The Paleo-Arctic Tradition is the name given by archaeologists to the cultural tradition of the earliest well-documented human occupants of the North American Arctic, which date from the period 8000–5000 BC. The tradition covers Alaska and expands far into the east, west, and the Southwest Yukon Territory.
The Upward Sun River site, a Late Pleistocene archaeological site associated with the Paleo-Arctic Tradition, located in the Tanana Valley, Alaska has now been dated to around 11,500 BP. Upward Sun River is the site of the oldest human remains discovered on the American side of Beringia.
Around 8000 BC, Alaska was still connected to Siberia with the landbridge, located in the current Bering Strait. People who inhabited this region in Alaska were of the Dyuktai tradition, originally located in Siberia. Eventually, the Dyuktai changed into the Sumnagin culture, a hunting/fishing group, whose culture was defined by possessing a new technology. Other cultures flourished as well, all being placed under the general category of the Paleo-Arctic tradition.
The Paleo-Arctic is mostly known for lithic remains (stone technology). Some artifacts found include microblades, small wedge-shaped cores, some leaf-shaped bifaces, scrapers, and graving tools. The microblades were used as hunting weapons and were mounted in wood, antler, or bone points. Paleo-Arctic stone specialists also created bifaces that were used as tools and as cores for the production of large artifact blanks. Little evidence remains of the culture's settlement patterns, because many of the settlements were inundated by the rising sea levels of the Holocene; however, remains of stone tools were discovered, giving indirect evidence of settlement sites.
The Nenana Complex is the oldest part of the Paleo-Arctic Tradition found in cultural stratigraphic layers dating from 11,800 to 11,000 BP. It has been found at the Dry Creek, Moose Creek, and Walker Road archaeological sites and is characterized by bifacially flaked, unfluted spear points. The complex also includes bifacially worked knives and unifacially retouched lithic flakes lacking microblades that generally resemble similar lithics found in sites of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, possibly due to migration and cultural exchange over the Bering land bridge.
The Denali Complex denotes a more recent part of the Paleo-Arctic Tradition dated to 10,000 BP. Although it is found in similar sites to the Nenana Complex such as the Dry Creek archaeological site, it is distinguished stratigraphically and through the presence of microblades, wedge-shaped lithic cores, and burins.