Reconstructing caribou seasonal biogeography in Little Ice Age (late Holocene) Western Alaska using intra-tooth strontium and oxygen isotope analysis

Ciara Ann Gigleux*, Vaughan Grimes, Thomas Tütken, Richard Knecht, Kate Britton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


The palaeobiogeography of key prey-species can provide valuable insights into animal-human interactions, human subsistence activities and landscape use in the past. In many contemporary indigenous Arctic societies, caribou (Rangifer tarandus spp.) are an important seasonal subsistence species, and recent climatic shifts have influenced the seasonal and spatial distribution and migrations of herds. The impact of larger scale climatic change on this species, such as that experienced during the Little Ice Age (LIA), is not known, but may provide vital clues about future variability. Here we present sequential strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and oxygen (δ18OCO3) isotope data from archaeological caribou tooth enamel from Nunalleq, a 15th to 17th century AD pre-contact Yup’ik village site in Western Alaska, to reconstruct caribou movement patterns in this region during the LIA. The results of these analyses highlight variation in ranging habits over the period of time that the site was occupied, and indicate different ranging behaviours in the region in the past compared to modern herds in the area today. The isotopic data presented here complement the wealth of data derived from other research at Nunalleq, illuminating the influence of changing climatic conditions on prey-species palaeoecology and human-animal interactions at the site.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1043-1054
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Early online date14 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note


This work was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/K006029/1) grant awarded to Rick Knecht, Kate Britton and Charlotta Hillerdal (Aberdeen). The onsite collection of samples was carried out by staff and students from the University of Aberdeen, volunteer excavators and the residents of Quinhagak. We also thank the Qanirtuuq Incorporated, Quinhagak, Alaska, and the people of Quinhagak for logistical and planning support for fieldwork and sampling permissions. Special thanks for Warren Jones and Qanirtuuq Incorporated (especially Michael Smith and Lynn Church), and to all Nunalleq project team members, particularly Edouard Masson-MacLean and Paul Ledger (Aberdeen). Thanks also to Alison Harris (Stockholm/York), Rebecca Lam and Sherri Strong (Memorial University) and Michael Maus (Johannes-Gutenberg Universität, Mainz) for methodological and technical assistance. Thank you to Dominic Demma (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) for providing information on the Mulchatna herd, to Edouard Masson-MacLean for comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript, and to the guest editors for inviting us to contribute to this special issue. Finally, the authors would like to thank the reviewers for their valuable and constructive comments on this manuscript.


  • isotopes
  • enamel
  • rangifer
  • migration
  • ecology
  • climate
  • Climate
  • Enamel
  • Migration
  • Ecology
  • Rangifer
  • Isotopes


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