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Anthropological Association Gathers in Nome

The 46th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association was February 27–March 2, and for the first time ever, it was held in Nome.

Its 140 participants and 110 presenters included anthropologists from across Alaska and the US, as well as several international participants from Greenland, Denmark, Canada, and the UK.

KNOM’s Katie Kazmierski reports:


[sound of dogs barking]

What you’re hearing isn’t sled dogs parked at an Iditarod checkpoint — it’s part of the Alaska Anthropological Conference held in Nome. Gathered in near-white-out conditions on the sea ice, anthropologists were greeted by sled dogs from Nome Kennel Club member kennels, on an afternoon break.

“It was good yesterday. It was nice to have so many different aspects on the expedition, absolutely.”

Bent Nielsen travelled from Denmark to present on the Fifth Thule Expedition: Rasmussen’s exploration from Greenland, across Arctic Canada to Utqiagivk, ending in Nome. This year’s AKAA Meeting placed a special spotlight on the expedition and its legacy, in advance of its upcoming centennial anniversary.

A participant of the 2019 Alaska Anthropological Association Meeting is greeted by Nome Kennel Club sled dogs on the frozen Bering Sea, in between conference sessions. Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.

Beyond the Thule Expedition, there were 110 presenters who explored a great range of topics during the conference. Brian Bardy is a seasonal park ranger with the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, who spoke during Friday’s meet-and-greet with poster authors.

“Well, the poster is based on some human remains and some late Pleistocene fossil remains that were found in the dredge spoils out of the Nome harbor in 2015… The actual radio carbon dating came back to 1,820 years before present, but the nitrogen levels were so high, along with the carbon 13 level, and so it was recalibrated to about 1800 A.D.”

His project dealt with an early discovery of Alaska Native remains in Nome. It’s just one example of the wealth of poster and presentation topics featured at the annual meeting.

Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum was the host site for the conference, which was organized by Director Amy Phillips-Chan.

“Organizing an AKAA Conference in Northwest Alaska carries unique challenges, some of those you experienced… [laughter]. We received invaluable assistance from individuals and organizations across town.”

Phillips-Chan is referring to blizzard conditions in Nome which peaked during the conference’s opening reception.

Typically, the annual AKAA meetings are held in Anchorage or Fairbanks, with the occasional, out-of-state gathering like its 2012 meeting in Seattle. Participants seemed refreshed with the change of location, especially because Western Alaska is the heart of a lot of their research.

Kelly Eldridge, a PhD graduate student working on an archaeology project in Shaktoolik, highlights what makes Nome a unique host for this year’s conference:

“Nome is a great community to host something like this, especially since there’s so much history in the Norton Sound region.”

The conference ended on Saturday, March 2 with community discussion, a lecture, and film screening of the 5th Thule Expedition.

Image at top: 2019 Alaska Anthropological Association Meeting participants enjoy fresh salmon and other goodies at the conference’s opening reception, complete with performances from the Nome St. Lawrence Island Dancers and Landbridge Tollbooth, held at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum in Nome. Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.