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Cape Krusenstern archaeology project wins national award

  • Author: Jillian Rogers
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published June 27, 2015

A recent multiyear community archeology project at Cape Krusenstern National Monument has been recognized for its research, public outreach and local education efforts.

The National Park Service announced the winners of the 2015 John L. Cotter Award for Excellence in National Park Service archeology last week of which the Northwest Arctic endeavor was one of two recipients. The project unearthed new information about how people 4,000 years ago related to the world around them and each other. The award was created to recognize exceptional Park Service archeological projects in honor of Cotter's long career. Nominations are peer-submitted and voted on by the award committee, a group comprised of five Park Service archeologists representing subfields within American archeology.

The project -- 200 Generations: On the Beach of their Time: Human-Environmental Dynamics at Cape Krusenstern National Monument -- ran from 2006 to 2012, with some research still taking place, and included dozens of Park Service employees and volunteers. More than 60 students also took part, with Adam Freeburg and Shelby Anderson heading the project team. At the time, Freeburg, who now works for the Park Service in Fairbanks, was a graduate student at the University of Washington.

The project was started by Parkl Service staff in Kotzebue in 2006, with Freeburg and Anderson taking over in 2007 and fieldwork running until 2010.

"We were focused on long-term human-environmental dynamics, so we tried to take a look at how people interacted with the environment in Northwest Alaska for the past 4,000 years," Freeburg said last week from Fairbanks.

Along with the findings, the team compiled a new education kit that is being used in various venues in the region.

The Park Service team approached teachers in the communities to ask how to get their message and information across. Response from local educators was positive, Freeburg said, with teachers requesting more ways to get students excited and engaged in the history and natural science of the region through the project. Community outreach was done before and after the two-month summer field season to keep locals updated before the kit was developed. It is meant for students in middle school through high school and had initial test runs in classrooms in Noatak and Kotzebue.

"For me, that was one of the best parts -- that we get to have a product that shares what we found about how long people have lived there, what they did at different times and the communities that were there before in Northwest Alaska," Freeburg said.

As for interesting finds over course of the project, Freeburg said most people expect a unique artifact or two, but in this case, the regional population's resiliency over the past several millennia was the big treasure for the team.

"With all the findings, we can show that the Cape was occupied nearly continuously for the past 4,000 years," Freeburg said. "So, it's a resiliency in human populations that was neat to see. It was unexpected."

The team also discovered the Krusenstern area was more densely populated than previously thought. That raises questions about social organization, innovation and how and why people moved, he said.

"Freeburg and Anderson's work correlated climatic and environmental variability with observable culture change and led to a better understanding of late-Holocene prehistory," read a release from the Park Service.

A detailed map of the archeological features in area was made as part of the project.

Research from this venture is still ongoing with the focus now on subsistence hunting patterns, why they changed and social organization in the region.

"So as far as laboratory analysis, this project is still going strong," Freeburg said.

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