Category Archives: alaska

Dixon’s Underwater Entrance

Waters around OYK Cave. Source: Polarfield.com

E. James (Jim) Dixon, now at the University of New Mexico,  is pretty well known on the Northwest Coast for his pioneering work at the 10 to 12,000 year old 49-PET-408 (“On Your Knees Cave”) in the Alaskan Panhandle, and more recently for his exciting work on Alaskan Ice Patches. I see now that he apparently received some funding to go underwater during the summer of 2010 in the waters around PET-408, not far north from the aptly named Dixon Entrance, in Southeast Alaska (map).  This work could have implications for the coastal route of First Peopling of the Americas.

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Tongass Timeline

Detail of diorama of Paleomarine Period, Southeast Alaska. Source: Tongass NF

The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska has a lot of interesting stuff online.  I’ve just found they have a cool set of dioramas illustrating different time periods from the last 10,000 years of human history (scroll to the bottom of this page).  These start with the palaeomarine period, about 10,000 years, a section of which is seen above.  Some of it is conjectural of course and I am not going to go to the wall defending its veracity, but I do appreciate the National Forest making an effort to present the past in an accessible way.

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More on Comox Harbour Fishtraps

Fishtrap stakes delineating chevron patterns in the intertidal zone of Comox Harbour. Photo credit: Greene 2010.

I posted once before some time ago on the incredible fishtrap complexes in Comox Harbour on eastern Vancouver Island, highlighting Megan Caldwell’s M.A. thesis (downloadable) on the topic, and mentioning in passing that primacy of investigation should perhaps go to Nancy Greene, who has been mapping and dating these features for about a decade.  I was glad to find the other day that Nancy Greene has a 2010 downloadable poster on the topic (link starts a 4 meg PDF)  from an academic conference: WARP, the Wetland Archaeological Research Project, which itself has a nifty new website.

These Comox Harbour fishtraps are one of the wonders of B.C. Archaeology and it is highly welcome to see some more of Greene’s reconstructions and mapping.

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Russian Plastic Tlingit Warrior Models. And more!

Model of a Tlingit warrior. Source: http://www.modelsculpt.org, click for original page.

Well, there’s another headline I never thought I’d write!  Don’t ask me how I found it but these Russian guys have a passion for modelling human figures and one of their subjects is a Tlingit warrior.  It’s actually pretty impressive, with slat armour faithfully rendered, a wooden helmet and the circular gorget or throat protector. Scroll around on that forum for more images of the model.  We’ve looked at Tlingit slat armour on this site once before, as well.  The narrow slit between the helmet and the gorget or collar might seem exaggerated, but it agrees with this picture (also perhaps exaggerated) and this drawing, both apparently from Russian sources.

But there was an ancillary benefit to looking through this Russian-language forum: one of the participants has scanned some amazing pages of Tlingit art and artifacts from a Russian book, stuff I had never seen before that perhaps has its origins in colonial Russian Alaska.

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William Alexander’s Watercolours of Vancouver’s Voyage

Village of the Friendly Indians near Bute's Canal. Watercolour by William Alexander. Source: University of Illinois.

Yesterday I posted an engraved  view of  a village near the entrance to Bute Inlet, the view seen in 1792 during the voyage of Captain Vancouver.  Much as with the earlier posts on John Webber (1, 2, 3), there are multiple versions of these scenes.  The above shows a watercolour rendering made by William Alexander, a well known artist and draughtsman of the late 18th century.  It seems his series of works on the NW Coast was not done from life but was a commissioned finalization of the drawings of William Daniell, who was actually on Vancouver’s voyages, and perhaps other artists/oficer’s sketches.  At least that is the story I’ve been able to winkle out, starting from a position of sheer ignorance.  Nicely, though, Alexander’s watercolours from the Vancouver Voyage series, covering Alaska, the Northwest Coast and some views of California and Chile, are all available online through the Newberry Library at the University of Illinois.  These renderings were not familiar to me and perhaps not to you, either.

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Houses on Stilts

"Village of the Friendly Indians at the Entrance of Bute's Canal", 1792. Click for zoomable version.

