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Found - Ancient Tools
April is Alaska Archaeology Month


April 05, 2005

Last summer Petersburg Ranger District timber sale administrator Ted Sandhofer and forester Bryan Rice responded to a fire caused by a neglectful camper. As Sandhofer was grubbing up the duff and humus he noticed rocks rattling about his feet. He soon realized the rocks were actually stone tools that were resting on a flat-topped boulder. Apparently the three tools were left on the boulder centuries ago and hidden beneath a thick layer of duff.

jpg ancient tools

Ancient Tools

Sandhofer contacted Petersburg District archeologist Jane Smith when he made the discovery and she visited the site with GIS specialist Gene Primaky to salvage information regarding the tools. According to the US Forest Service, Sandhofer's actions - leaving the artifacts in place and contacting an archeologist - are exactly how you can help them preserve the past if you make such a discovery.

The site is on a very small island near the mouth of Petersburg Creek. It is accessible at low tide from Kupreanof Island and is the type of place where one might go for a short visit. Smith and Primaky tested the site to search for intact cultural zones but were unable to identify a preserved soil horizon.

According to information provided by the USFS, the lack of context precludes their ability to reliably date the tools but they can glean some information from the artifacts themselves. Similar tools have been found elsewhere on the northern Northwest Coast and are generally associated with the Late Period, a time postdating 1,500 years ago.

The tools appear to be crafted from basalt and were ground and pecked into shape using a harder rock, like granite. The carved finger grips imply the tools were not hafted but were held with one or possibly two hands. The distal ends of the tools, away from the sharpened points, have been banged up the way the handle end of a chisel is damaged. The tools differ in size and it's easy to envision them as part of a master carver's tool kit. They were probably used in woodworking, to craft canoes, house posts, or totems.

Smith believes the tools may have been purposefully left on the rock for they are not the type of artifact carelessly abandoned. The points retain a fine edge and do not appear to have been used after a final sharpening. Maybe these treasured items were left for ceremonial or spiritual reasons after the passing of a master craftsman.

jpg ancient fish trap...

Archeologist Jane Smith and GIS specialist Gene Primaky slog through the muck of Petersburg Creek's tidal flats near exposed wood stakes of an ancient fish trap. Investigating the site led archeologists to the discovery of a crude petroglyph and a large intertidal wood stake fish trap. The trap is made of hundreds of woods stakes and stretches across over an acre of tide flat. With the help of Jeff Robinson, the PRD recreation cabins foreman, the group mapped both sites and collected a couple of stakes for radiocarbon analysis. The stakes are well over 1,000 years old (AD 770 and AD 580), and fall within an age typical of the other traps in the region.

Whether the tools are associated with the trap or petroglyph remains undetermined.


Note: Alaska's history extends over 12,000 years and the State's archaeological treasures have revealed important glimpses into the lives of our early residents. April is Alaska Archaeology Month - an annual statewide event designed to highlight Alaska's cultural heritage and the contribution archaeology makes to its preservation. Events are planned across southeast Alaska and the rest of the state that include lectures on recent archeological investigations, archeological site tours, and hands-on activities for kids of all ages.


Source of News & Photographs:

USFS - Tongass National Forest
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