Anne Jensen

Anne Jensen is an archaeologist who is affiliated with the Department of Anthropology and the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  She also runs a small archaeological and anthropological consulting company.  She previously worked as an archaeologist for Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation Science and then the North Slope Borough Department of Iñupiat History, Language and Culture in Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), Alaska. She has worked on archaeological projects in northern Alaska since the early 1980s, and she and her family lived in Utqiaġvik from 1996 until 2022.  She now lives in upstate New York, but still works with people on the North Slope.

Anne’s blog: Out of Ice & Time

Nuvuk Archaeology Project

Interviews

2009

In the video, polar archaeologists Ann Jensen talks about her work in Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska, where she runs the science subsidiary of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC). She explains her involvement in the excavation of a cemetery called Nuvuk, also known as Point Barrow, which was a village settlement until the late 1940s. Jensen and her team have been working on the excavation for the last 10 years and have been able to involve local high school students through a program called Echo. They have been using shovel testing to locate graves and recover artifacts. Jensen shares the excitement of finding a grave with hunting gear, including four harpoon heads, which revealed that the remains were much older than they had originally thought.

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Here polar archaeologist Anne Jensen discusses ongoing research in ancient and modern DNA of Alaska’s North Slope. The researchers, led by Dennis O’Rourke at the University of Utah, are extracting ancient DNA from human remains found in a well-drained gravel area. They have received permission from local Iñupiaq elders, who are also interested in the research. The modern DNA work is being done by Jeff Hayes at Northwestern Medical School, and they plan to compare the markers that turn out to be different in the ancient DNA with those of the modern DNA to better understand the genetic makeup of the population.

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Anne Jensen discusses the archaeology of the North Slope, an area in Alaska that has not been well-explored archaeologically. The logistics of exploring the area are complicated–much of the roadless area is difficult to access. Despite the difficulties, evidence of people on the North Slope over 10,000 years ago has been found, including fluted points and other artifacts. Dating these artifacts, however, can be imprecise due to the wiggling curve of radiocarbon dating. Jensen outlines the challenges of exploring coastal sites, which have been lost due to sea level rise and ice scouring. Dr. Jensen mentions a recent discovery of the Ipiutak Site on the North Slope. Such sites were previously only known to exist further south. The relationship between different cultures in the area, such as the Ipiutak, Thule, and Burner cultures, is also discussed.

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Jensen describes the migration of the Inuit people and their language across a vast area, from Nome, Alaska, to Greenland, which explains that despite the different dialects, people in this vast region all speak a language that is mutually intelligible. The Inuit people have faced various linguistic challenges, such as adapting words due to cultural traditions. Jensen suggests that the Inuit people migrated from Alaska to Greenland around 1100-1200 A.D and that they were likely aided by their experiences living and traveling in cold environments. Finally, Dr. Jensen talks about the discovery of an almost complete pot made from Point Barrow clay on the other side of the Arctic, suggesting that whoever it was that brought the pot must have crossed the region in just a few years.

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Dr. Anne Jenson talks about how the Thule people of Alaska have adapted Yankee whaling technology to their own culture over time. She describes how Charlie Brower introduced the use of Yankee gear to Thule culture and how the community initially doubted its effectiveness. Over time, however, the native community accepted Yankee gear as it proved successful in catching whales. Thule people have continued to adapt and modernize their whaling techniques over the years.

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Today polar archeologist Dr. Anne Jensen, though she no longer lives and works in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, remains just as fascinated with the Arctic’s history and culture, and how people have adapted and continue adapt to changes in their environment over time. Dr. Jensen xplores the impact of climate change on cultural change and the consequences of not adapting to new circumstances. Understanding how and why people make these changes can be useful in adapting to future challenges.

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2022

Arctic Archaeologist Dr. Anne Jensen discusses her work and experiences–how she fell in love with Alaska’s North Slope in the 1980s and moved there in 1996. The work she has done is often driven by the requests and interests of the local community. She talks about the challenges faced during her work.

