Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tlingit Rock Formations

Cairns Uncovered: Documentary Explores Ancient Tlingit Rock Formations:
Scientists are studying rock arrangements found atop some of Alaska’s southern mountains for information about ancient Tlingit culture.  Photo: Bill Hunt

    “Parts of south Alaska’s inland, alpine landscape are dotted with mounds of artificially stacked rocks that are closely tied to Tlingit culture. These structures, known as rock cairns, are the focus of Cairns Uncovered, a soon-to-be-released documentary that explores Tlingit oral traditions surrounding the structures, as well as archaeological research into their origins and purpose… We really wanted to show the importance of these rock piles and what they are to Tlingit culture and their story. The Tlingit passed on their culture through stories and dance. Some of the stories about the beginning of their history have to do with these rock piles. And we wanted to show that,” Stegen said. “We also wanted to go up there and study and potentially date the cairns. So, it’s also a very science-based documentary.”
(Previous post about the same people and project:
Stone Foundations and Tent Platforms in NW Coast Archaeology:
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.
    “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.
     For an archaeological example, above is a picture of a rock wall which happened to be exposed in a tiny rivulet.  The wall itself is partially constructed of large stone tools, which is cool in its own right. It continues out of frame to right and left, but is not exposed in the same way. Behind the wall, a small test unit showed the stone structure three courses deep, with a definite edge, and abundant charcoal and lithics organized into thin strata like living surfaces.  Preliminary dating shows use around 1500 years ago. Anyway, it’s an example of what we think may be a habitation structure of some kind built on a stone foundation, perhaps even with low stone walls as a perimeter.  You can see numerous additional examples of similar walls in the pictures below, also from the SHI archive…It’s also not just about can see rock platforms built to support tents…The bottom picture shows a similar uppermost tidal rock platform which contained abundant charcoal dated to, if memory serves, to about 4,000 years ago.  This is from Duncan McLaren’s Hakai Ancient Landscapes project which I get to volunteer on from time to time.
So, stone: an under-appreciated construction material on the NW Coast? If you have examples of unorthodox stone constructions then leave a comment, or send me an email."

1 comment :

pwax said...

If I look closely at the last picture, it looks a lot like a rectangular structure subdivided into a "9" shaped piece and an additional corner piece in the foreground.
It would be neat indeed if "rectangles with hollows" showed up out there.