Bronze Age New World Alaska: Preliminaries

Many of you may remember Doug Muir’s moderated group TL from the old soc.history.what-if of about a decade ago, “Bronze Age New World,” in which Arawaks with more-advanced navigational technology brought about a true Bronze Age in the pre-Columbian New World. With Doug’s permission, I will be doing some writing about the fate of Alaska Natives in this TL[1].

First, an overview of OTL prehistoric Alaska. I’ll try to keep it brief, and so will oversimplify. Two major language families, Eskaleut and Na-Dene, each with a number of distinct cultural groups.

Eskaleut speakers are by and large people of the ocean. The Inuit/Inupiat of the Arctic coast are the Eskimos of popular consciousness: parka-wearing iglu-dwellers[2] who take to icy seas in open skin boats to hunt the bowhead whale with toggled harpoons. Their nation is spread thin across a vast swath of the Arctic coast, from the Chukchi Sea to the east coast of Greenland.
The Yup’ik and closely related Alutiiq/Sugpiaq of the Pacific Coast, the most populous Eskimo nation, live a more settled life, migrating seasonally between coastal fishing villages and upriver hunting camps. Historically, these are among the last Native peoples of North America to make contact with Europeans.
Out on the barren Aleutians, the more distantly-related Unangax live
an almost completely maritime lifestyle, setting out from their treeless, windswept islands to hunt otters and seals in their qayaqs. The Russians will make contact with them in the 1740s and call them Aleuts.[3]

The Na-Dene comprise two major cultural groups. The Athabaskans are the people of the interior, the boreal forest. Tall, lean, and
largely nomadic, they live a tenuous, spartan lifestyle in perhaps the most inhospitable terrain in North America, hunting caribou and moose through the black spruce forest and fishing far-upriver salmon streams. In ~1200 AD, a group of them will migrate from the Great Slave Lake in Canada to the southwest, where they will become known as the Navajo.
The Tlingit live on the western side of the Coast Mountains, and the lush islands of the Inside Passage, amongst the massive cedars and spruce of the coastal temperate rainforest. Although they speak Na-Dene languages, culturally they are more similar to the inhabitants of the rest of the Pacific Northwest (like their neighbors to the south, the Haida, whose realm OTL crosses the international border between Alaska and Canada): cedar long houses, totem poles, clans, castes, and a natural material abundance of both terrestrial and maritime resources unparalleled in Alaska and hard to find anywhere in North America. A closely related neighbor group, the Eyak, are materially transitional between the Eskimo and Pacific Northwest maritime traditions. They live on the Copper River Delta, which is important.

There’s only one canonical mention of Alaskan peoples in BANW thus far: a note that *Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever makes it all the way up to “Inuit country,” the Arctic coast. And Alaska is literally as far away from the site of the POD as you can get and still be in North America. Conversely, and felicitously for the purposes of interesting AH, the peoples of Native Alaska have more time to be impacted by pre-Columbian changes, because Europeans won’t show up until the 1740s. And there will be some impact: Alaska, no less than any other part of the New World, was part of the trade network that spanned the continent. Probably no Inuit ever met a Tlingit face-to-face until the mid-19th century—but Inuit traded with Athabaskans, Athabaskans traded with other Athabaskans,
and those Athabaskans traded with Tlingit--who in turn traded with the Pacific Northwest peoples to their south. Canonically, the Puget Sound region entered the Bronze Age in about 1600; eventually, bronze materials will make their way to Alaska. The big question is, which happens first: will Alaska entered the Bronze Age New World, or will they be colonized, as in OTL, into the Iron Age empires of the Old World?

My ultimate plan is to write a scenario for each of the major cultural groups: Yup'ik and Alutiiq/Sugpiaq, Inuit/Inupiat, Unangan/Aleut
culture groups: Eskimo, Athabaskan, Unangan/Aleut, and Pacific Northwestern (Eyak/Tlingit/Haida). But I want to bat around some ideas before I get too deep into the weeds. This means responses would be greatly appreciated!

There are two fundamental questions that must be answered, and then I’ll throw out a couple idle thoughts before turning it over to you folks.

1) When, plausibly, can Alaska Native cultures start seeing significant changes based on the POD? There's a clear vector on the west coast--Chumash to Salish, Salish to Haida, Haida to Tlingit--that's going to happen sometime in the 17th century. But there are other potential vectors--Mississippian Empire to its northern frontier, beyond the frontier into Cree country, Cree country into Athabaskan country; and up the East Coast--Chesapeake Bay, then the Algonquins, then to the Eskimo coast of Labrador.
2) Given the changes to Old World politics and economics induced by a Bronze Age New World, will Russian expansion *eastward*--their route to Alaska--be effected by European factors? Will they still make contact with Native Alaskans at the same time and place--the eastern Aleutian Islands in the 1740s--as they did OTL?

Idle thoughts:

1) The Yup’ik OTL migrated back into Siberia during the Eskimo expansion of the 1100s AD, and there were active trade networks across the Bering Strait; this was one of the extremely tenuous connections linking New and Old Worlds prior to
1492. OTL tobacco (as a consumer good in the form of snuff and chew, not a crop) travelled across the Atlantic to Spain, then all the way across Eurasia and over the Bering Strait. The Russians found tobacco-using Alaska Natives. And the trade flowed in both directions--ATL they might find Bronze Age Siberians. Bronze Age, reindeer-riding Siberians[4]
2) As is well known from the history of its settlement by Europeans, Alaska is very rich in precious metals. The Copper River of south-central Alaska is so-called because of its massive placer copper deposits (its motherlode in OTL became the largest copper mine in history, the Kennecott), and the Eyak and Ahtna (the Athabaskan people living on the river) were big users of native copper OTL. Control of it would be a strategic prize for a Bronze Age people. Tin, I think, is harder to come by, but it's out there too.
3) Along the same lines as my "Maximum Eskimo" thing: there was some discussion in one of the old BANW threads about the potentials of a Bronze Age New World to lead to an Iron Age New World. The consensus was that, although bronze-smithing is not a necessary technological precursor to ferrous metallurgy per se, contact with metal-using peoples probably is. In OTL, Europe entered the Iron Age when a “fringe” people from outside the traditional cultural hearths—the Hittites of Asia Minor—made the leap. In North America, you have the Greenland Eskimo: a people with a major source of meteoric iron (the three pieces of the Cape York meteorite), who spent ten generations living next door to Iron Age Norse with furnaces. (In this TL, both by canon and common sense, the Norse settlement of Greenland and North America were not effected by the POD). ATL, they’ll have at least a few hundred years of exposure to bronze tools on top of this by the time Frobisher or whoever shows up. I can’t go too crazy with this due to the constraints of canon, but it’s an intriguing thought.

Those are my thoughts; I'd love to hear yours--especially, but by no means only, if you worked on Bronze Age New World back in the day.

[1] Technically this shouldn’t be titled BANW: Alaska because it discusses peoples who live beyond the borders of today’s Alaska, i.e.
the Inuit of the Arctic coast, the Athabaskan of the Canadian interior, and the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands/Haidai Gwaii, but let’s not quibble.
[2] The term "iglu" actually just means house or shelter, and permanent habitations were usually semi-subterranean and built out of sod in most of Inuit country. Inuit of Central Canada and Greenland did build igluvijaqs, snow houses, in some situations.
[3] In the opinion of many, including me, "Aleut" is the proper ethnonym for the syncretic Russian/Native culture which developed as a result of 120 years of extremely close contact between the two people. "Unangax" is best reserved for the Native people living in
the Aleutians *before* Russian contact.
[4] I was shocked, too.
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