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A Multiscalar Consideration of the Athabascan Migration

  • Briana N. Doering (a1), Julie A. Esdale (a2), Joshua D. Reuther (a3) and Senna D. Catenacci (a1)


Genetic and linguistic evidence suggests that, after living in the Subarctic for thousands of years, Northern Athabascans began migrating to the American Southwest around 1,000 years ago. Anthropologists have proposed that this partial out-migration and several associated in situ behavioral changes were the result of a massive volcanic eruption that decimated regional caribou herds. However, regional populations appear to increase around the time of these changes, a demographic shift that may have led to increased territoriality, resource stress, and specialization. Building on existing syntheses of cultural dynamics in the region, analyses of excavated materials, and landscape data from Alaska and Yukon, this research shows that the Athabascan transition represented a gradual shift toward resource specialization in both salmon and caribou with an overall increase in diet breadth, indicating a behavioral transition that is more consistent with gradual demographic change. Further, this behavioral shift was already in motion at the time of the volcanic eruption circa 1150 cal BP and suggests that the ultimate migration from the area was the result of demographic pressures. In sum, this research elaborates on the complex dynamics of resilience and adaptation in hunter-gatherer groups and provides a testable model for explaining past migrations.

Después de vivir miles de años en el sub-árctico, evidencia lingüística y genética sugiere que hace aproximadamente 1.000 años, los Atabascanos del Norte migraban al sur oeste de los Estados Unidos. Antropólogos han surgido que esta migración, y varias transiciones conductuales in situ asociadas, fueron causados por una erupción volcánica que diezmó manadas de caribú. Sin embargo, después de esta erupción, parece que populaciones regionales se aumentó al mismo tiempo que esta transición, un cambio demográfico que pudo haber llevado un aumento en la territorialidad, la demanda de recursos, y la especialización económica. Basándose en las síntesis existentes de las dinámicas culturales en la región, analices de materiales excavados, y los paisajes de Alaska y el Yukón, esta investigación muestra que la transición Atabascana representó un cambio hacia una especialización en la recolección de salmón y la caza del caribú. Este cambio estaba asociado con un aumento general en la amplitud de la dieta, indicando una transición conductual que está más coherente con un cambio demográfico gradual. Además, esta transición conductual ya hubiera comenzado antes que la erupción volcánica en 1150 cal BP, lo cual sugiere que la inmigración al suroeste era causada por presión demográfica y no la erupción volcánica. En suma, esta investigación elabora las dinámicas complejas de resiliencia y adaptación en grupos cazadores-recolectores y proporciona un modelo comprobable para explicar otras migraciones prehistóricas.


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A Multiscalar Consideration of the Athabascan Migration

  • Briana N. Doering (a1), Julie A. Esdale (a2), Joshua D. Reuther (a3) and Senna D. Catenacci (a1)


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