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Prehistory: First Inhabitants
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Alaska Early History (Prehistory)
First Early Inhabitants of Alaska
Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of Alaska. Learn about the prehistory and culture of the first early inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of Alaska.
Alaska First Early Inhabitants Timeline
Early History of Native Americans in Alalaka
The Indigenous People of Alaska
The first native inhabitants of the area now known as Alaska probably migrated from Siberia, part of what is now Russia, at the end of the last ice age ten to twelve thousand years ago. Although experts are unsure whether they traveled a land bridge or by boat, archeologists have found signs of different native groups dating back thousands of years in Alaska.
The Athabascan nations traveled throughout the vast inland in areas, surviving the difficult interior winters from the Brooks Range mountains east to the Yukon and south to the Kenai Peninsula. The Athabascans were made up of at least eleven subgroups, speaking different languages. The Athabascans were nomadic, traveling long distances in harsh conditions to hunt herds of caribou and moose, fish the rivers for plentiful salmon, and take advantage of Alaska's seasonal berries and plants.
Further north, the Inupiaks and Yupiks of St. Lawrence Island lived along the northern coast, hunting for seals and whales and surviving arctic winters on the frozen tundra. They also hunted polar bear and migrating caribou.
To the south along the coast lived the Yup'iks, and Cup'iks settled along the more western coastal areas north of the Aleutian islands. These people developed the uluaq (ulu) knife, a unique curve-bladed knife used to skin fish and game as well as chop and slice just about anything. Early examples of early stone bladed knives date back centuries. The modern, steel-bladed ulu knife is a favorite souvenir from Alaska today.
Many of these native groups survive today, forming 16% of Alaska's population and contributing their cultural heritage throughout Alaska. Be sure to find out more about them at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
The European exploration of Alaska began with the 1741 voyages of Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikoff to the Aleutian Islands, the coasts of the Gulf of Alaska, and southeastern Alaska. Bering died from scurvy later that winter on an island named after him, Bering Island.
Around this time the British, Spanish, and French were exploring the coast of Alaska. The unregulated exploitation of the fur resources by rival companies led to a depletion of accessible fur areas and the killing and enslavement of the peaceful Aleut natives. Consequently, this led to the chartering of the Russian American Company in 1799. Under its first manager, Alexander Baranov, which was a period of about 20 years, there was an order and systematic exploitation of the fur resources.
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