Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tlingit Cairns in Southeast Alaska


Drs. Ralph Hartley (left) and William Hunt exploring one of the cairns. All photos courtesy William Hunt.

     "For many, (semi) retirement is a chance to kick back and relax. But for archeologist Bill Hunt, retirement gave him the opportunity to delve in to unexplored areas of southeast Alaska and uncover the secrets behind manmade rock piles called cairns that dot the landscape..."
"For the Tlingit, they have a story about a great flood that occurred some time in the un-dateable past in which the Raven caused the water to rise. The water came up out of the ground and the people had to scramble up the mountainsides to keep from drowning. If you ask the Tlingit what these cairns are, they’ll say they are flood markers. Others will tell you that people took refuge from brown bears and other animals in the larger ones..."
"We also have a team of archeologists–myself, Ralph, Amanda Davey and graduate student Mike Chodoronek–from the University of Nebraska and [we] are working with UNAVCO engineer Marianne Okal to map our survey area with ground-based LiDAR. This will provide a really detailed map of the area...One thing that we’ve found is that they vary in size—from small ones with seven or eight big stones to cairns with hundreds of large stones. They have a lot of open spaces – no soil fill inside them. They generally occur as widely spaced features in rows on mountainside benches facing the water. This arrangement made us reject their use as hunting features like blinds or to control the direction of animal movement..."

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