Cache of early 19th century Russian Axe Heads, on Kruzof Island, Alaska. Source: Dave McMahan via NSF.
In late 1812 or early 1813, the London-built, Russian-owned frigate Neva foundered on rocks somewhere near Sitka Sound, in Tlingit territory on Baranof or Kruzof Islands, SE Alaska, (map). The Neva was a prominent ship of Russian colonial Alaska having, for example, taken part in the 1804 Battle of Sitka as well as making multiple round trips during the maritime fur trade hauling sea otter pelts to Chinese and Russian ports. The actual wreck site has never been found. However, in 2012 archaeologists led by Dave McMahon and the Sitka Historical Society found a small historical-era site which they thought might be where the 28 survivors of the wreck sheltered for a month before being rescued in January 1813. An intriguing and suggestive find in 2012 was an apparent cache of Russian made axeheads (above), suggesting further work was called for. In 2015, a fuller excavation took place finding a remarkable assemblage “focused on survival”, not at all typical of early historic settlement sites. So, while there is no smoking gun yet, such as crockery with the Neva’s monogram, there are plenty of indicators that this site is where the survivors sheltered in the not-entirely benign Alaskan winter while awaiting a rescue that might never come.
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, history, Northwest Coast, Technology, Uncategorized, underwater archaeology
Tagged alaska, Baranof Island, castaways, historical archaeology, Kruzov Island, Neva, Russia, shipwrecks, Sitka, tlingit
Tlingit house with stone wall foundation. “Photograph of a Taku village homes, photo likely by Partridge, circa 1887. Village site was located on the mainland across from Douglas Island, south of present-day Juneau”: SHI Archives, Richard Wood collection. http://goo.gl/hH9Pfl
We’re a little obsessed with wooden architecture in the NW Coast archaeology world – with good reason, I guess, since monumental wooden houses are such a prominent feature of the recent past. I suppose we sometimes stereotype these houses a little – a point some commenters made in the Houses on Stilts post here a while back – we think: “large rectangular house squatting in midden supported by giant house posts.” Not always the case, certainly not through time.
In general, we may underestimate large scale constructions in stone. Burial cairns and mounds (one of Darcy’s consists of 18 dump-trucks worth of soil), rock wall defensive sites, trench embankments, canoe runs, fish traps, and of course, clam gardens, all involved massive deployments of stone, with associated labour investments and creation of a durable built environment. Anyway, we’ve recently been running into enigmatic rock structures on the central coast and Quadra Island, and in particular, the possibility of dwelling structures partially based on stone walls. So it’s quite cool to run across the picture above from the SHI photo collections, showing a Taku Tlingit house from the historic period, sitting on a platform which has a stone wall as a foundation.
Posted in alaska, history, Northwest Coast, Technology, Uncategorized, Vancouver Island
Tagged architecture, features, Heiltsuk, household archaeology, houses, photography, stone walls, tlingit
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
Lidar model merged with photograph to document carved pole, Sitka, Alaska. Source: National Park Service.
This is an interesting application of Lidar technology – creating a durable, highly precise, digital image of a standing pole, which can then be wrapped with high-resolution photographs and used in a “virtual tour” context. It can also be an archive for conservation. The project is underway to record a couple of dozen Tlingit poles in an outdoor setting in Sitka, Alaska.
Lidar stands for “light distancing and ranging” and is basically like radar or sonar, only using laser beams. Thousands of individual laser bursts can measure the three-dimensional surface of something like a totem pole to accuracy of a millimetre or less. This creates an accurate digital record of the shape of the pole which can then be rendered on-screen in various three-dimensional ways. Lidar has seen a fair bit of use in archaeological survey (especially its ability to digitally clearcut the trees) and also has seen quite a bit of table-top use to record artifacts in exquisite detail. The “meso-scale” recording of features like poles is less common though, especially outside of historical and classical archaeology. There is a lot of potential for recording petroglyphs I think — for example this recent dissertation (which I need to order) apparently shows proof of concept at Writing-On-Stone in southern Alberta.
Posted in alaska, anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, First Nations
Tagged alaska, conservation, LiDAR, poles, Sitka, tlingit, totem poles
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
Work on the log begins. Source: Yukon Canoe Project.
I just found an interesting blog that traces a community project to carve a Tlingit style dugout canoe on the banks of the Yukon River near Whitehorse:
Nineteen young Yukon carvers made history by creating a 30-foot red cedar dugout canoe. Under the leadership of Tlingit Master Carver Wayne Price, the carvers went on a journey of discovery.
An island on the east side of the Yukon River became their home for the next two months as went go back on the land to learn the traditional techniques for carving a dugout canoe.
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.
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?
Posted in alaska, First Nations, Haida Gwaii, Northwest Coast
Tagged art, Bill Reid, Haida Art, MOA, Museum of Anthropology, museums, Nicholas Galanin, sculpture, Sitka, tlingit, Tlingit Art