Stable Isotope Chemistry, Population Histories and Late Prehistoric Subsistence Change in the Aleutian Islands


Aleut population history has been a topic of debate since the earliest archaeological investigations in the region. In this paper, we use stable isotope chemistry to evaluate the hypothesis that two distinct groups of people, Paleo- and Neo-Aleut, occupied the eastern Aleutians after 1000 BP. This study focuses on 80 sets of directly dated eastern Aleutian burial assemblages from Chaluka midden, Shiprock Island and Kagamil Island. We use a linear mixing model informed by isotopic analysis of two large Aleut faunal assemblages to address temporal and spatial variation in human carbon and nitrogen stable isotope data from these sites. The patterning we report addresses both Aleut demographic and economic prehistory, illustrating a transition in both at ca. 1000 BP. Our results suggests that the Chaluka diet, dominated by Paleo-Aleut inhumations, differed in both trophic level and foraging location from the other two sites for much of the past 4000 years. Trends in our data also suggest that individuals from Shiprock and Kagamil burial caves, primarily Neo-Aleuts, had enough access to higher trophic level foods to differentiate their bone chemistries from those buried in Chaluka midden. These trends in diet, recently reported genetic differences, as well as the introduction of novel mortuary practices at ca. 1000 BP, suggest that Neo-Aleuts do represent a population new to the eastern Aleutians.


Sociology and Anthropology

Document Type





stable isotopes, Aleut, Aleutian Islands, linear mixing model

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Archaeological Science