BUFFALO, N.Y. — Archaeologists contribute to the global
debate about long-term human intersections with coastal and island
environments, often through cooperative research with
anthropologists, geologists and bioscientists, and frequently in
places like Kiska Island in the Rat Island Archipelago, more than a
thousand miles off the coast of Alaska.
Such is the case with archaeologist Caroline L. Funk, PhD,
research assistant professor in the University at Buffalo
Department of Anthropology, and a multidisciplinary team including
representatives of six federal agencies and academic colleagues
from across the United States.
They have received a startup grant in the amount of $242,733
from the National Science Foundation for a one-year project
involving field research and laboratory analyses of the environs of
Kiska Island, one of the largest of the volcanic Rat Islands in
Alaska’s western Aleutians.
Funk says the team’s work will aid in decision-making
about restoration ecology and land management while advancing
socionatural and identity theories about the impacts of small-scale
societies on their landscapes.
“We hope to contribute valuable data regarding human and
large-scale environmental event impacts to studies of the
North,” she says.
The project, which will run through February 2015, will research
human impacts on resources and environmental/ecological histories
by studying the prehistoric Aleut archaeological record and the
environmental history of Kiska Island, notably the history of human
use of the island.
Funk’s co-principal investigators are Nicole Misarti, PhD,
research assistant professor, Water and Environmental Research
Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Brian Hoffman, PhD,
associate professor and chair, Department of Anthropology, Hamline
University, St. Paul, Minn.
“New environmental and human histories of Kiska Island and
Rat Islands Aleuts developed from our synergy of
anthropology/archaeology, bioscience and geoscience,” Funk
says, “and when linked to regional and global data sets, will
expand our understanding of the form and function of island
ecosystems and human relationships with them.”
Funk says this initial research will consider several
· How the
prehistoric Rat Islands Aleuts lived within and conceived of their
· How the
environment shaped Rat Islands Aleut culture.
physical and climatic conditions and events were endured by the Rat
Islands Aleuts and how these affected their environment and
indigenous plant and animal species.
role humans played in shaping the form and characteristics of
landscapes, seascapes and non-human species of the islands.
Field work will include an archaeological survey aimed at
locating new archaeological sites and testing known and newly
discovered sites. Pollen coring will provide pollen and plant
macrofossil data, as well as high-resolution tephra sequences.
“These can tell us about large-scale volcanic events that
may have impacted humans and their resources,” Funk says.
Kiska features a more-than-4,000-foot active volcano of the same
In addition, Funk says an island intertidal survey will set
baseline data for modeling the regional food web. Laboratory
analyses will be performed on all materials collected during
fieldwork, creating the multidisciplinary, comparative data sets
necessary to test the study’s hypotheses about recursive
“Sea mammal population characteristics will be measured by
isotope and trace element analyses performed on archaeological
specimens,” she says, “which will offer up information
about prehistoric subsistence harvests and marine ecosystem
dynamics when combined with the new food web models.”
This research project reflects many of Funk’s research
interests: human decision-making in the context of environmental
influence and impact; cognitive archaeology and landscape
approaches in prehistoric, historic contact and historic eras;
hunter-gatherers in such coastal landscapes as the Aleutian
Islands, Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and central Portugal;
oral history; ethnohistory; settlement-pattern analysis; and faunal