The historical ecology of Pacific herring: Tracing Alaska Native use of a forage fish

Madonna Moss, Antonia Rodrigues, Camilla Filomena Speller, Dongya Yang

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Long-term use of herring by Alaska Natives is not well-documented over space or through time, yet this information can illuminate pre-industrial patterns of herring abundance and distribution. Such information is important to understand the sustained relationships Alaska Native fishers and egg collectors have had with herring. Understanding the genetics of pre-industrial herring may also inform management of the fish and fisheries to insure their survival into the future. In this paper, we attempt a contextualized account of the long-term history of Alaska Native herring fisheries, bringing together archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnohistorical data. We tie these together as background for presenting the preliminary results of the NSF-funded project, The Archaeology of Herring: Reconstructing the Past to Redeem the Future (No. 1203868). We have now tested 84 herring bone samples from 17 archaeological sites in Alaska expanding beyond Speller et al. (2012), having tripled the earlier archaeological dataset. The oldest herring bones identified archaeologically in Alaska are dated to more than 10,000 cal BP. Early Holocene and Middle Holocene sites have also yielded herring bones, although most of the record dates to the last 2400 years. Preservation of genetic information is effectively complete for the last 2400 years, but achievable back to the terminal Pleistocene (68% success rate for samples between 10,500 and 2400 cal BP). This gives considerable confidence to the potential to expand the analyses and develop a richer pattern of biological variability. The resulting data show genetic continuity between archaeological and modern herring populations. The main technical challenge for the future is to extract adequate amounts of nuclear DNA from the ancient samples for identifying more informative DNA markers that can be used to more effectively reveal any population diversity and/or population size changes over time when compared to modern herring.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-512
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science Reports
Early online date9 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

© Elsevier, 2015. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Ancient DNA
  • Clupea pallasii
  • Fisheries
  • Northwest Coast

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