Temporal and Dietary Reconstruction of Past Aleut Populations: Stable- and Radio-Isotope Evidence Revisited


  • Joan Brenner Coltrain




Paleo-Aleut, Neo-Aleut, Hrdlicka, Kagamil burial cave, Ship Rock burial cave, Chaluka midden, Umnak Island, Eastern Aleutians, stable carbon isotope chemistry, stable nitrogen isotope chemistry, bone collagen


A recent accelerator radiocarbon study of Eastern Aleutian human remains that Ales Hrdlicka collected in the 1930s contradicts his long-standing assertion that brachycranic Neo-Aleut people, moving west along the island chain at ca. 1000 BP, replaced the dolichocranic Paleo-Aleut population. Radiocarbon dates for Paleo-Aleut individuals ranged from ca. 3400 to 400 cal BP, covering the entire temporal span of the study and indicating that Paleo-Aleuts coexisted in the study area with Neo-Aleuts from ca. AD 1000 until well into the 16th century. Shortly after publication of that study, the curating institution informed the authors that a small number of cataloguing errors with respect to cranial category had come to their attention. Subsequent corrections made to cranial categories have strengthened temporal patterning characteristic of this data set. Mortuary practices and genetic and dietary patterning also distinguish Paleo-Aleut from Neo-Aleut groups. The stable isotope chemistry of their diets indicates that Neo-Aleuts relied on higher-trophic-level marine taxa than Paleo-Aleuts and, within that category of taxa, on more offshore rather than nearshore-feeding pinnipeds.