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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Prince of Wales Island, Alaska
Ben’s Place of the Week

Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

Coordinates: 55 47 N 132 50 W

Approximate area: 2,731 sq. mi. (7,073 sq. km)

With a relatively limited amount of physical evidence, the peopling of the Americas has long been a subject of study complicated by Bering Strait-sized gaps in our understanding. Recent DNA testing on remains recovered from Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island, however, suggests that the migration from Asia to Tierra del Fuego may have occurred earlier—and faster—than previously believed.

Genetic similarities between the people who occupied On Your Knees Cave here on this heavily forested patch of land some 10,300 years ago and modern descendants of native Pacific coastal populations led researchers to this new hypothesis. The third largest island under U.S. sovereignty, Prince of Wales in the Alexander Archipelago saw a period of population growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the introduction of salmon and pearl shell industries, but it has since declined.


Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.

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