Tim Heaton at work in OYK cave. Screenshot from video.
On July 4, 1996, paleontologist Tim Heaton was busy at his last day of fieldwork at On-Your-Knees Cave on northern Prince of Wales Island, Southeast Alaska (map). At this and other caves Heaton had recovered a remarkable array of fauna from both before, during, and after the last glacial maximum, including a variety of black and brown bear bones. Until this point, he had not found any human remains, but that changed with the discovery of a human mandible and the subsequent discoveries of other scattered, chewed remains. In due course, an archaeological site was also found at the entrance to the cave, dating to about 10,300 calender years ago, the same as the human remains. Excavation at this site was led by E. James (Jim) Dixon, whose footsteps I often feel like I am stumbling along in. In one layer in the site, they actually found one of the missing teeth from the mandible, showing the extent to which the bones had been scattered, and, sinisterly, chewed, presumably by bears. The most likely interpretation is that the site represents a bear hunting camp at the entrance to the cave, and that on at least one occasion, the bears got the upper hand.
Anyway, the remains of this young man have revealed important details of the life of early people on the Northwest Coast, and the study also exemplifies how strong relationships, respect, and adherence to protocol can allow for scientific and cultural priorities to unfold together. It’s therefore quite exciting to find a 30 minute video detailing the process of research at On-Your-Knees Cave: “Kuwoot yas.ein: His Spirit is Looking Out from the Cave“.
Tlingit war helmet recently rediscovered in Springfield Science Museum. Source: SSM.
This is the kind of cool story that makes me want to poke around in all the community museums I see. A fantastic Tlingit war helmet has been recently rediscovered in the backroom of a museum in Springfield, Massachussests. The helmet was accessioned in 1899 as an “Aleutian hat” and the designation was never questioned until now. The news article about it suggests only 95 of these helmets are known, with the largest collections found in Russia. They are part of an elaborate system of armour known from the contact and early historic period in Tlingit territory (Southeast Alaska – Alaska Panhandle).
Posted in alaska, anthropology, Archaeology, history, Northwest Coast, Technology
Tagged alaska, armor, armour, helmets, museums, southeast alaska, Springfield, tlingit, Tlingit Art
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.
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, fieldwork, Haida Gwaii, Northwest Coast
Tagged artifacts, coastal route, dixon, Haida Gwaii, on your knees cave, pre-clovis, southeast alaska, tlingit, underwater archaeology
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.
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.
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.
Posted in alaska, anthropology, First Nations, Northwest Coast, Technology
Tagged alaska, canoes, carving, cedar, southeast alaska, spruce, tlingit
Montana Creek Fishtrap being excavated, 1989. Source: Sealaska
In 1989 a nearly complete fish trap was found in Montana Creek, near Juneau Alaska in Aak’w Kwáan Tlingit territory. The cylindrical trap, measuring 3 metres long and 1 metre in diameter, was excavated and found to date to about 600 years ago. The trap was preliminarily reported in Kathryn Bernick’s 1998 book Hidden Dimensions (UBC Press). Fishtraps were supported by wood and/or stone weir structures which also act to direct fish into the trap. The trap would be removed at the end of each season and stored nearby or at camp. Of course, being wood, they intrinsically don’t preserve very well except in anaerobic and wet conditions. They are therefore rather rare since they would need to be left in the creek after use in order to preserve. So this one is very unusual, and especially so since it was essentially complete (other than being flattened). All credit to the finder, Paul Kissner, for being alert, recognizing the trap, and reporting it promptly.
But now, the fishtrap has become very much a living object.
Posted in alaska, anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, Northwest Coast, Technology, Uncategorized
Tagged alaska, conservation, fish traps, fish weirs, fishing, Juneau, reconstruction, southeast alaska, tlingit, wet sites