Scientific Resource Surveys, Inc. - A team you will dig!

Field Specialists out in the field

SKG-543, 21-MILE HAINES HIGHWAY SITE SURVEY/ TESTING

This site consists of nine cultural depressions or pits and an associated clearing which was reported to contain subsurface charcoal. A 2011 ADOT & PF report determined that SKG-543 was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places according to Criterion D (potential to produce information) based on the subsurface charcoal deposit outside the depressions; the depressions themselves, which were tested during the 2011 survey, were void of charcoal or cultural material.

A review of by SRScorp of the cultural depressions in the immediate area (13-Mile to 21-Mile) exposed three clusters of cultural depressions at 13-Mile (SKG-050), 17-Mile (SKG-544) and 21-Mile (SKG-543). Excavations have occurred at 13-Mile (Wiley 2011) and 21-Mile (ADOT & PF 2011). In all cases the cultural depressions were found to be sterile. Additional units and soils borings or auger sampling as part of the current Intensive Survey III verified that the cultural depressions at SKG-543 are all likely void of cultural materials. Research has shown that these were probably food storage pits (Wiley 2011) and may be associated with storing salmon from the Chilkat River or goat, bear and other game for which the region is noted.

The major emphasis of this program revolved around attempting to determine the source of the subsurface charcoal found previously at the site. A 50 cm unit was excavated in the center of the ‘clearing’ and another in depression #8 on the south edge of the clearing; and a total of 24 auger samples were also bored though out the site area. Nine augers circled the clearing, two were placed north and south of Unit #1 in the center of the clearing, and an additional thirteen augers proceeded south from the clearing in a systematic pattern in order to sample the full horizontal extent of the site (north to south) and a 20’. The units and eleven auger holes in and around the clearing delineated the presence of charcoal. A second small concentration was located just south of the clearing. The southern half of the site contained sparse traces of charcoal. The general distribution of charcoal then varies in density throughout the site.

Additional research on fire and forest succession reveals that in deep cores containing pollen, vegetation changes may be associated with disturbance episodes indicated by associated charcoal from forest fires. A new vegetation succession sequence commonly follows the fire dominated by young alder and bracken fern, both of which characterize the SKG-543 clearing disturbance at the site. This information and the lack of any associated cultural materials suggest that the charcoal on SKG-543 is natural in origin. The cultural depressions could also have been used for storage of goat, bear or other game common to the area.

Background research also included review of articles regarding fire and forest history. This research showed that the disturbance history of an area needs to be examined in order to fully understand local vegetation patterns. In pollen cores, examined by Les Cwynar, vegetation change was occasionally coincident with charcoal deposits suggesting the following scenario:

    “Repeated fires leave an irregular, patchy distribution of vegetation on the landscape in various stages of succession. A higher fire frequency would result in a higher proportion of patches in relatively young successional stages, and thus an abundance of Alnus rubra [Red Alder] and Pteridium [Bracken Fern] on the landscape” (Cwynar 1987:800).
This area contained mainly young alder and bracken fern (and devil’s club) which corresponds with the circumstance outlined by Cwynar. It was suspected therefore that the presence of charcoal may be present in small patches on the site as a result of forest fires; a phenomenon also documented at 13-Mile site SKG-050 (Wiley 2011).