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The lower Athabasca River basin in northeastern Alberta contains one of the highest known concentrations of prehistoric archaeological sites in the boreal forests of western Canada. This is due to the combination of readily available sources of lithic raw material stone near a major travel corridor, and extensive archaeological survey conducted in advance of oil sands mining. Typological studies have proposed immediate post-glacial occupations that were contemporaneous with, or immediately followed, the catastrophic glacial Lake Agassiz flood through the area at the end of the Pleistocene. Here, we complement the typology age estimates by using stratigraphic relations and infrared stimulated luminescence (IRSL) dating of aeolian material to determine the age of initial human occupation, and reconstruct the environment encountered by early inhabitants of the region. We find that the first occupations in our study area took place near the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary (ca. 11.3 ± 0.8 ka BP), shortly after catastrophic flooding from Lake Agassiz. The post-flood environment was dominated by cold climatic conditions that supported permafrost, presumably during the late Pleistocene, and underwent significant aeolian deposition. Our results indicate that this area represents a portion of the eastern edge of the deglacial corridor into which plants, animals, and humans dispersed following retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet.
Sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) has been established as a viable biomolecular proxy for tracking taxon presence through time in a local environment, even in the total absence of surviving tissues. SedaDNA is thought to survive through mineral binding, facilitating long-term biomolecular preservation, but also challenging DNA isolation. Two common limitations in sedaDNA extraction are the carryover of other substances that inhibit enzymatic reactions, and the loss of authentic sedaDNA when attempting to reduce inhibitor co-elution. Here, we present a sedaDNA extraction procedure paired with targeted enrichment intended to maximize DNA recovery. Our procedure exhibits a 7.7–19.3x increase in on-target plant and animal sedaDNA compared to a commercial soil extraction kit, and a 1.2–59.9x increase compared to a metabarcoding approach. To illustrate the effectiveness of our cold spin extraction and PalaeoChip capture enrichment approach, we present results for the diachronic presence of plants and animals from Yukon permafrost samples dating to the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, and discuss new potential evidence for the late survival (~9700 years ago) of mammoth (Mammuthus sp.) and horse (Equus sp.) in the Klondike region of Yukon, Canada. This enrichment approach translates to a more taxonomically diverse dataset and improved on-target sequencing.
Forty years ago, Knut Fladmark (1979) argued that the Pacific Coast offered a viable alternative to the ice-free corridor model for the initial peopling of the Americas—one of the first to support a “coastal migration theory” that remained marginal for decades. Today, the pre-Clovis occupation at the Monte Verde site is widely accepted, several other pre-Clovis sites are well documented, investigations of terminal Pleistocene subaerial and submerged Pacific Coast landscapes have increased, and multiple lines of evidence are helping decode the nature of early human dispersals into the Americas. Misconceptions remain, however, about the state of knowledge, productivity, and deglaciation chronology of Pleistocene coastlines and possible technological connections around the Pacific Rim. We review current evidence for several significant clusters of early Pacific Coast archaeological sites in North and South America that include sites as old or older than Clovis. We argue that stemmed points, foliate points, and crescents (lunates) found around the Pacific Rim may corroborate genomic studies that support an early Pacific Coast dispersal route into the Americas. Still, much remains to be learned about the Pleistocene colonization of the Americas, and multiple working hypotheses are warranted.
The Foothills Erratics Train consists of large quartzite blocks of Rocky Mountains origin deposited on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountain Foothills in Alberta between ~53.5°N and 49°N. The blocks were deposited in their present locations when the western margin of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) detached from the local ice masses of the Rocky Mountains, which initiated the opening of the southern end of the ice-free corridor between the Cordilleran Ice Sheet and the LIS. We use 10Be exposure dating to constrain the beginning of this decoupling. Based on a group of 12 samples well-clustered in time, we date the detachment of the western LIS margin from the Rocky Mountain front to ~14.9 ± 0.9 ka. This is ~1000 years later than previously assumed, but a lack of a latitudinal trend in the ages over a distance of ~500 km is consistent with the rapid opening of a long wedge of unglaciated terrain portrayed in existing ice-retreat reconstructions. A later separation of the western LIS margin from the mountain front implies higher ice margin–retreat rates in order to meet the Younger Dryas ice margin position near the boundary of the Canadian Shield ~2000 years later.
Holocene tephrostratigraphy in Alaska provides independent chronology and stratigraphic correlation in a region where reworked old (Holocene) organic carbon can significantly distort radiocarbon chronologies. Here, we present new glass chemistry and chronology for Holocene tephras preserved in three Alaskan lakes: one in the eastern interior and two in the southern Brooks Range. Tephra beds in the eastern interior lake-sediment core are correlated with the White River Ash and the Hayes tephra set H (~4200–3700 cal yr BP), and an additional discrete tephra bed is likely from the Aleutian arc/Alaska Peninsula. Cryptotephras (nonvisible tephras) found in the Brooks Range include the informally named “Ruppert tephra” (~2700–2300 cal yr BP) and the Aniakchak caldera-forming event II (CFE II) tephra (~3600 cal yr BP). A third underlying Brooks Range cryptotephra is chemically indistinguishable from the Aniakchak CFE II tephra (4070–3760 cal yr BP) and is likely to be from an earlier eruption of the Aniakchak volcano.
