Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on Ice Age migration and settlement in Southeast Alaska

<<back to news page


Free event to be offered virtually

Jan. 8, 2021

(About the Lecturer) (Flyer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a free lecture this Tuesday on human migration and settlement during the Ice Age.

The lecture, Ice Age Migration and Settlement in Southeast Alaska: Human Response to Climate Change, will be given by E. James Dixon, professor emeritus of anthropology and the former director of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

Archeological and genetic evidence indicates that people first entered North America from northeast Asia sometime during the last ice age, or late Pleistocene, at least 16,000 years ago, or possibly earlier, Dixon wrote.

During the last glacial maximum circa 18,000 years ago, the sea level was significantly lower than it is today. As a result, the Bering Land Bridge and continental shelf of the Northwest Coast of North America created a continuous shoreline stretching from Northeast Asia to Southeast Alaska. Geological and archeological evidence suggests that this coastal corridor was ecologically viable and capable of supporting human groups and was the earliest ice-free pathway available for people to colonize the southern regions of the Americas.

Following the last glacial maximum, the climate changed rapidly and resulted in a rise in the sea level that flooded the Bering Land Bridge and severed the land connection between Asia and North America; sea level rise along Alaska’s Northwest Coast that forced a landward retreat of people living along the coast; and newly deglaciated land that provided new opportunities for people to move landward and colonize terrain recently exposed by melting glaciers. 

The “push-pull” forces of rising sea level and deglaciation were powerful forcing mechanisms contributing to human movement eastward from Asia to North America and the subsequent colonization and early settlement along the Northwest Coast, Dixon wrote.

The talk, which is scheduled at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 12, is part of a lecture series this month that explores the origins and earliest presence of Indigenous populations and cultures in Southeast Alaska from traditional knowledge and various scientific perspectives.

All lectures will be live streamed at 12 pm Alaska time on SHI’s YouTube channel, and available for viewing on YouTube any time after the livestream (no account required). This program is provided under the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program. The series is also offered as a one-credit course through the University of Alaska Southeast. Contact for more information. 

About the Lecturer

E. James Dixon is professor emeritus of anthropology and the former director of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico (2007-2016). His areas of research include Arctic archeology, Paleoindian archeology, high altitude and high latitude adaptations and museum science. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Brown University and B.A. and M.A. from the University of Alaska. He has published three books and more than seventy journal articles and book chapters. He served as a member of the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for the Geosciences (2014-17) and the Advisory Committee for the Office of Polar Programs (2017-18).  He has extensive teaching, public speaking, museum and research experience and has served as a technical advisor for numerous educational films.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,