Sub-Navigation Bar

Archaeology on Fort Wainwright Alaska
This page was updated on:


To obtain additional information regarding cultural resources on U.S. Army Alaska contact Lisa Graham.



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 ago.

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 microblade technology.

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.



Up arrow Return to Top of Page