Ivar Skarland

by Laurence Irving

Ivar Skarland rests as he was typically seen- on his skis. Photo from UAF yearbook, Denali, 1934-1935
Ivar Skarland rests as he was typically seen- on his skis. Photo from UAF yearbook, Denali, 1934-1935

Many people who mourn the loss of Ivar Skarland who died 1 January 1965, are grateful for his friendship and influence during the development of science and society in Alaska.

Ivar Skarland was born in 1899 and grew up in Norway. After graduating from the School of Forestry at Steinkjer, Norway, he worked in the forests of Canada and reached Alaska in 1928. As an undergraduate at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (now the University of Alaska) he took part in the Biological Survey investigations into the food habits of large northern herbivores. While at the school, he met Otto Geist who induced him to join in excavations at Kukulik, St. Lawrence Island, which led to important archaeological discoveries and a lifelong friendship and association.

After receiving his bachelor's degree from the University of Alaska he studied anthropology at Harvard, spending summers in the field in Alaska. He obtained his M.A. in 1942, and that year became associate professor at the University of Alaska. He was soon, however, diverted to Army service in the AMutian (sic) Islands. In 1945 he returned to the University where he remained, except while studying at Harvard for his Ph.D. which he received in 1949.

Before the War, Skarland was a powerful supporter of the able and venturesome expeditionary workers who developed the important sites of ancient cultures on St. Lawrence Island and at Point Hope. After the War these field studies in archaeology continued to progress during his collaboration with Otto Geist and J. L. Giddings and in the company of a sequence of distinguished visitors; important archaeological explorations along the Kobuk River, in the Brooks Range, and on the Arctic coast resulted. Skarland encouraged and supported scientists in their explorations, and although his name did not appear often on publications, he exerted a guiding influence through his firm friendship and wide acquaintance· with the land and people of Alaska.

As host to the scientists who were developing knowledge of Alaska he was at the focus of a score of investigations that have brought to light localities that are now famous in archaeology and biology, for example: Cape Denbigh, Anaktuvuk Pass, Onion Portage, and Kachemak Bay. He prompted the search in the Susitna Valley and along the Denali Highway that has shown traces of an unexpected ancient population south of the Alaska Range.

Ivar Skarland was a charter associate and fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America. Many of its projects in the western arctic resulted from his stimulation and were sustained by his wise counsel.

Because of his personal qualities and ability to interest men in scholarly exploration it is not surprising that Skarland was an inspiring teacher. Students liked and trusted him and a considerable number from his small classes published important anthropological papers as undergraduates. Those who became professional anthropologists continued to appreciate Ivar Skarland's encouragement and sincere and constructive criticism.

His knowledge and understanding of people made his advice important in matters of public welfare and particularly in political and social considerations of Indian and Eskimo residents as their lands became settled and their ways changed. Looking upon his active life in Alaska we find that Ivar Skarland steadily exerted a powerful influence among scientists, students and his fellow citizens. Not only was he the firmest of friends but his friendship stimulated scholarship, and the progress of the various races as citizens in a northern society.


UA Sites named after Ivar Skarland

Skarland Hall

Skarland Ski Trails

Rainey/Skarland Cabin


Skarland Hall Dedication by William Cashen


Alaska Alumnus. Cashen's Corner. Spring 1971

Cashen, William R. Farthest North College President

Cole, Terrence. The Cornerstone on College Hill.

Jozwiak, Eric. Association Director for Residence Life. University of Alaska Fairbanks

Tremarello, Ann. Director Admissions and Records. University of Alaska-Fairbanks 1987-1988 Catalog