Ethnoarchaeological analysis of Arctic fish processing: Chemical characterization of soils on Nelson Island, Alaska

Kelly Knudson, Liam Frink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Activity area analysis of archaeological soils using multi-element characterizations can illuminate how subsistence operations are organized and how subsistence behavior has changed over time, and is increasingly common at archaeological sites. However, in many regions it is impossible to examine the elemental signatures in known anthropogenic soil samples in order to compare them with unknown archaeological samples. This ethnoarchaeological study examines the chemical composition of the soils at known fish processing areas in the contemporary community of Tununak on Nelson Island, western Alaska. Using a quadrupole inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (Q-ICP-MS), the concentrations of the following elements in the soil extract were recorded in parts per million (ppm): aluminum (Al), barium (Ba), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), sodium (Na), phosphorus (P), strontium (Sr), titanium (Ti), and zinc (Zn). Fish processing area features are elevated in various elements, including sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese, and Ba/Sr, Ba/Ca, and Sr/Ca are also useful in distinguishing between fish processing areas and offsite areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)769-783
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Herring
  • Q-ICP-MS
  • Soil analysis
  • Tununak
  • Western Alaska

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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