The above image shows a seemingly improbable Kwiakah Kwakwaka’wakw Village (EDIT: probably Homathko Coast Salish Village) at the entrance to Bute Inlet, as drawn in 1792 by a member of Captain Vancouver’s expedition.  With the houses scattered up a steep hillside, the top one apparently partially cantilevered out, it does not fit the average archaeologist’s mental model of a typical Northwest Coast village.  The setting would undoubtedly have some defensive advantages, at least for those at the top.  I know of another image of a steeply-tiered village site which is apparently not strictly a defensive site.  Hard to live on the side of such a steep hill, you might think.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have photographs of such a village?  Aha.

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The Wreck of the Kad’yak

Cannon from the Kadyak on the seafloor near Kodiak Island. Source: Archaeology Magazine.

Off Alaska’s Kodiak Island lie the remains of the Russian-American Company ship Kad’yak, which sank in 1860.  The wreck of this Barque was rediscovered in 2003, as this first-hand account documents.  (It is full of the usual intrigue between divers and dirters and is rich with interesting links about the discovery).  Almost immediately, an underwater archaeological research project was formed, participants included people from the Kodiak Maritime Museum, the Baranov Museum, the Alutiiq Museum, the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service in Kodiak, and East Carolina University.  This was the first underwater archaeology project in Alaska, and it is ably documented by the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology.

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New Finds from NWT Ice Patches

340 year old bow made from willow wood - bow was found in multiple fragments. Photo: Tom Andrews via livescience.com.

In many parts of Northwest North America glaciers and ice patches are melting at unprecedented rates.  In some cases, these are revealing extraordinary archaeological remains, as I have noted before for Alaska.  There’s recently been some short news reports about new finds in the Northwest Territories, to add to the substantial work already done there.  Most of these reports rehash the same news release from the Arctic Institute of the Americas, which sponsored the research through International Polar Year funding (now ended).  Only a few sites have photos, though.

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Raven and the First …. Immigrant

Raven and the First People (Bill Reid), and Raven and the First Immigrant (Nicholas Galanin). Source: Nicholas Galanin, http://silverjackson.tumblr.com/

I’m a big fan of classic Northwest Coast art – it’s hard not to be.  But there is also a large and highly talented array of indigenous Northwest Coast artists who work in a variety of media and contemporary idioms.  One who recently caught my eye is Sitka Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin.  You probably recognize the figure in the foreground above: Bill Reid’s iconic “Raven and the First People” (if not from class, then from your 20$ bill), which tells the story of Raven-Travelling in ancient times, finding a clamshell, hearing noises inside, and releasing people and animals  into a transforming world.

But wait, what’s that figure in the background, on the other side of the glass window, in the courtyard of the MOA?

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Making Yuxwch’ee Yakw, a Tlingit Spruce Canoe

Working on Yuxwch’ee Yakw, the Spruce Canoe. Source: Sealaska Picasa page.

Most people are familiar with the use of red cedar to make dugout canoes on the Northwest Coast.  It is not as commonly known that Sitka spruce was also used for this purpose, especially on the northernmost coast where red cedar did not thrive or was absent completely.

Via the Sealaska Heritage Institute Special Collections blog, I just found a nice, extensive photo set from 1987 of the carving of a spruce canoe near Hoonah, a Tlingit village in Southeast Alaska.  The introduction to the photo set reads:

As part of the bicentennial of the Constitution celebration of 1987, the National Park Service and the Sealaska Heritage Foundation (now Sealaska Heritage Institute) sponsored the carving of a Tlingit canoe using traditional tools and methods at Bartlett Cove, which is near Hoonah, Alaska. The canoe, called Yuxwch’ee Yakw in Tlingit, means Sea Otter Canoe, which was the indigenous canoe of Hoonah and was photographed by the Harriman Expedition in Glacier Bay in 1899. The canoe was constructed at Bartlett Cover in August 1987. George Dalton, Sr, born in Hoonah in 1879, and other elders with personal knowledge of canoe making traditions served as cultural advisors to the project. Lead carvers Nathan Jackson, Steve Brown, Richard Dalton, and Mick Beasley carved the canoe using a Sitka Spruce log using traditional tools, such as the xot’ah or Tlingit adze.

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