In 2012 the Second Native Archaeological Training Program was conducted at the Chilkoot River Village Complex. This site was chosen for field study in order to establish site boundaries for protection against several construction projects envisioned for this area including DNR, Parks and Outdoor Recreation’s planned bear viewing platform and river road re-alignment and APT’s Connelly Lake hydroelectric project. Again, the class was co-sponsored by University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), Juneau campus; SRScorp; Chilkoot Indian Association (CIA); Chilkat Indian Village (CIV); Champagne-Aishihik First Nation (CAFN); Sealaska Heritage Foundation (SHF); and Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center (SMCC). The students received three college credits and a certificate of expertise for future grading monitoring in the Chilkoot-Chilkat Valley region. The class had ten students including CIA members, CIV participants, two CAFN representatives and an SRS young Mayan woman who taught ancient stone tool production techniques.
The site area had previously been surveyed in 1978 by Russell Sackett in order to establish Sealaska historic site claims under ANSCA. The Sackett survey missed a series of house structures representing an earlier village than the known historic site at the Chilkoot Cultural Camp. In 2003, Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center sponsored a preliminary survey of the site when Tom Prang recorded over 200 features adding 10 of these early house structures and remnants of a fish weir to the site inventory; wood from the weir was radiocarbon dated to over 2000 years ago.
Summer field work consisted of surveying the Old House Site on hill behind Culture Camp. Five more structures were identified, photographed, measured and described by the students this summer bringing the total to 15 structure pits which were located as well as about 70 storage pits. These features were photographed, measured, drawn and mapped. In addition, the project included oral interviews with Tlingit Elders including Sally Burratin who spent summers at Culture Camp waiting on elder Tlingit ladies of the time. Through these experiences she heard many stories associated with area place names and stories. Her testimony encouraged students to start mapping place names and recording stories which became a major project.
The SRS summer field work researched and mapped 50 place names for the region which revealed that there had been at least five successive village locations around Chilkoot Lake, Chilkoot River and upper Lutak Inlet now including four early villages; two had been destroyed by landslides, one by flooding and one was established specifically to house smallpox victims. Maria Ackerman, CIA member Tim Ackerman’s mother, recorded traditional Tlingit stories about Chilkoot disasters. In her book she describes an earthquake and landslide, which created a huge flood from Chilkoot Lake that destroyed the earliest village; bodies were strewn all along the lake and river beaches and the sole survivor buried them traditionally.
Sally Burattin from Klukwan, who took care of eight elder women at the culture camp village when she was a child, related the same story to the class and identified Léikh'wk' as the red mountain where the knob broke off creating the flood. CIA member Richard Young named and described the original village during another oral interview. Maria Ackerman also talked about a flu epidemic that was so devastating that only a few people remained from the village, not enough to properly bury the dead. Bodies were all placed in a large communal house and the structure was set afire.
At least these two traditional stories were verified by this year’s archaeological work. The archaeological program looked at subsurface soils deposits through an auger hole series in one of the early house structures. The soils showed a burning episode followed by flooding (sand layer) and a second burning. The burnt soils were found in all of the auger holes in the house showing that the auger samples were not drilled in a firepit, but rather the whole house had been burned. These results physically documented the recorded traditional stories including the flood episode and later structure fire associated with the flu epidemic.