Dating of Teklanika East

This report presents post field results of a 2006 investigation conducted at the Teklanika East archaeological site, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska.  The major objective of this research was to document the stratigraphic context and age of cultural deposits present at the site.  This site was largely thought to be a surface site, lacking both stratigraphy and buried cultural deposits.  Described herein is the stratigraphy, possible age of cultural materials present at the site, and the broader context of the site and of this work.  This project was consistent with the National Park Service mission of conservation and understanding in archaeology: the results have promoted public education and understanding of the prehistory of Denali National Park and Preserve and the larger region of Interior Alaska.

Stratigraphy and radiocarbon dates from Teklanika East.

The first sample, Beta-283285 was recovered at a depth of 10cm below the surface from the north wall of the old excavation test unit.  This sample was stratigraphically associated with cultural materials made of the local raw material.  Sample two, Beta-283286, was recovered 3cm below sample one and also had cultural materials stratigraphically associated with it.  These two dates may be used to infer that they represent two separate cultural occupations at the site as they do not overlap at two sigma (95% confidence level) t=98; χ²=3.84; df=1.  An alternative to this is that these dates might suggest post depositional mixing or add mixing of charcoal at the site and may not necessarily represent culturally deposited charcoal at all; understanding the relationship, if any, between the two samples may be one avenue for future researchers to investigate.      

Sample three was recovered from the banded silt layer also containing cultural materials.  This sample is of interest largely due to the fact that it suggests the presence of human use of the site during the early to mid-Holocene.  Moreover, this date is consistent with the paleosol complex seen at Teklanika West (Coffman and Potter 2009, in press).  The base and top of this paleosol complex at Teklanika West has been dated to between 7130 +/-98 (7754-8170 calBP two sigma) and the top between 6770 +/-50 BP (7520-7689 calBP two sigma).  A sum probability of the three dates at two standard deviation places the formation of the paleosol between 7312-8164 cal BP.  The significance of this is that I infer this to be a time of relative environment stability for the upper Teklanika River Valley area.  Hunter-gatherers likely visited both of the sites frequently to acquire raw materials and exploit the seasonal game (e.g. caribou and Dall’s sheep) in the area. 
Based on data from Teklanika West, there is an apparent hiatus in occupation occurring around 6502-7156 calBP (two standard deviation [Addison and Beget 2010]) possibly attributed to depositing of the Oshetna tephra.  To what extent did this effect prehistoric groups in the area is not widely known, yet it does appear that there was a decline in occupational use at Teklanika West and possibly at Teklanika East.  After about 5340 +/- 90 BP (5933-6289 calBP two sigma) occupations at Teklanika West resume and is likely to have reoccurred at Teklanika East too.  This is congruent with West’s descriptions and analysis of artifacts recovered at the site in the late 1960s.  The two sites which comprise the Teklanika Archaeological District suggest that the upper Teklanika River Valley began to be extensively occupied during the early-middle Holocene and support the idea (e.g. Potter 2008 and Wygal 2009) that uplands and upland resources became more attractive to hunter-gatherers during the middle Holocene, likely attributed to changes in economy.  The reliance more on caribou and Dall’s sheep during this time became more dominate, likely as a result of changes on the landscape due to the spread of the boreal forest.  However, this is not suggested that the upper Teklanika River Valley was inaccessible prior to the early-middle Holocene.  Cultural components one and two from Teklanika West indicate that the upper Teklanika valley was deglaciated by the late Pleistocene.  Rather, changes in ecology, economy, and population increases likely attributed to the intensification of the upper Teklanika Valley during the Holocene.
Sufficient to say, Teklanika East waited over 40 years to be absolutely dated and is the third prehistoric site to be radiocarbon dated.  These results indicate that Teklanika East contains buried in situ materials while it ranges in age from the early-middle through late Holocene.  Moreover, these results verify West’s original interpretations of the site; as having multiple occupations with fairly substantial antiquity.  
*All radiocarbon dates were calibrated using Calib version 6.0.1: Stuiver, M., and Reimer, P.J., 1993, Radiocarbon, 35, 215-230.

Coffman, S.C.
2011 Otto Geist Report, UA Museum of the North.