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article imageRemains of historic First Nations fort rediscovered in Alaska

By Karen Graham     Jan 26, 2021 in Science
Sitka - The remains of a 19th-century fort in Alaska, the site of a battle in 1804 between the Tlingit clan and Russian soldiers, has been revealed by radar scans. The fort was the last to fall before Russia colonized the land, occupying it for six decades.
History books describe the Battle of Sitka that took place in 1804 as the last major battle between Russians and Alaskan Natives, the Tinglit nation, initiated in response to the destruction of a Russian trading post two years before.
The fort built by the Tlingit nation was lost to history until recently when researchers, using modern technology rediscovered Shís'gi Noow - "the sapling fort." Their findings were published online on January 25, in the journal Antiquity.
Members of the Kiks.ádi of the indigenous Tlingit people had occupied portions of the Alaska Panhandle, including Sheetʼká Xʼáat'i (present-day Baranof Island), for some 11,000 years.
Sitka  Alaska was formerly called Novo-Arkhangelsk (or New Archangel) under Russian rule in 1805.
Sitka, Alaska was formerly called Novo-Arkhangelsk (or New Archangel) under Russian rule in 1805.
Lisiansky
In 1799, wanting to expand the country's fur trade, Alexandr Baranov (Chief Manager of the Russian-American Company) sailed into Sitka Sound, along with 100 Russian soldiers and others involved in the fur trade.
Wishing to avoid a confrontation with the Kiks.ádi, they passed by the strategic hilltop encampment where the Tlingit had established Noow Tlein ("Big Fort") and made landfall at their second-choice building site, some 7 miles (11 kilometers) north of the colony.
The place where the Russians set up their settlement was Katlianski Bay, "Redoubt Saint Michael," known today as Starrigavan Bay, The outpost consisted of a large warehouse, blacksmith shop, cattle sheds, barracks, stockade, blockhouse, a bathhouse, quarters for the hunters, and a residence for Baranov.
This totem is one of 18 found in the Sitka National Historic Park today.
Touching tongues is a commo...
This totem is one of 18 found in the Sitka National Historic Park today. Touching tongues is a common feature found on many of the park's totem poles, but what does it mean? It can have multiple meanings. Often times, as is the case in this example of mother and young bear,
Sitka National Historical Park
While the Russians were initially welcomed, things changed quickly. The Tlingits didn't like the Russians taking native women as their wives and soon came to realize that the Russians' continued presence demanded their allegiance to the Tsar, and that they were expected to provide free labor to the Company.
In 1802, the clans raided the Russian fort, killing many, looted the sea otter pelts, and burned the settlement as well as a new ship under construction. Following the Kiks.ádi victory, Tlingit Shaman Stoonook, confident that the Russians would soon return, and that it was necessary to build a strong fortress to withstand the Russian's cannons.
Over a period of two years, according to Ancient Origins, the "Tlingit built a wooden fort – the trapezoidal-shaped Shiskinoow, translated to the “sapling fort."
A plan and elevation sketch of the Tlingit fort Shis kí Noow drawn by Yuri Lisyansky after the Batt...
A plan and elevation sketch of the Tlingit fort Shis'kí Noow drawn by Yuri Lisyansky after the Battle of Sitka in 1804. The Indian River flows through the upper right corner of Lisyansky's drawing.
Yuri Fedorovych Lysianskyi
The fort was in a strategic spot in what is now Sitka, Alaska, at the mouth of the peninsula's Indian River. The Tlingit armed it with guns, cannons, and gunpowder obtained from British American traders.
The Russians did return, in 1804, and after a short-lived battle lasting five days, the Tlingit clans abandoned the fort and the Russians burned it to the ground - but not before they drew a detailed map of the site.
The Russians then set up a trading post at what is now Sitka. Russia remained in control of the region for a little more than 60 years, until the United States purchased Alaska for $7 million in 1867.
Rediscovering the list 19th-century fort
For years, people have tried to find the location of the Tlingit fort, but only general descriptions were available. But the exact location was always uncertain, "with several alternative spots suggested over the years," lead study author Thomas Urban, a research scientist in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told Live Science in an email.
"An early investigation in the 1950s claimed to have found wood from the western wall of the fort, and investigations in the 2000s located shot and cannonballs in roughly the same vicinity," Urban said.
Members of the Kiks.ádi of the indigenous Tlingit people had occupied portions of the Alaska Panhan...
Members of the Kiks.ádi of the indigenous Tlingit people had occupied portions of the Alaska Panhandle, including Sheetʼká Xʼáat'i (present-day Baranof Island), for some 11,000 years.
Joseph from Cabin On The Road, USA
These were all considered to be good clues, but the picture remained incomplete, so Urban and study co-author Brinnen Carter, a cultural resource program manager at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, conducted a large-scale geophysical survey using electromagnetic induction (EM) and ground-penetrating radar (GPR).
While EM scans underground structures by measuring electrical conductivity, GPR scans subsurface structures with radar pulses in the microwave band of the spectrum. An area measuring 0.07 square miles (0.17 square kilometers, or 17 hectares) was scanned, "the largest archaeological geophysical survey ever undertaken in Alaska," the authors reported.
When the two scans were compared, both showed similar patterns underground that matched historic descriptions of the fort's size and shape. Additionally, the EM scans - taking in a larger area, did not reveal any other plausible signals in the region that could indicate an alternative location for the long-lost fort.
Carter points out that throughout the process, the team consulted with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, getting permission for the non-destructive survey and having tribal councils review the findings, Carter said.
"We therefore believe that the geophysical survey has yielded the only convincing, multi-method evidence to date for the location of the sapling fort — a significant cultural resource in New World colonial history and an important cultural symbol of Tlingit resistance to colonization," the scientists reported.
More about Tlingit fort, Alaska, Russian colonization, ground penetrating radar, electromagnetic induction
 
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