Archaeological sites in interior Alaska are divided
by time period into several successive “Traditions”.
The best understood archaeological traditions of the Alaskan Interior
are the American Paleoarctic Tradition, thought to reflect the movement
of peoples into Alaska from Siberia about 12,000 years ago; the
Northern Archaic Tradition, thought to reflect the movement of peoples
from Canada as boreal forests spread north about 6,000 years ago;
and the Athabascan Tradition, beginning about 2,000 years ago and
ending at the time of widespread Euro-American contact in the mid
to late 19th century.
The earliest sites on Fort Wainwright are those of the American
Paleoarctic. The tradition is marked by a heavy reliance on what
are called microblades. These stone tools are exactly what they
sound like, small thin stone blades. American Paleoarctic microblades
are removed from a specially prepared artifact called a core. The
distinctive wedge shape of these microblade cores and the method
of blade removal led researchers, as early as the late 1930s, to
draw comparisons with similar artifacts found in Siberia. Though
relatively rare, regional variants of this tradition are found throughout
Alaska and typically date to between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago.
Some of the earliest Paleoarctic components in Alaska are known
from the Tanana River valley. The most significant sites include
Broken Mammoth, Healy Lake, Chugwater and Swan Point. All these
sites are located within 30 miles of Ft. Wainwright training lands
and have yielded material dating between 11,500 and 12,000 years
The appearance of side-notched projectile points at a number of
interior archaeological sites around 6,000 years ago signals the
onset of the Northern Archaic Tradition. Sites of this type are
known from Birch Hill on the Fort Wainwright cantonment, Wood River
Buttes, Blair Lakes and Clear Creek Buttes in the Tanana Flats Training
Area, and Donnelly Training Area.
By 2,000 years ago sites attributable to the Athabascan Tradition
dominate the archaeological record of the Alaskan interior. This
reflects the emergence of a tradition that continued until the Euro-American
contact period, about 1880. Athabascan Tradition assemblages contain
an abundance of ground stone hideworking and woodworking tools,
bone implements, a variety of stone tool types, and local copper
where available. These sites show a dramatic drop in the use of
Though much of our knowledge of the Athabascan Tradition comes
from research carried out elsewhere in the region, several Athabascan
Tradition village sites have been investigated in the Tanana Valley.
These include sites near Healy Lake, Tok and along the Goodpaster
and Salcha Rivers. Though no Athabascan village sites are known
to exist on Army managed lands, numerous short-term occupation sites
are located here. These sites reflect the highly mobile small band
subsistence lifeway of interior Athabascan groups in the centuries
before Euro-American contact.
Return to Top of Page