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Anne Jensen is an active participant in climate change strategies and archaeological responses. She has served as the immediate past chair of the Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Responses Committee of SAA (Society for American Archaeology). She emphasizes that people are becoming more aware of the impact of climate change, even those not residing on the North Slope. She highlights the importance of promptly excavating sites in the Arctic due to the vulnerability of these sites to erosion, fire, and other environmental changes. Anne recognizes the cultural significance of archaeological sites and acknowledges the need to prioritize the preservation of communities’ houses and schools. Anne argues that certain regions, like the Arctic, require continued and rapid excavation. She criticizes the inadequate funding allocated to Arctic research compared to other areas.

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Dr. Jensen collaborates with geologists, engineers, and other experts to understand permafrost degradation and its implications for ongoing engineering projects. She emphasizes that the engineering community in Alaska often underestimates the challenges posed by permafrost degradation. The effects of changes in the permafrost on infrastructure are significant and not well understood. In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges to her work, particularly in conducting interviews in remote villages. The pandemic also restricted travel, and some institutions prevented fieldwork in inhabited areas. However, Anne expresses that they are now beginning to regain momentum in Arctic research and fieldwork activities.

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Arcitc Archaeologist Anne Jensen discusses the limited presence of archaeologists working in the Arctic region, particularly the North Slope. Anne herself has been engaged in contemporary archaeological work, including monitoring the removal of tar barrels that were used for shore protection in the 1960s. She highlights the significance of documenting such community-based projects. Anne explains that archaeologists in the Arctic study not only ancient remains but also more recent sites. She mentions the challenges of finding earlier occupation sites due to factors like sea level rise and ice cover. She talks about how Arctic archaeologists establish chronologies.

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Dr. Jensen is uncertain about the future of research in the North Slope due to its high cost and unique challenges compared to areas further south. She mentions that within the Iñupiaq community, while there are individuals who have received training, none of them are currently pursuing archaeology as a profession. Many opt for contract work, which provides more consistent employment. Anne shares an example of a person who majored in anthropology but had to move away to care for a family member, leading her to pursue a career in human resources instead of Arctic archaeology. Anne also mentions some issues with the anthropology department at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), including problematic faculty and excessively long master’s theses. However, she notes that the situation has improved over time, with more awareness of the challenges faced by students.

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Coastal erosion makes Arctic archeology difficult. Also changes in sea level, and permafrost thawing. Many sites are disappearing as a result of these environmental factors. However, there is still a need for archaeologists to be present when new discoveries are made. Projects in areas with known archaeological sites often require monitoring, although it may not always allow for immediate action. Anne mentions that erosion is not only a problem in the coastal areas but also affects sites located along rivers and creeks. Additionally, with the warming of permafrost, sites in Greenland have experienced decay and loss of organic preservation. Bacteria that become active as the permafrost thaws can degrade the organic materials, leading to further deterioration. She shares her experience working with hunter-gatherer artifacts and the need for accurate interpretations based on firsthand knowledge.

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Anne Jensen discusses the current state of archaeology in the Arctic and offers insights into the future. She mentions that the future of Arctic archaeology depends on funding and whether there is interest in exploring sites that are currently underexplored, particularly interior sites. Many of these sites remain unknown because they are often avoided during surveys for oil field infrastructure, and there is a lack of information about them. Anne highlights the challenges of conducting research in remote Arctic locations, including the need for helicopters and logistical support. She expresses doubt that the National Science Foundation (NSF) would fund such endeavors, except perhaps if the site was in proximity to an existing base camp. Anne emphasizes the importance of studying Arctic sites, especially those on the North Slope, as they differ from sites on the Seward Peninsula or the coast of the Bering Sea. She laments the loss of archaeological materials, particularly older artifacts and recent ones along the Beaufort coast of Alaska, due to coastal erosion. Anne mentions a friend, Elite George Levitt, who was born in a sod house at Cape Halka, highlighting the rapid erosion and disappearance of such historical sites.

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