Alaska's indigenous muskoxen: a history

Peter C. Lent

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7557/2.18.3-4.1457

Keywords

muskoxen; history; Alaska; archaeology; cryptozoology; Eskimo; extinction; hunting; Pleistocene

Abstract

Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) were widespread in northern and interior Alaska in the late Pleistocene but were never a dominant component of large mammal faunas. After the end of the Pleistocene they were even less common. Most skeletal finds have come from the Arctic Coastal Plain and the foothills of the Brooks Range. Archaeological evidence, mainly from the Point Barrow area, suggests that humans sporadically hunted small numbers of muskoxen over about 1500 years from early Birnirk culture to nineteenth century Thule culture. Skeletal remains found near Kivalina represent the most southerly Holocene record for muskoxen in Alaska. Claims that muskoxen survived into the early nineteenth century farther south in the Selawik - Buckland River region are not substantiated. Remains of muskox found by Beechey's party in Eschscholtz Bay in 1826 were almost certainly of Pleistocene age, not recent. Neither the introduction of firearms nor overwintering whalers played a significant role in the extinction of Alaska's muskoxen. Inuit hunters apparently killed the last muskoxen in northwestern Alaska in the late 1850s. Several accounts suggest that remnant herds survived in the eastern Brooks Range into the 1890s. However, there is no physical evidence or independent confirmation of these reports. Oral traditions regarding muskoxen survived among the Nunamiut and the Chandalar Kutchin. With human help, muskoxen have successfully recolonized their former range from the Seward Peninsula north, across the Arctic Slope and east into the northern Yukon Territory.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Peter C. Lent

License URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/