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  • Cited by 8
  • Print publication year: 1989
  • Online publication date: October 2009

2 - The spirit of survival: cultural responses to resource variability in North Alaska


While the basic structure of responses to scarcity is constrained by the nature of those stresses which coping mechanisms must mediate to be effective, the implementation of coping strategies is predicated on the sociocultural context, which defines the range of organisational and technological options for mediating periods of subsistence stress. In this chapter, we reconstruct the spatio-temporal scales of variability in the major faunal resources of interior and coastal Alaska for the late prehistoric and protohistoric periods from variability in relevant climatic and ecological factors. From the structure of resource variability, we predict the basic structure of coping responses, and examine how specific coping strategies were modified over the past 1000 years to adjust to changes in resource structure and sociocultural context.

While environmental changes of certain magnitudes require adaptive adjustments in subsistence behaviour, the nature of the response is determined in large measure by sociocultural rather than by environmental variables

(Euler, Gumerman, Karlstrom, Dean and Hevly 1979: 1089).

At the time of European contact in the early 1800s, Iñupiat Eskimos inhabiting coastal and inland North Alaska pursued ecologically distinct ways of life. The tareumiut, or ‘people of the sea’, practised a subsistence economy based on sea-mammal hunting, with an emphasis on whaling.