The Glacier Peak tephra beds are among the most widespread and arguably some of the most important late Pleistocene chronostratigraphic markers in western North America. These beds represent a series of closely-spaced Plinian and sub-Plinian eruptions from Glacier Peak, Washington. The two most widespread beds, Glacier Peak ‘G’ and ‘B’, are reliably distinguished by their glass major and trace element abundances. These beds are also more broadly distributed than previously considered, covering at least 550,000 and 260,000 km2, respectively. A third bed, the Irvine bed, known only from southern Alberta, is similar in its major-element composition to the Glacier Peak G bed, but it shows considerable differences in trace element concentrations. The Irvine bed is likely considerably older than the G and B tephras and probably records an additional Plinian eruption, perhaps also from Glacier Peak but from a different magma than G through B. A review of the published radiocarbon ages, new ages in this study, and consideration in a Bayesian framework suggest that the widespread G and B beds are several hundred years older than widely assumed. Our revised age is about 11,600 14C yr BP or a calibrated age (at 2 sigma) of 13,710–13,410 cal yr BP.
The late Cenozoic deposits of central Yukon contain numerous distal tephra beds, derived from vents in the Wrangell Mountains and Aleutian arc–Alaska Peninsula region. We use a few of these tephra beds to gain a better understanding on the timing of extensive Pleistocene glaciations that affected this area. Exposures at Fort Selkirk show that the Cordilleran Ice Sheet advanced close to the outer limit of glaciation about 1.5 myr ago. At the Midnight Dome Terrace, near Dawson City, exposed outwash gravel, aeolian sand, and loess, related to valley glaciers in the adjacent Ogilvie Mountains, are of the same age. Reid glacial deposits at Ash Bend on the Stewart River are older than oxygen isotope stage (OIS) 6 and likely of OIS 8 age, that is, about 250,000 yr B.P. Supporting evidence for this chronology comes from major peaks in the rates of terrigeneous sediment input into the Gulf of Alaska at 1.5 and 0.25 myr B.P.
Improved chronological control on the penultimate advance of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet in northwest Canada (the Reid glaciation) is required for a better understanding of late Quaternary palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental change in eastern Beringia. However, reliable dating of glaciation events beyond the last glacial maximum is commonly hindered by a lack of directly dateable material. In this study we (i) provide the first combined minimum and maximum age constraint on the Reid glaciation at Ash Bend, its reference locale in the Stewart River valley, northwestern Canadian Cordillera, using single-grain optically stimulated luminescence dating of quartz; and (ii) compare the timing of the Reid glaciation with other penultimate ice sheet advances in the region with the aim of establishing improved glacial reconstructions in eastern Beringia. We obtain ages of 158±18 ka and 132±18 ka for glaciofluvial sands overlying and underlying the Reid till, respectively. These ages indicate that the Reid advance, at its reference locale, occurred during MIS 6. This precludes an earlier MIS 8 age, and suggests that the Reid advance may have been synchronous with the Delta glaciation of central Alaska, and is likely correlative with the Mirror Creek glaciation in southern Yukon.
Rodent middens from ice-rich loess deposits are important new paleoenvironmental archives for Eastern Beringia. Plant macrofossils recovered from three middens associated with Dawson tephra (ca. 24,000 14C yr B.P.) at two sites in Yukon Territory include diverse graminoids, forbs, and mosses. These data suggest substantial local scale floristic and habitat diversity in valley settings, including steppe-tundra on well-drained soils, moist streamside meadows, and hydric habitats. Fossil arctic ground squirrel burrows and nesting sites indicate that permafrost active layers were thicker during Pleistocene glacial periods than at present on north-facing slopes.
Recurring glacial outburst floods from the Yukon-Tanana Upland are inferred from sediments exposed along the Yukon River near the mouth of Charley River in east-central Alaska. Deposits range from imbricate gravel and granules indicating flow locally extending up the Yukon valley, to more distal sediments consisting of at least 10 couplets of planar sands, granules, and climbing ripples with up-valley paleocurrent indicators overlain by massive silt. An interglacial organic silt, occurring within the sequence, indicates at least two flood events are associated with an earlier glaciation, and at least three flood events are associated with a later glaciation which postdates the organic silt. A minimum age for the floods is provided by a glass fission track age of 560,000 ± 80,000 yr on the GI tephra, which occurs 8 m above the flood beds. A maximum age of 780,000 yr for the floods is based on normal magnetic polarity of the sediments. These age constraints allow us to correlate the flood events to the early-middle Pleistocene. And further, the outburst floods indicate extensive glaciation of the Yukon-Tanana Upland during the early-middle Pleistocene, likely representing the most extensive Pleistocene glaciation of the area.
