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Significance of the Bluefish Caves in Beringian Prehistory

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Jacques Cinq-Mars

Curator, Quebec Archaeology
Archaeological Survey of Canada
Canadian Museum of Civilization


This is a translation of a paper originally published, in French, in Revista de Arqueología Americana, No. 1, (1990): pp. 9-32. But for a few minor corrections and the presentation of upgraded illustrations (Fig. 1- 5) and faunal list (Table 1), this Web version is essentially the same as the original one.

The 1989 article by Cinq-Mars and Morlan (referred to in the text as “Cinq-Mars and Morlan 1989”) was finally published as:

Cinq-Mars, Jacques and Richard E. Morlan. 1999. “Bluefish Caves and Old Crow Basin: A New Rapport,” in Ice Age Peoples of North America, ed. by Robson Bonnichsen and Karen L. Turnmire, pp. 200-212. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press for the Center for the Study of the First Americans.

On the other hand, the article by Cinq-Mars and Nelson (1989 — also referred to in the text) has not as yet appeared.

For additional details on the available 14C dates from Bluefish (briefly mentioned in the text), see the Canadian Archaeological Radiocarbon Database (CARD) at:

Jacques Cinq-Mars, Hull, February, 2001


Fig.1 - map

About 400 years ago, responding to his era’s need to explain the Aboriginal presence in the New World, José de Acosta postulated what would become known as the Bering Strait, i.e., a place where the relative proximity of Asia and America would have allowed populations to move between the two continents. Today, this pathway and the adjacent regions (Fig.1) still provide the geographical canvas on which numerous more or less viable hypotheses have been woven, variations on the theme of the peopling of the Americas. Following many recent studies, and in an attempt at biogeographical synthesis, these regions have come to be known as Beringia. (Hopkins 1959, 1967; Hopkins et al. 1982; Hultén 1968). For our purposes we shall refer more precisely to eastern Beringia, the territory corresponding to those parts of Alaska and the Yukon that, with the exception of several alpine zones, were spared the glacial advances of the Pleistocene.

Spurred on by continuing archaeological questions, interdisciplinary research in the region over the past few decades has enabled us to form a clearer picture of Beringian palaeogeography. This research has also clarified various aspects of the evolution of the Pleistocene environment to which human populations had to adapt, some of them eventually spreading south. The Beringia concept, and its variations and derivations (Note 1) , are essential components of any archaeological discussion treating the origins of the first Aboriginal populations in the New World within a Pleistocene time frame. It must be noted, however, that relatively little pertinent data have come out of these investigations, mainly because of the difficulties inherent in archaeological research in these regions. It seems appropriate, therefore, to clarify several points of Beringian archaeology that have often been “hot topics,” at least in certain hemispheric contexts.

One can divide the archaeological findings, as well as their most recent and plausible interpretations, into two groups. The first group pertains mainly to Late Glacial times, and comprises a complex set of data from a growing number of sites discovered in Alaska and the Yukon. Without being conclusive, this information seems more and more likely to provide answers to the question of the current peopling of the boreal and arctic regions of the Northwest, as well as that of Clovis origins. In the latter case, the findings tend to satisfy supporters of a “short-chronology”. The second set of data is not as telling, and at present does not appear to be continuous with the first one. It is mainly the result of research carried out in the northern Yukon, and whose findings suggest older cultural manifestations, dating back to the Glacial Maximum or even earlier, as we shall see. These findings provide support for the “long-chronology” school of thought.

By examining some of this material, and more particularly, evidence from the Bluefish Caves in northern Yukon, we shall attempt to shed a Beringian light on several facets of this origins-centred archaeology.


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