Best Job Ever: Collecting Bones in Alaska

The inflatable raft is how Joshua Miller moves through ANWR to do bone surveys.

Imagine if you could go out walking and easily pick up something that hasn’t been touched for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. Conservation paleobiologist and National Geographic grantee Dr. Joshua Miller does bone surveys on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to study why critical habitats for caribou and other species have changed over time. Miller says, “Anytime we do a survey, we’re finding scores and scores of bones.”

“As we walk across the tundra looking for bones,” Miller says, “most of what we’re looking for are the shed antlers of female caribou. If we come across the leg bone of a wolf or the jaw bone of a rodent, we’re just as excited because each of those bones gives us really interesting historical insight into what that ecosystem up in the Arctic Refuge was like decades to centuries to even millennia ago.” The bones reveal which regions of the refuge are used by caribou and other animals, including where they give birth to their young.

The inflatable raft is how Joshua Miller moves through ANWR to do bone surveys.

Every summer, Miller is dropped off in the Brooks Range with ungulate biologist Dr. Eric Wald. They navigate through the refuge in an inflatable raft, sampling as they go, until they reach the Arctic Ocean. Miller explains that the inflatable raft is important because it is how they bring in food, transport samples, and, of course, get to where they will be picked up at the end of the field season. “It is a real collaborative endeavor between myself, biologists and scientists, scientific staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Arctic Refuge, and the logistical crew, including the pilot.”

A bug suit is another essential. “One of the biggest challenges of working in the Arctic Refuge for —> Read More