Prehistoric Human Response to Climate Change

What Are They Doing?

For this project, the research team collected and analyzed archaeological and paleoenvironmental data from three widely separated but environmentally comparable sites within the northern circumpolar region, the Yli-li area of Northern Finland, the Wemindji area of James Bay, Canada, and in the Kamchatka Peninsula region of Russia.

The circumpolar North is widely seen as an observatory for changing relations between human societies and their environments. The goal of the research team was to learn about the prehistoric society and economy of these areas in order to better understand human adaptation to significant environmental changes that took place between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago. Data gathered from this project helped enable more effective collaboration between social, natural and medical sciences.

This project was part of a the first circumpolar humanities research initiative called Histories From the North: Environments, Movements, Narratives (BOREAS), which involved collaboration of researchers from Europe, the US, Canada, and Russia and is part of the International Polar Year.

Where Are They?

The research team conducted work near Yli-Ii, Finland, a town located about 30 miles northeast of Oulu. Yli-Ii is situated on the banks of the river Iijoki near an expansive Stone Age settlement area that researchers have been excavating since the 1960's.

In August of 2009, the researchers traveled to the community of Wemindji, which is located on the east coast of James Bay in northern Quebec, Canada. Wemindji is a relatively new settlement – in 1958, Cree families residing on an island called Old Factory moved 25 miles south to the current location.

Expedition Map


Packing for the Namib Desert
Thirty glass squares and thirty marble squares prepared by Drake students,Ceramic sign prepared by a Drake student, One square meter of shade cloth*,Landscape fabric pins to anchor shade cloth*, Diamond tipped engravers, soil scoops, knife and other tools,Light meter, Drake High pennant,Dell laptop computer with power and ethernet cables, Data stick, assorted plug adaptors and modem adaptors, PolarTREC manual,Digital camera with battery charger, spare battery, card reader and cable, Binoculars, hand lens, compass, global positioning system (GPS) with manual,Two books on Namibia, four...
I am going to Namibia in April! Specifically, to the Namib Desert near Walvis Bay. I'll be there from April 18 to April 25. It was out of print, and cost me $70 for a used one! Why? And what does this have to do with the polar regions? If you remember my post on this site from March 23 2009, you'll remember that deserts and the polar regions have a lot in common. Both are extreme environments that appear hostile to life at first, but are full of hidden surprises. Both have beautiful, other-worldly landscapes, remote and empty. Both are fragile environments sensitive to climate change....
Back in the USA, I had to hit the ground running. There were two weeks of school left, including final exams and graduation. My substitute teacher, Mr. Lazlo Toth, had done an awesome job of executing my lesson plans while I was gone. He is a retired high school teacher himself, and he really knows his stuff. I could not leave my school for this long without his expertise. THANK YOU, Lazlo. It is impossible to overstate how much this trip has affected me. I wrote in my previous post about the importance to the modern world of doing this kind of research. In the end it comes down to that old...
Somebody finally asked me why we do this.  What do we gain after tromping through the Finnish woods all day, or after finding a few flakes of quartz stone from 5000 years ago?  Would it matter if we didn’t do it? In the short term, the answer is easy.  Everything we do and everything we find (and don't find) gets put on maps and written about in reports that are sent to the Finnish National Board of Antiquities.  They keep these maps and reports so that anyone can read them in the future. Next, the graduate students and professors I am here with write articles about the sites and publish...
I usually have a very good sense of direction, because I know the sun rises in the east, crosses the sky to the south, and sets in the west.  In Finland at this time of year it is usually cloudy and you can’t see the sun.  Even when you can, it just goes in circles and circles around the horizon!  There’s no telling which way is north, or even what time it is anymore.  I get lost.  We have entered the zone of perpetual day.  "Yesterday”, "today” and "tomorrow” no longer mean anything. From the balcony of my apartment Oulu I haven’t seen the moon or a star in a month.  I no longer...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

6 May 2009 to 31 May 2009
Location: Yli-Ii, Finland
Project Funded Title: Social Change and the Environment in Nordic Prehistory: Evidence from Finland and Northern Canada

Meet the Team

Michael Wing's picture
Sir Francis Drake High School
San Anselmo, CA
United States

Michael Wing has taught at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California since 1998. He teaches science to students in the Revolution of Core Knowledge (ROCK) program, an academy within Drake High focused on college preparation and interdisciplinary projects. Recently, Dr. Wing and his students built an insulated mini-greenhouse at the University of California’s White Mountain Research Station, at an elevation of 12,500 feet. Not only is the greenhouse the highest school garden in America, it is the highest garden of any kind in the USA or Canada!

Ezra Zubrow's picture
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY
United States

Dr. Ezra Zubrow is a professor of anthropology at the University of Buffalo and also holds academic positions at the University of Toronto and Cambridge University. He is also Senior Research Scientist at the National Center for Geographic Information Analysis Laboratory, which he helped found. He has a diverse set of academic interests: arctic archaeology and anthropology, climate change, human ecology and demography, as well as a deep interest in social issues (heritage, disability, and literacy). For more than 30 years he has been doing field work in Northern Canada, Finland, and the rest of Scandinavia, and he originally pursued a career in science because one of his high school teachers persuaded him to participate in an ozone-tracking project. To learn more about Dr. Zubrow, please visit his faculty biography page (

Greg Korosec's picture
State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY
United States

Greg Korosec is a PhD student in anthropology at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the assistant director of the University at Buffalo's Social Systems GIS Laboratory ( Mr. Korosec has been returning to the circumpolar north for the past several years where he is interested in the human adaptation, evolution, and responses to a changing past environment.

Dustin Keeler's picture
State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY
United States

Dustin Keeler is a PhD student in archaeology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Mr. Keeler's research interests include studying people of the Paleolithic and Neolithic, or the Stone Age, human settlement patterns, Northern and Western Europe, and mapping using GIS. He has participated in archeological excavations in France for several years and is currently conducting surveys and excavations on Neolithic sites in Northern Finland.