Perennially frozen loess deposits in the Klondike goldfields include paleosols formed in full-glacial environments, correlated by Alaskan distal tephra with Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 2 and 4. Patterns of organic and inorganic carbon and clay distribution, microstructures, and profile morphologies indicate that soil formation occurred in a base-rich environment in which organic matter accreted predominantly as root detritus. At sites approximately 20 km apart, the expression of cryoturbation and ice wedge development decreases in strength upward in loess–paleosol sequences correlated with MIS 4, suggesting increasing aridity. Configurations of cryoturbation features and ice-wedge thaw unconformities, the presence of numerous ground squirrel burrows, and an absence of peat accumulation suggest that these substrates were predominantly well-drained, with active layers of equal or greater thickness than in modern soils on similar sites in the west-central Yukon. Some characteristics of these paleosols are similar to those of modern steppe and tundra soils, consistent with plant macrofossil evidence for local ecological diversity during full-glacial conditions in eastern Beringia.
The level of Kluane Lake, the largest lake in Yukon Territory, was lower than at present during most of the Holocene. The lake rose rapidly in the late seventeenth century to a level 12 m above present, drowning forest and stranding driftwood on a conspicuous high-stand beach, remnants of which are preserved at the south end of the lake. Kluane Lake fell back to near its present level by the end of the eighteenth century and has fluctuated within a range of about 3 m over the last 50 yr. The primary control on historic fluctuations in lake level is the discharge of Slims River, the largest source of water to the lake. We use tree ring and radiocarbon ages, stratigraphy and sub-bottom acoustic data to evaluate two explanations for the dramatic changes in the level of Kluane Lake. Our data support the hypothesis of Hugh Bostock, who suggested in 1969 that the maximum Little Ice Age advance of Kaskawulsh Glacier deposited large amounts of sediment in the Slims River valley and established the present course of Slims River into Kluane Lake. Bostock argued that these events caused the lake to rise and eventually overflow to the north. The overflowing waters incised the Duke River fan at the north end of Kluane Lake and lowered the lake to its present level. This study highlights the potentially dramatic impacts of climate change on regional hydrology during the Little Ice Age in glacierised mountains.
Relative sea level at Vancouver, British Columbia rose from below the present datum about 30,000 cal yr B.P. to at least 18 m above sea level 28,000 cal yr B.P. In contrast, eustatic sea level in this interval was at least 85 m lower than at present. The difference in the local and eustatic sea-level positions is attributed to glacio-isostatic depression of the crust in the expanding forefield of the Cordilleran ice sheet during the initial phase of the Fraser Glaciation. Our findings suggest that about 1 km of ice was present in the northern Strait of Georgia 28,000 cal yr B.P., early during the Fraser Glaciation.
Despite the rich array of perishables Julian Steward (1937) recovered during his 1930s excavations, the Promontory Cave assemblages were dated in relative terms with just a handful of radiocarbon assays until recently. Yet Promontory Caves 1 and 2 are the type sites from which the Promontory Culture was defined, and these assemblages have a critical bearing on our conception of three significant issues in western North American prehistory: the terminal Fremont transition, Numic expansion, and the potential presence of migrating ancestral Apachean populations. To better fix the age of the Promontory Phase, we have undertaken an additional 45 AMS determinations for Promontory perishables. Because of a research focus concerning Promontory footwear, most age estimates come from moccasins, but we have also dated gaming pieces, a bow, an arrow, netting, basketry, matting, and cordage. With the exception of a winnowing basket fragment and some ceramic residue dates, all Promontory Phase assays are tightly focused in an interval running from 662 to 826 radiocarbon years before present (a calibrated 2s range spanning A.D. 1166–1391). Bayesian analyses of the Cave 1 and 2 Promontory Phase perishables suggest that this late period occupation comprised one or two human generations, centering on the interval running from ca. A.D. 1250–1290.
The Grenfell bone rod resembles other instances of Clovis-era organic or osseous technology and has on a number of occasions been considered with other Clovis bone, antler, and ivory rods or beveled artifacts. It had been suspected of being constructed from proboscidean long bone. As an early discovery (made in 1883), the Grenfell artifact had somewhat obscure provenience details and a lengthy curatorial history. We describe accelerator mass spectrometry and zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry methods that allow rapid, minimally destructive determinations of both the age and the raw material composition of osseous artifacts. Our analysis reveals that the Grenfell artifact is actually a terminal Paleoindian-era manifestation made of bison bone. Similar methods could be more widely applied in North America in order to build more refined data sets for osseous technologies. These results also reveal the ease with which archaeologists can secure additional information from existing collections, highlighting our ethical obligations to do so.
A method involving a graphite substrate has been developed for the mounting and analysis of sparse, fine particles from a liquid suspension to enable improved study of volcanic ash (tephra) and atmospheric dust preserved in glacial ice. Unpolished grains may be studied by scanning electron microscope–energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM-EDS) at full vacuum without the need for a conductive coating due to the close proximity of the underlying graphite. The same grains in the same relative positions may be subsequently examined in polished mounts by a variety of methods including SEM-EDS, electron probe microanalysis, laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectroscopy, secondary ion mass spectrometry, and optical microscopy. Particles as small as 3–5 μm may be routinely and easily prepared for analysis as polished grains, and particles of significantly different sizes may be exposed simultaneously. The general approach also offers significant flexibility, including both single- and multiple-sample mounts, and may be adjusted to suit a variety of samples and analytical methods.
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