Putu: A Fluted Point Site in Alaska


Herbert L. Alexander
Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University


Archaeology, Alaska, Lithics, Fluted point;, Putu site, Nunamiut, Central and Eastern Brooks Range


The Putu site is located in the Central Brooks Range of Alaska at latitude 68°35' north, longitude 149°01' west. Located some 27 miles north of the divide and 13 miles south of the most northerly extension of the mountains it is on the boundary between the Central and Eastern Brooks Range and the Foothills physiographic provinces (Pewe, 1975). The site is on part of a large knoll jutting out from the side of a mountain slope which forms the eastern slope of the Sagavanirktok Valley. This knoll is 800 feet above the valley floor and approximately 1,000 feet below the mountain crest. The site itself is on a small, level bench 100 feet lower and 300 feet south of the knoll top. The subtleties of this particular location are crucial to the analysis of the site. Located on one side of, and high above, the valley floor, the very top of the knoll provides a view of all the valley and most of the plateau bounding the west side of the valley. This knoll top provides an excellent view for spotting game, and would allow a hunter to estimate where game might be in an area of nearly 24 square miles. The view from the Putu site terrace is, however, totally blocked to the north and the rounded shape of the slope restricts vision immediately below. In effect just a bit less than half the available area from the knoll top can be seen from the putu site. From three seasons experience in hunting with the Nunamiut I consider the location to be an extremely poor choice for a hunting lookout especially when a panoramic view from a much more obvious spot is just a minutes walk uphill. At lunchtime and coffee breaks Danny Hugo would walk to the top of the hill to look for game. Additional environmental factors, snow, wind, and mosquitoes, need also to be considered. The prevailing winds parallel the long axis of the valley, roughly north-south. With a location in the southern lee of the hill the Putu site area would be covered during the cold months with drift snow, potentially a desired resource for insulation. The location also provides a wind-break not only from the north but quite effectively from the south wind as well. We discovered that when there was too little wind at the site to keep the mosquitoes down, a bit of respite from their assaults or a mosquito free lunch-time nap, could be found on top of the knoll. When there was a south wind strong enough to make note taking difficult at the site, there would be a gale blowing on top of the hill, a gale sufficiently strong to allow walking perpendicular to the slope, one of the few simple Arctic pleasures. The site is an attractive location for a camp in that it provides level ground protected from the wind and possibly an insulating cover of drifted snow. Equally important during the winter on a still day the elevation difference could provide a temperature difference of as much as 30°F with the heavier, colder air blanketing the valley floor.



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May 2, 2017

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