Abstract: Driftwood that originates in the Siberian and North American boreal forest is the major source of wood to people in the treeless Arctic. It archives various kinds of data about climate, river flow, ocean and ice circulation, and other critical environmental and cultural characteristics in the north. Unlike wood in most other regions, it is often well preserved in arctic archaeological sites. The existence and renewal of driftwood are closely linked to specific climatic and ecological conditions that have changed through time (e.g., floods, river banks, storms, prevailing currents and winds, sea-ice circulation, etc.). These conditions differently affect the fall, circulation and delivery of driftwood to the coast, resulting in changes in abundance, distribution and intrinsic properties of the wood. Based on a review of existing literature supplemented by new data from Alaska, this paper details factors underlying the “dynamic of driftwood production” in terms of driftwood abundance and quality, and indigenous people's use of the resource. Oral history interviews in coastal and river communities of Alaska recorded knowledge on driftwood use and ecology. Driftwood samples were collected from accumulations along the northwest coast of Alaska and the south of the Chukotka Peninsula. Results show that the timing of treefall and river transport are crucial to the subsequent ocean circulation and may determine the size and quality of the wood. Ultimately, it conditions what coastal people could build or manufacture.
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