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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Anthropology

Arctic Studies Center

The Arctic Studies Center’s Yakutat Seal Camps project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (Arctic Social Sciences Program), is a multi-disciplinary study of 900 years of interaction between people, seals, and glaciers at Yakutat Bay, Alaska. The principal investigators are anthropologist Aron L. Crowell (Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution) and geologist Daniel H. Mann (University of Alaska Fairbanks).

The project addresses the ancient, historical, and contemporary harvest of harbor seals at ice-floe pupping grounds near Hubbard Glacier and how Late Holocene climate change gave birth to this long-lived hunting practice. Indigenous knowledge, combined with material and chronometric evidence derived from archaeology and glacial studies, describes the evolving physical and cultural landscape of Yakutat Bay, where glacial recession after A.D. 1100 opened the fiord for colonization by harbor seals and for successive waves of Sugpiaq, Eyak, Ahtna, and Tlingit settlement. The project was inspired by George Ramos Sr., L’uknax.adí Tlingit clan elder and traditional scholar, who learned the names and locations of ancestral sealing camps during his training as a young hunter. In his words and those of other Yakutat elders, the seals are the glacier’s gift to the people, and have sustained their way of life for centuries.

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George Ramos Sr. near Daak Léin seal hunting camp at the head of Yakutat Bay, 2011. Photo by Aron Crowell, 2011.

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