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David R. Yesner, Ph.D. is an archaeologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage whose work focuses on the cultural ecology of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. He specializes in Alaskan Paleoindian research, environmental archaeology, zooarchaeology and hunter-gatherer societies. He is best known for his work at the Broken Mammoth site, a 14,000-year-old site in interior Alaska and the site of some of the oldest human-related artifacts in the New World. His work at Broken Mammoth is aiding researchers in the reconstruction of lifeways of prehistoric peoples crossing the Bering Land Bridge. He has worked at over 40 sites between 1971 and present.
Yesner has taught at the University of Alaska Anchorage since 1987. He received his B.A. from Cornell University in 1971 in Anthropology. Between 1971 and 1975 he conducted field work and analysis of faunal remains at sites in Alaska and the contiguous United States as well as in Cyprus. Analysis of such remains has continued as a major method throughout his work in a variety of settings, including Paleoindian sites as well as coastal and historic sites. From 1975 to 1977 he taught at Anchorage Community College, and focused on research in Alaska. He participated in fieldwork at the Dry Creek and Ringling Sites, and did faunal analysis at Paxson Lake. This work contributed to his future research in Alaska.
In 1977, he received a Ph.D. from the University of Conneticut in Anthropology and Human Ecology. His disertation was on the prehistoric subsistence and settlement patterns of peoples in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. He has since written many papers on the foodways of prehistoric peoples, many with a focus in the Alaskan area.
From 1977 to 1987 he was a professor at the University of Southern Maine, where he taught courses in archaeology while continuing research on prehistoric peoples. His work there included human adaption and dietary patterns among coastal peoples during the Mid-Holocene climate optimum.
There he began his first work as an editor, associate editor, or book review editor for a number of anthropological journals, including Man in the Northeast, Alaska Journal of Anthropology, Polar Geography, and Current Research in the Pleistocene.
His academic profile includes over 90 papers, monographs, books, and other research collaborations. He has delivered over 80 papers at professional meetings and has participated in various symposia, particularly on prehistoric colonization of the Americas. Yesner has also worked with the US National Park Service, the Public Health Service, and the Bureau of Land Management as an archaeological consultany Yesner is proficient in both Spanish and French and has written papers in both languages as well as in Japanese.
As a professor at the University of Alaska Yesner has been involved in several major archaeological projects in the region. He is currently conducting research on the 14,000-year-old Broken Mammoth site near Delta Junction, Alaska.3 Broken Mammoth is considered to contain some of the earliest evidence of humans in the New World and has well-preserved ecological remains and artifacts related to human activity.4 At Broken Mammoth, Yesner has researched the faunal remains and artifacts and has used the information gathered from the site to analyze the hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies form the late Pleistocene and early Holocene peoples. The research gathered here is used to help analyze the lifeways of peoples traveling across the Bering Land Bridge into the New World. The physical evidence collected includes the remains of butchered large mammals, small mammals, birds, and fish, as well as tools such as flaked lanceolate projectile points, planoconvex scraper-planes, large blades, mammoth ivory foreshafts, and eyed needles (Nenana Complex), as well as microblades and microblade cores (Late Denali Complex).
Two other excavations in Alaska involve historic sites. The Kenai Fjords Outer Coast Archaeology and Oral History Project, in conjunction with Aron Crowell of the Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution (Anchorage office), involves the excavation and analysis of faunal samples dating from 100 to 250 years ago, during the Russian and American periods in southcentral Alaska. These fine-grained faunal samples are being used both to characterize the impact of EuroAmerican contact on traditional subsistence and settlement patterns, and the changing nature of Gulf of Alaska sea mammals and birds in response to global warming.
The Old Knik Historic Townsite excavations focus on interactions between early EuroAmerican settlers and local Dena’ina Athabascan people in the greater Anchorage area during the past 200 years. It includes the excavation of EuroAmerican structures from the Gold Rush era, such as the gold assayer’s home,2 as well as an earlier Russian-period house of a qeshqa’s (traditional Dena’ina Athabascan chief). Outside of Alaska, one of Yesner’s projects has involved work at the Boisman II Early Neolithic site near Slavianka, south of Vladivostok, Russian Far East, in conjunction with Alexander Popov of Russian Far East National University Museum. This 8,000-year-old coastal site has produced faunal remains and evidence of human activities such as elaborate burials of possibly proto-Eskimo peoples and maritime adaptations such as seal and sea lion hunting, salmon fishing, oyster and seabird collection.2 The overall goal of the project is to explore and help reconstruct the lifeways of the coastal peoples who inhabited the area, particularly in relation to climatic amelioration and sea level rise, as a part of understanding the conditions that led to the development of millet agriculture and pig husbandry during Bronze Age and Iron Age times. Another of Yesner’s projects involves excavation of the Playa Larga site in the north Beagle Channel region, Argentine Tierra del Fuego. Here the focus has been on the excavation of a late prehistoric site, and using the dwellings, artifacts, and faunal remains to characterize the subsistence and settlement patterns of the Fuegian peoples, as well as to determine whether precontact peoples may have had a more sociopolitically complex lifestyle that those described by later explorers and ethnographers.
Besides his professorships at the University of Southern Maine and the University of Alaska Anchorage, Dr. Yesner has been a visiting professor at McGill University (1981-1982), a visiting scholar at the University of Washington (1985), a Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University (1997), an adjunct Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (1988), and an affiliate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum (1999-2002).
Yesner is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Anthropological Association, Society for American Archaeology, American Quaternary Association, Society for Ethnobiology, International Association of Arctic Social Scientists, Arctic Institute of North America, Canadian Archaeological Association, and Alaska Anthropological Association. Of these, he has held offices at the American Quaternary Association and the Alaska Anthropological Association.
Yesner has received a a Fulbright Research Fellowship to Argentina in 1990-91 and a Fulbright Study Group Fellowship to Russia in 2006. He has received fellowships and other awards for research at both the University of Southern Maine and University of Alaska Anchorage, and was elected a Faculty Fellow at the Environment and Natural Resource Institute of UAA in 2008. He was invited as the Becker Lecturer at Cornell University (1983) and Plenary Speaker for the Brazilian Archaeological Society (2001).
- David Raymond Yesner, "Prehistoric Subsistence And Settlement In The Aleutian Islands" (January 1, 1977). ETD Collection for University of Connecticut. Paper AAI7731238.
- David R. Yesner Curriculum Vitae (www.uaa.alaska.edu/anthropology)
- http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/oha/mammoth/mammoth6.htm (accessed 29/3/2009)
- Wilson, Josh. "Faculty Author David Yesner." 13/3/2007.http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/bookstore/authors/yesner.cfm (accessed 29/3/2009).
- Yesner faculty profile at the University of Alaska Anchorage
- Overview of the Broken Mammoth site
- Knik Town Site information
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