Applying luminescence dating of ceramics to the problem of dating Arctic archaeological sites

Publication date: December 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 112

Author(s): Shelby L. Anderson, James K. Feathers


Dating Arctic archaeological sites is challenging because of limited terrestrial bone and the high probability of old wood in northern regions. Luminescence dating of ceramic materials, abundant in western Arctic late Holocene archaeological sites, offers another potential source of chronological information. We set out to evaluate whether luminescence can provide chronological information in one particular region. We obtained luminescence ages on 14 pottery samples from seven study sites located on the coast and interior regions of northwest Alaska. Twelve of the luminescence dates are in accord with radiocarbon, tree ring, and artifact data from the study sites. Results indicate that all of the study sites may be older than previously established, suggesting previously unknown early Thule or Birnirk occupation of the coast and interior of northwest Alaska. We conclude that luminescence dating of ceramic materials from this region is possible and can complement other dating methods that are more widely accepted in the western Arctic. There is considerable potential through future applications of luminescence dating for improving northeast Asian and Arctic chronologies and expanding our understanding of circumpolar Holocene migration, cultural interaction, and change.