Walrus, Seal, and Seabird Faunal Remains from Summit Island in Bristol Bay, Alaska: The Subsistence Practices of Norton Peoples in an Island Environment (2740–980 Cal B.P.)
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The Norton Stage (2500-1000 cal B.P.) of the Norton Tradition is typically characterized as a caribou hunting and fishing culture, an idea developed by James Giddings through his formative work at the Iyatayet Site in Norton Sound. The concept of Norton fishers and caribou-hunters has been promoted by the long-term research of Don Dumond in the Naknek and Ugashik drainages on the Alaska Peninsula. While the northern Alaska Peninsula has historically productive salmon runs and abundant caribou populations, the concept that these taxa were essential to the Norton subsistence economy has not been critically evaluated. Giddings based his own assessment of Iyatayet subsistence practices on the animal harvest practices of contemporary Norton Sound Alaska Native communities, rather than directly from the faunal remains he identified during excavations. Several faunal assemblages have been recovered from southwest Alaska, which provide the opportunity to test assumptions regarding Norton subsistence practices. Most of these assemblages come from the Bering Sea coast, a vastly different environment from more temperate coast of the Alaska Peninsula. In an effort to directly document Norton subsistence practices, I procured a sizeable faunal assemblage that Robert Shaw excavated in 1985 from 49-XHI-043 and 49-XHI-044. These sites are located on Summit Island, a nearshore island 6 km from the shoreline of northwest Bristol Bay. Prior to my research, no analysis of the Summit Island collection had been conducted. As a result, an assessment of the faunal remains was not possible until I analyzed field notes to establish stratigraphic relationships and procured radiocarbon dates from the sites. I was able to confirm the presence of three discrete analytical components associated with Norton culture including Early Norton I (2740-2380 cal B.P.), Early Norton II (2400-2000 cal B.P.), and Late Norton (1390-980 cal B.P.). My analysis of 9,981 mammal and bird bone specimens resulted in the documentation of an intensive marine-focused subsistence economy. Over approximately 2,000 years, generations of Norton peoples harvested seals, walruses, murres, cormorants, and eiders from the Walrus Island chain. Terrestrial and riverine species were not well represented in the assemblage, despite the proximity of the mainland.