The Middle Tanana Valley in Alaska remains one of the most important regions of the continent for archaeological research. In The Gift of the Middle Tanana: Dene Pre-Colonial History in the Alaskan Interior, Gerad Smith explores the history, ethnography, and archaeological record of the Native people in this region during the late Holocene. Smith creates an interpretive framework informed by Alaskan Native traditions, focusing on traditional place names and the deep-play rituals of reciprocity. Smith sets forth the case that the local themes and oral traditions of the potlatch are better understood not as singular ceremonial events but as a mechanism of regional social cohesion that dictated everyday life. The Gift of the Middle Tanana illustrates how the role of reciprocal deep-play shaped a traditional society that has lasted over a thousand years.
Gerad M. Smith is affiliate researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Charles E. Holmes
Chapter 1: The Middle Tanana People: Modern and Historical Identities
Chapter 2: The Ethnographic Reconstruction of the Past: The Middle Tanana People and a Theory of Deep Reciprocity
Chapter 3: Complexity and Optimality in the Archaeological Record
Chapter 4: The Traditional Place Names and Language of the Middle Tanana Dene
Chapter 5: Understanding Archaeological Research
Chapter 6: The Holocene Environmental Context of the Middle Tanana
Chapter 7: The Middle Tanana Dene and the Archaeological Traditions of the Taiga
Chapter 8: Thinking About Raw Materials
Chapter 9: Identifying Reciprocity and Meaning in the Material-Cultural Record
Afterword by Evelynn Combs
Smith seeks to tell a complete story, and indeed this book is holistic in its viewpoint. The land beneath the boreal forest preserves a sparse archaeological record, yet one steeped in human history. Archaeological research may be harder to do in the interior forests there than elsewhere in Alaska—certainly not for the faint-hearted. Smith nonetheless reveals the rich rewards in sticking with it and through working consistently with tribal partners. The outcome is both more complex and more interesting as a result. One cannot help but be drawn into the journey
This book integrates up-to-date discussions of anthropological theory and Northern Dene archaeology with Indigenous source material, resulting in an impressive case-study sure to be valued by archaeologists studying hunter-gatherer-fisher communities and landscapes around the globe. This work, with its detailed discussion of Dene oral history and identity, and how it relates to understanding the past, will be appreciated by not only regional specialists but by archaeologists everywhere engaged with Indigenous and other communities in the preservation of local heritage. The Gift of the Middle Tanana is a gift to archaeologists.