Lake Clark's First Settlers
Sometime after the close of the Last Great Ice Age, 14,000 years ago, the first human settlers came to the region that is now Lake Clark National Park & Preserve. The world they inhabited--very different from today--no longer exists. Ice age animals that became extinct around 11,000 years ago may have still roamed the landscape, although we have no evidence of this in the Lake Clark area. These nomadic people left few traces of their lifeways and identities. We know that they were highly intelligent and that they adapted to sudden, unpredictable changes in their environment--there have been several significant climatic changes and at least twelve major volcanic eruptions with large earthquakes occurring in twenty to one hundred year intervals over the last 10,000 years.
The earliest hunters camped on knolls to watch for caribou while shaping and sharpening their tools. Archeologists find lichen-covered and wind-polished tools in exposed areas at high elevations that are the fragile and scant evidence of prehistoric hunters.
Compared to these early sites, archeological sites that date to the last thousand years offer a wealth of information. The remains of houses, caches, fish racks, and other structures can often be found. Investigating these remains helps archeologists understand the daily life in prehistoric communities.
The ancestors of the Dena'ina Athabascan people now living in the Lake Clark area settled in the region before the beginning of the Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age, a worldwide 500 year long cold snap from 1350 to 1900 AD, brought cold summers, widespread glacial advances, and sudden shifts in climate. Corresponding changes in the distribution of important natural resources, such as salmon, must have been challenging. Kijik National Historic Landmark is an important record of Dena'ina people before and after European contact.
Did You Know?
Salmon migrate to the Lake Clark area from as far away as the western end of the Aleutian chain. During their homeward journey, they average 35 miles per day.