Dog-human dietary relationships in Yup'ik western Alaska: The stable isotope and zooarchaeological evidence from pre-contact Nunalleq

Ellen McManus-Fry* (Corresponding Author), Richard Knecht, Keith Dobney, Michael P. Richards, Kate Britton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Historically and ethnographically dogs have been an important resource for Arctic and subarctic societies — providing protection, fur and meat, as well as aiding hunting and transportation. The close relationship between dogs and humans has also been used by archaeologists to draw inferences about human society (particularly in terms of diet and subsistence) from various analyses of their remains. Here, we apply the complementary approaches of stable isotope and zooarchaeological analysis to dog remains from the permafrost-preserved, pre-contact Yup'ik village site of Nunalleq (c. CE 1300–1750), in coastal western Alaska, specifically to investigate dog-human dietary relationships and the role that dogs played in this community. Zooarchaeological data indicate an abundance of dogs at the site, with butchery marks suggesting that they were processed for meat. Stable isotope analysis of multiple tissues indicates dog diet was largely based on fish (particularly salmonids), with possible short-term increases in marine mammal consumption. Comparison with data from contemporaneous human hair from Nunalleq indicates a close similarity between human and dog diets, supporting the use of dogs as a proxy for human palaeodiet in societies at high-latitude societies consuming significant amounts of animal protein.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)964 - 972
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Early online date29 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by a PhD studentship to EM from the Natural Environment Research Council (2210 GG005 RGA1521) and an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/K006029/1) grant to RK, KB and Charlotta Hillerdal (Aberdeen). Material was excavated from Nunalleq by staff and students from the University of Aberdeen, volunteer excavators and residents of Quinhagak. Logistical and planning support for the excavation was provided by Qanirtuuq Incorporated, Quinhagak, and the residents of Quinhagak.


  • dog
  • carbon
  • nitrogen
  • Alaska
  • palaeodiet
  • prehistory
  • Yup'ik


Dive into the research topics of 'Dog-human dietary relationships in Yup'ik western Alaska: The stable isotope and zooarchaeological evidence from pre-contact Nunalleq'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this