Video: Northern Alaska Rock Art

While prehistoric rock art is common in some regions, such as the American Southwest, it is exceptionally rare in Interior and Northern Alaska. Archaeologists working in the 1960s and 70s found boulders adorned with petroglyphs at three different lakefront sites in what is now the Noatak National Preserve in Northwest Alaska. The rock art remained on location, unobserved for almost 40 years until this summer when a team from the UA Museum of the North and the National Park Service assembled to create a permanant record with sketches and tracings. Museum staff members Scott Shirar, research archaeologist, and Mareca Guthrie, fine arts collection manager, were among the crew that visited the village sites in July.

During smallscale excavations in the shallow depressions that mark the remains of prehistoric dwellings, the team made an exciting discovery. They found four clay disks decorated with lines, grooves and perforations. “These appear to be a new artifact type for Alaska,” Shirar said. “We only opened up a really small amount of ground at the site, so the fact that we found four of these artifacts indicates there are probably more there. There’s something really significant happening.”

The University of Alaska Museum of the North is a popular visitor attraction, a vital component of the university and the only research and teaching museum in Alaska. The museum’s collection – 1.4 million artifacts and specimens – represents millions of years of biological diversity and thousands of years of cultural traditions. The collections are organized into 10 disciplines (archaeology, birds, documentary film, earth sciences, ethnology, fine arts, fishes, insects, mammals, and plants) and serve as a resource for research on climate change, contaminants and other issues facing the circumpolar North.

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