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Central Yukon Field Office

Raven Bluff Archaeological Site

 Aerial view of Raven Bluff and the Kivalina River
 The Raven Bluff site was discovered on top of a small knoll (lower left) above the Kivalina River in northwestern Alaska.
On a knoll above the Kivalina River in northwestern Alaska, archaeologists are excavating a recently discovered prehistoric site that's shedding new light on the earliest inhabitants of North America.

In early August 2010 archaeologists completed a third season of field work at the Raven Bluff site, located about 30 miles from the Chukchi Sea at the western end of the Brooks Range. While the 2010 artifacts are still being analyzed, material recovered from the site in 2008 and 2009 documented human use of this site dating back to the Late Pleistocene -- nearly 13,000 years.

This fluted point was found in three fragments during the 2010 excavation at Raven Bluff.
Among the most exciting artifacts found at Raven Bluff so far are fragments of fluted points, a special kind of chipped, stone points that have long grooves, or flutes, removed from one or both sides. Fluted points have been found at a few other sites in Alaska but accurate ages for them have yet to be determined through laboratory analysis. Raven Bluff is covered by an unusually thick deposit of soil containing not only artifacts but bone fragments and other material that can be dated with radiocarbon techniques. The age of the fluted point fragment found at Raven Bluff in 2009 was determined to be approximately 10,500 radiocarbon years before present, or about 12,000 years old, making it one of the oldest fluted points ever found in the Arctic. 

The Raven Bluff site was discovered in 2007 by Central Yukon Field Office archaeologist Bill Hedman. In 2010 he and his crew were joined by volunteers from Colorado, Washington, and Germany as well as by Dr. Jeff Rasic, an archaeologist with the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Hedman and Rasic will direct excavation in 2011 as part of the BLM's Northwest Drainages Archaeological Survey and Testing Project.

Research at Raven Bluff is complicated by logistics typical of remote field work in Alaska. The only summertime access to the site is by air; people and equipment must be flown to a nearby airstrip by small plane and then transported to and from the site by helicopter. The archaeologists' camp has to be completely self-sufficient during the several weeks they spend at the site, when their only communication with the outside world is by satellite phone. A lightweight electric fence protects their cook tent and supplies from roaming bears.

During the long Fairbanks winters, archaeologists sort through the material recovered from the site, carefully analyzing and cataloging each item. They also prepare maps from their survey notes so they can see where each artifact was found in relation to others around it. This information, plus results from radiocarbon dating of bones and charcoal found near artifacts, will tell them where the next year's excavation should occur. By the arrival of spring, they are already preparing their equipment and supplies for another exciting summer at Raven Bluff.

 


Want to Learn More about Raven Bluff?

Download "Raven Bluff: An Archaeologist's Dream" (PDF/629 KB), an article published in the Fall 2009/Winter 2010 issue of BLM Alaska Frontiers.