J. Louis Giddings dedicated his professional life to understanding the people and prehistory of Northwest Alaska. During a quarter-century of prolific archeological fieldwork from 1939 to 1964, he made discoveries that greatly changed prevailing views on the antiquity and complexity of Arctic cultures. His anthropological fieldwork on the Kobuk River began in 1940, when he set off on foot from the village of Allakaket and traveled over uncharted territory with only a pack and a rifle to arrive six days later at a Kobuk River fish camp. With the help of a family in residence at the fish camp, and local men from the village of Shungnak, he recorded ethnographic accounts and discovered eight abandoned village sites that summer.
After a four-year stint in the military during World War II, Giddings returned to the Kobuk in 1947 and eventually published the results of his fieldwork in two books, The Arctic Woodland Culture of the Kobuk River (1952) and the Kobuk River People (1961). Gidding's most well known accomplishment on the Kobuk River, however, was the discovery of the Onion Portage archeological site. Beneath the upper house pits, Giddings, his student Douglas Anderson, and crew of local residents from nearby villages, found eight layers of human occupation dating back over 10,000 years. Onion Portage is one of the most important sites in Alaska for documenting the progression of cultural change over time and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.