Forces of Change

William Fitzhugh

What clues did a 8,000-year house site hold?

During the short Siberian summer on Russia’s Zhokhov Island, a Russian-American team of scientists found clues to the island’s warmer past. The team found the remains of houses built with driftwood, which had been carried downriver to the treeless coast from forests hundreds of miles to the south.

While excavating a house site, team-member William Fitzhugh of the Smithsonian Institution discovered yellow-colored fibers poking through the permafrost. Gradually as he squirted water to melt the frozen soil, he realized he was looking at the top of a 8,000-year-old basket. The fibers were from grasses that grow in relatively warm temperatures unlike the island’s frigid climate today.

Fitzhugh was part of a Russian-American team led by Vladimir Pitulko of the Institute for the History of Material Culture, St. Petersburg, Russia. The team found large amounts of driftwood.
Photo William Fitzhugh © Smithsonian Institution
The yellow fibers were part of an 8,000-year-old basket.
Photo William Fitzhugh © Smithsonian Institution