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Reading the north

Arrows and Atl Atls: A Guide to the Archeology of Beringia

E. James Dixon (U.S. Department of the Interior, free*)

The Blurb: The literature describing Beringia's culture history is extensive. Archeological surveys and excavations to preserve and conserve cultural resources have created a vast "gray literature," a myriad of unpublished reports, manuscripts and papers presented at professional meetings. In addition, large archeological collections, many of which have only been partially analyzed, are housed in museums, cultural centers and universities all over the world. The sheer volume of the published literature, technical reports, gray literature and unpublished collections makes it incredibly difficult to understand the archeology of Beringia.

The goal of this book is to take this complex information and reduce it to an understandable overview of the development of Beringia's culture history. Each chapter is followed by suggestions for additional reading for those who may wish to.

Excerpt: The Bering Sea was named for Vitus Bering, an intrepid Scandinavian navigator hired by the Russian crown to explore Russia's Pacific frontier. After traveling overland from Europe, he founded the settlement of Petropavlovsk (Peter and Paul) on the Pacific coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula. With European shipbuilders, he established a shipyard, harvested timber, constructed vessels, and launched his exploration of the northern seas. On the return from his second voyage he died on the largest of the Komandorskie (Commander) Islands that now bears his name. His incredible feats are commemorated in names: Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and the Bering Land Bridge.

The geographic region known as Beringia received its name from botanist Eric Hultén. In the 1930s, he determined from studying the plants on both sides of the Bering Sea that the vast areas of extreme northwest North America and northeast Asia had been connected by a land bridge in the past. Geologists had already suggested this based on the shallow depth of the Bering Sea and the fact that much of the region had not been covered by glacial ice during the last Ice Age. Hultén named this vast region Beringia, after the Bering Sea that now separates the two continents.

During the height of the last Ice Age, the ocean floor lying beneath the Bering Sea was exposed as dry land stretching between Alaska and Siberia. This occurred because sea level was lower while much of the earth's water was trapped in massive continental glaciers. This land connection between Asia and North America is called the Bering Land Bridge, and when the land bridge connected the two continents, large glaciers covered much of the adjacent land.

It was geologist David Hopkins who most fully realized the importance of the Bering Land Bridge in shaping the modern world. Expanding our understanding of the Bering Land Bridge, he emphasized that it was part of a larger region referred to as Beringia. He divided Beringia into two parts: Western Beringia in Asia and Eastern Beringia in Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory.

*To obtain a copy of this publication, call 644-3602 or email katerina_wessels@nps.gov. An online pdf of the book may be viewed at nps.gov/akso/beringia//beringia/beripublications.cfm.

Legendary Locals of Chugiak-Eagle River

Chris Lundgren (Legendary Locals Publishing, $21.99)

The Blurb: Homesteading in Alaska was not an obvious lifestyle choice for most people in post-World War II America. In an age of gleeful consumerism, early settlers of Chugiak-Eagle River made a decision to live simply. Yet a simple life and an easy one were two different things. Many raised their own crops and a few, such as the Pippels, the Tatros, the Glenn Briggses and the Vanovers, created larger-scale farming ventures. Other entrepreneurs, such as Paul Swanson, thrived in the frontier environment, taking on multiple enterprises to fill gaps in the area's services. Out of this can-do atmosphere sprang a number of artists, musicians and performers. The Chugiak Belles dance group revved up audiences at the annual Spring Carnival and the Chugiak Players staged a variety of dramas and comedies. Eagle River homesteaders Arthur and Eleanor Braendel helped found the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and performed with them for 60 years.

Excerpt: Rusty Bellringer

Harriet S. "Rusty" Bellringer put the final issue of the Knik Arm Courier to bed more than 40 years ago, yet people today are still reading the weekly newspaper. Archived at the Chugiak-Eagle River Historical Society, the Courier has reemerged as a reliable source of information about the area from 1958 to 1973. Bellringer, a World War II Marine Corps veteran, aircraft engine mechanic, pilot, wife and mother, said she never missed a weekly deadline in those 15 years, despite the many challenges involved in being a one-woman operation. Even the 1964 Good Friday earthquake did not stop her. The same focus and determination helped Bellringer earn her bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctor of philosophy in clinical psychology through the 1970s and 1980s, and she went on to open a private counseling practice. A 53-year resident of Peters Creek, Rusty passed away at age 81 in 2003.

Mike Alex

During his life, Mike Alex was known as the best fisherman in Cook Inlet. He was also a skilled carpenter who restored the 140-year-old St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Eklutna with his sons, completing construction on a new church building in 1962. Alex was a 28-year veteran of the Alaska Railroad, where he was a section foreman, and the father of 13 children with wife Nellie. Most important of all, Alex was the last traditional chief of the Dena'ina Athabascans, and he tried to organize his fellow villagers to fight against the encroachment on their land by the federal government. Chief Alex Park, adjacent to Eagle River Elementary School, commemorates him. He died in 1977 at age 70. (Both photos courtesy of the Chugiak-Eagle River Historical Society.)