. However, initial findings from Raven Bluff indicate that the fluted projectile points at this site are actually younger than the oldest fluted projectile points in the continental United States. By dating these artifacts, the research team studies the nature and timing of early human population movements in the Americas.

Where Are They?

Raven Bluff archaeological siteRaven Bluff archaeological site

The field team met in Fairbanks, Alaska and flew by chartered aircraft to a private airport at the Red Dog Mine in northwestern Alaska. From the Red Dog Mine, the team, their equipment, and their supplies were shuttled about 50 kilometers by helicopter to a remote field camp near the Raven Bluff archaeological site.


It's amazing what 48 hours of travel will do. Each leg of my trip involved larger aircraft and put me in more crowded and busy places. We left our camp at Raven Bluff around 11AM on August 8th. By 6:30 that evening we were in Fairbanks. At 1AM on August 10th, barely enough time to dry out my clothes, repack my bags, and wander around Fairbanks to check out the Tanana Valley State Fair (home to all sorts of fried items on sticks--I was afraid to try out the deep-fried pop tarts!), I was on an Alaska Airways jet bound for Seattle. The Seattle airport was fairly empty at 5:30 in the morning...
packing up
When did it start getting dark at night? It didn't seem like we travelled all that far today, but apparently we have not only re-entered so-called civilization, we have re-entered a land of real sunsets and sunrises. While Fairbanks may still be a long way from home, it is also feels a long way from our camp at Raven Bluff. The day began, as many of ours have over the past two weeks, with the not-so-gentle pitter-patter of rain on my tent around 5am. When I heard that sound I was glad we had spent the time last night cleaning and packing all the archaeological equipment. Now all I had to...
Just another rainy, windy, cold day in paradise here at Raven Bluff. The mosquitoes have, apparently, given up completely. Would I rather have sunshine and mosquitoes or cold, wind, and rain without mosquitoes? As I contemplated the answer to this question, I filled and carried buckets of dirt as we started to backfill the site to end the season's excavation work. All that rain makes for a nice green backdrop to our work. While I started to backfill at one end of the site, Joe and Tim were finishing work on two of the sections. Jeff and Steve had been working to finish the section...
As I write this journal, the rest of the crew is up at the site working. It's almost 10pm, but they headed up after dinner. Why this frenzy of activity? Well, time is running out on our expedition. Tomorrow is the last day for fieldwork, and there's a lot to get done. The day started off with the usual downpour. In fact, it started raining last night around 9:30 and rained steadily until almost 2 pm. When the rain clouds lifted, there was even a dusting of snow on the Delong Mountains to the east of us. Today's rain was accompanied by cold, strong winds, with a windchill in the 30s,...
"Archaeology is like a box of chocolates", according to BLM archaeologist Bill Hedman. Today we went out sampling that box to see just what kinds of chocolates we had in our big backyard. Helicopter pilot Stan Hermens provided the transport for an excellent day of archaeological exploration. We flew north and west along the Kukpuk River and some of its tributaries, then to the coast and the Chukchi Sea between Cape Thompson and Cape Hope. From there, we headed south following the coast towards Kivalina and then back east towards camp. By the end of the day we had investigated 4 sites and...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

24 July 2011 to 11 August 2011
Location: Raven Bluff Site near Kivalina, Alaska
Project Funded Title: Paleoindian Adaptations in Eastern Beringia: Prelude or Postscript to the Early Settlement of the Americas?

Meet the Team

Susy Ellison's picture
Yampah Mountain High School
Carbondale, CO
United States

Susy Ellison has taught science at the small, public alternative Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, for many years. Ms. Ellison's days are filled with designing and teaching physical, earth, and life science classes that engage the minds and hearts of her students. In 2010, the National Environmental Education Foundation honored Ms. Ellison as the recipient of their Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award. Ms. Ellison's students have been and continue to be challenged to include environmental literacy into their lives. Her students have worked on many projects to meet this demand, including helping to design and build an energy-efficient strawbale building, installing solar panels on the school's roof, and building a greenhouse. Her students have also studied snow science in the Colorado backcountry and backpacked in the canyons of Utah studying desert ecology. In her free time, Ms. Ellison can be found outside, exploring the nooks and crannies of mountain, desert, and river environments. She resides in Carbondale, Colorado in a solar-powered home that she built with her husband.

Jeff Rasic's picture
Museum of the North and National Park Service
Fairbanks, AK
United States

Dr. Jeff Rasic specializes in prehistoric stone tool technology and the archaeology of northern hunter-gatherers. He is particularly interested in how the earliest people of the North made a living at the end of the last ice age. He is currently the acting curator of Archaeology at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, and an archaeologist at the National Park Service in Fairbanks. He has worked in the Caribbean, and throughout the United States, and since 1995 has focused on field work and research projects in Alaska, especially the northern and interior portions of the state.

William Hedman's picture
Bureau of Land Management
Fairbanks, AK
United States

Bill Hedman is the archaeologist for the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Cental Yukon Field Office based in Fairbanks, Alaska. Bill has been working in archaeology for about 20 years, over 15 of which have been spent conducting fieldwork in Alaska. This work has taken him from the tip of the southeast panhandle to the Aleutian Islands to the North Slope of Alaska and many points in between. Being involved in everything from federal permitting for mineral exploration along the Dalton Highway to helicopter surveys in the DeLong Mountains is typical for Bill's field seasons. His favorite part of the job is figuring out how to get several thousand pounds of gear, people, fuel, and aircraft to some of the most remote corners of Alaska to find and test archaeological sites.

Ian Buvit's picture
Central Washington University
Ellensburg, WA
United States

Dr. Buvit earned his Ph.D. at Washington State University in 2008 focusing on the geology of Stone Age archaeology sites in southern Siberia. He joined the Raven Bluff program in 2010 as the project geoarchaeologist to reconstruct the landscape around the site when it was occupied, identify natural processes that have altered the original context of the cultural material, and evaluate the age of the site. In addition to Asiatic Russia and arctic Alaska, he also has interests in Ice Age Japanese archaeology. When he is not in the field, Ian is the faculty coordinator of the McNair Scholars program and teaches anthropology at Central Washington University.