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Title: Caribou, climate change and the pre-contact Yup'ik : the isotope ecology and biogeography of a key subsistence species
Author: Gigleux, Ciara Ann Mannion
ISNI:       0000 0004 7432 0090
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2018
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Rangifer have the greatest circumpolar distribution of any living ungulate and have played an important role in the lives of many Arctic Indigenous communities for thousands of years. Given the prolific nature of Rangifer remains in many Arctic archaeological contexts, and their continued importance in many contemporary Arctic Indigenous societies, this species has the potential to be an important source of information about past Arctic human-animal-environment interactions. Given the noted influence of local and global climatic shifts on Rangifer ecology in the present, knowledge of the palaeoecology and palaeobiogeography of such a key prey-species, coupled with an indication of palaeoclimatic context, may provide valuable insights into animal-human interactions, human subsistence activities and landscape use in the past. The aims of this thesis are three-fold. The first is to explore Rangifer isotopic variability, and to indicate the utility of this species as a palaeoclimatic proxy, by isotopically analysing modern samples from across the circumpolar North. The second aim is to investigate the palaeoecology and palaeobiogeography of caribou from the pre-contact Little Ice Age (15th–17th century AD) Yup'ik village site of Nunalleq, Western Alaska, in order to determine their ranging patterns and to identify if these patterns are similar to those seen in modern caribou in the area today. The third aim brings both of these aims together in order to undertake the first multi-isotopic investigation of archaeological Rangifer in North America to provide an indication of the palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic context of Nunalleq. This information, in conjunction with the caribou palaeoecological and palaeogeographical knowledge, will inform on caribou-environment and caribou-human interactions at the site. To that end, bulk bone bioapatite δ18OCO3 and δ18OPO4, and bulk bone collagen δ13C, δ15N and δ34S isotope analysis is undertaken on Rangifer from five modern herds from across the circumpolar North to explore the relationships between stable isotope ratios and environmental factors. The data presented here suggest that Rangifer bioapatite δ18O is a potentially useful proxy for regional climate. Intra and inter-population variability in these isotopic systems suggests the potential of using these to distinguish between herds and environments, particularly δ18O and δ34S. Sequential strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and oxygen (δ18OCO3) isotope data from caribou (Rangifer sp.) tooth enamel from Nunalleq are analysed in order to reconstruct caribou movement patterns in this region during the Little Ice Age. The data presented here suggests these Nunalleq caribou undertook some seasonal movements. Comparison with observational data of the local herd in the region today suggests a shift in calving area and range use between the late Holocene period represented by the site and the present day. Finally, bulk bone bioapatite δ18OPO4 and bulk bone collagen δ13C and δ15N on caribou from the site are used to reconstruct palaeotemperature for the area surrounding Nunalleq and to inform on additional palaeoenvironmental considerations. The data generated in this thesis provide new empirical data for future research in isotope zooarchaeology and significant baseline data for use in palaeodietary and palaeoenvironmental interpretation of fossil Rangifer. The isotopic data complement the wealth of data derived from other research at Nunalleq, illuminating the influence of changing climatic conditions on prey-species palaeoecology and human–animal interactions at the site.
Supervisor: Britton, Kate ; Knecht, Richard Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Caribou hunting ; Excavations (Archaeology) ; Animal remains (Archaeology) ; Animal populations ; Yupik Eskimos