Environmental Sciences
Dec 04, 2023
Dr. Jennifer Kielhofer
Environmental Sciences

Dr. Jennifer Kielhofer was born and raised in Palm Springs, CA. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Nevada, Reno, studying archaeology and early hunter-gatherers in the Great Basin. She moved to Tucson, Arizona for her graduate work and completed a master’s degree in geoarchaeology and her Ph.D. in Geosciences at the University of Arizona (U of A). During her Ph.D. she became fascinated with the climate, ecosystems, and archaeology of Alaska, and her dissertation examined past environmental conditions related to initial human migration to and settlement of Interior Alaska. After graduating from U of A in 2020, Jennifer was hired by DRI in 2021 to work on changing permafrost and soil conditions in Alaska. After moving back to Reno for her first year at DRI, she now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband and two cats. Jennifer’s hobbies include hiking, nature walks, board games, playtime with the cats, and hopefully tennis again someday.

The presentation today will summarize one aspect of Jennifer’s doctoral work, which used a novel organic geochemical method based on ancient bacteria to reconstruct past temperatures of interior Alaska. Her study region, Shaw Creek Flats, contains some of North America’s oldest archaeological sites, and therefore is a critical area for understanding human migration to the New World. This area is also incredibly important for understanding human adaptation to high latitude and extreme environments. However, there are few quantitative air temperature records from the region, making it difficult to test hypotheses about the effects of temperature change on human behavior and adaptation. The goal of the study was to develop a new temperature record using ancient bacterial molecules to determine if: 1) temperature played a role in initial human migration to interior Alaska, and 2) there were significant temperature changes over the course of human occupation, from c. 14,000 years ago to present. The bacteria-derived record shows that interior Alaska was relatively “warm” c. 14,000 years ago compared to other regions globally, and this may have played a role in drawing humans to the area. However, temperatures did not fluctuate dramatically in this region over time, despite dramatic global changes over the same interval; therefore, temperature was likely not the main driver of archaeological change through time. We argue that moisture changes were more impactful to hunter-gatherer groups in this part of Alaska.  

 

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