Bree Doering in front of Delta Creek site (center bluff) during summer 2017 excavations in Alaska.

In March 2018, the Museum begins a series of articles called Student Research Spotlight. The first student in the Spotlight series is doctoral candidate Bree Doering, who successfully defended her dissertation proposal last month for her research in Alaska.

Doering received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Barnard College in New York City, working with UMMAA alumni Zoe Crossland and Severin Fowles. After graduation, she interned at the American Museum of Natural History with David Hurst Thomas, where she participated in investigations of Native American and Spanish Missionary occupations on St. Catherine’s Island on the Georgia coast. Doering began pursuing her doctoral degree at the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology in 2013.

Doering’s research focuses on the transition from mobile caribou hunting to semi-sedentary hunting and salmon fishing during the late Holocene (ca. 1000–2000 BP) in central Alaska and the Yukon. There are two competing hypotheses for why this transition took place: gradual population growth during a period of stable climate and rapid environmental deterioration following a massive volcanic eruption (the White River Ash event) in central Alaska. Doering’s excavations at four sites within three separate ecological zones in central Alaska will provide data on the timing and pace of this shift towards greater reliance on salmon, allowing her to address whether this transition was relatively slow and protracted or a rapid response to significant environmental change.

In addition to excavation, Doering also employs novel geospatial and chemical techniques to tackle her research questions. Geospatial analysis will allow for comparison of newly excavated sites with larger datasets from across Alaska and northwestern Canada. Isotopic analysis of fatty-acids from cooking features such as hearths and roasting pits will provide data on the relative proportions of terrestrial, aquatic, and marine protein in prehistoric diets. Doering recently published an article on the isotopic effects of smoking salmon in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

As is the case with anthropological archaeology in general, Doering’s research in Alaska has broader anthropological implications. Foremost among these is understanding what drives behavioral change in hunter-gatherers and how environmental change and stability each place distinct pressures on foraging populations over time. This project will also provide new comparative data on the transition to increased sedentism in North America around 1500 BP. A trend towards more settled lifeways has been identified throughout the continent at around this time in the Eastern Woodlands, Midwest, and Great Basin. How does the record from Alaska compare with similar subsistence and settlement trends elsewhere in North America?

Doering has received research funding from multiple sources so far, including a National Geographic Young Explorers grant and an Alaska Anthropological Association Ludwig Graduate Scholarship to support field and lab research, UROP work-study funding for an undergraduate research assistant and research supplies, an UMMAA radiocarbon grant for radiocarbon dates, support for isotopic research from Dr. John Kingston’s Paleoecology Lab in the U-M Department of Anthropology, and funding from U-M’s Rackham Graduate School and Department of Anthropology for conference travel and field expenses.

You can keep up-to-date on Doering’s research by checking out her website: and following her on Instagram @breedigs.

Story by Martin Menz (

Overview of archaeological sites under consideration, with excavations located in the center of the map.