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Castle Hill Archaeological Project

Griffin, Lion-Eagle HybridCastle Hill, and ships in the harborGriffin, Lion-Eagle Hybrid




(D. McMahan 1997)


In conjunction with proposed construction at Baranof Castle State Historic Site (Castle Hill) by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (DPOR), funds have been requested for archaeological data recovery at site SIT-002 (American Flag Raising Site NHL). The promontory which today is commonly called Castle Hill, and known by the Tlingit as Noow Tlein, is considered one of the most important historic sites in Alaska due to its identification with important historical events. In 1962, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) under NHL Criterion 1 as the scene of the formal transfer of Alaska to the United States, the seat of the Russian-American company from 1806 to 1867, and the place where one of the first official raisings of the forty-nine star flag occurred. In addition to the site's NHL qualities, it has separately been determined eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) due to its potential to yield important archaeological data under 36 CFR 60.4 Criterion D (Ballard 1996; McMahan 1996). In assessing the effect of the proposed construction on the Criterion D qualities of the site, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) has concurred with ADOT&PF and the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) in a finding of "Conditional No Adverse Effect," provided that a data recovery program be conducted (Bittner 1996). This document constitutes the research design and data recovery plan required to achieve the "conditional no adverse effect." The Western Regional Office of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) was given an opportunity to review this finding, as required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The Office of History and Archaeology (OHA) has entered into a reimbursable services agreement (RSA) with ADOT&PF to conduct archaeological data recovery at Castle Hill. A budget of $155,094 (Appendix 1) is estimated to conduct field work, archival research, analysis, and report preparation.


Contact History

At the time of first European contact (ca. 1795) Noow Tlein, now called Castle Hill, was occupied by the Kiks.ádi clan of the Tlingit. At that time, this rocky 60 ft. high promontory at the edge of Sitka Harbor was surrounded by water on three sides and was cut off from the mainland by high tides. It wasn't until the 1960s that fill was placed around the base of the hill, resulting in its present appearance. Oral history states that four Kiks.ádi clan houses were located on the hill at Noow Tlein. These were "On-the-Point House," "Inside-the-Fort House (Nu-to-hit)," "Herring Flutter House (Yah-ooo-hit)," and "Sun House (Gagan-hit)" (Andrews 1960:24). Andrew Hope (1967) of the Sitka Kiks.ádi's Point House, in relating the story an elder told to him, states that there were four "communal" houses on top of the hill and a fifth house on a natural bench toward Indian River. He stated that other houses were located "across from the cold storage," and that some chiefs didn't like the idea of carrying water up the hill (Hope 1967).

The hill, with its commanding view of Sitka Sound, was the major defining characteristic of Noow Tlein, translated "big fort" (Moss and Erlandson 1992: Table 2). The site has been described as a "rocky prominence on which the Sitkas [Sitka Tlingit] had a small redoubt" (Hopkins 1959; Andrews 1960:24) and as "a fort [that] belonged to the Kiks.ádi clan" (Sealaska 1975:386-387). Warfare and the construction of fortified sites are well known in the ethnographic and archaeological literature of the North Pacific region (Moss and Erlandson 1992). Physiographically, Noow Tlein is typical of the Tlingit defensive positions described by George Emmons in the 1880s and 1890s:

Generally, villages were unprotected, and natural defense positions on bluff headlands or rocky islands near at hand were fortified, to which inhabitants might flee in time of danger... Ordinarily the forts of this people were smaller affairs not surrounding the village, but near at hand, on some rocky island or precipice headland and belonging to a single family, when they might find refuge upon a sudden attack, for the strategy of coast warfare consisted of surprise attacks... and rapid retreats, so their strongholds were not calculated to stand sieges, and were but temporarily occupied when necessity might require [manuscript of George T. Emmons, quoted by Moss and Erlandson 1992:5-6].

Founding and Destruction of St. Archangel Mikhail

Noow Tlein was in such a strategic position that it was the first choice for a redoubt location when Aleksandr Baranov, Chief Manager of the Shelikhov and Russian American Company in North America, came to Sitka in September 1799 to established a settlement (Bancroft 1959:429; Lisiansky 1814:155; Tikhmenev 1978:75). Baranov had constructed the Novorossiisk settlement at Yakutat Bay in 1796, but found that the year-round ice free harbor and other conveniences of Sitka offered a better location for a Russian settlement (Tikhmenev 1978:43, 61). Because the hill at Noow Tlein was already occupied, Baranov negotiated with the Kiks.ádi for land six miles to the north on which to build a small fort (Bancroft 1959:387-388; Khlebnikov 1994:1). The settlement constructed there during 1799-1800 was named for the St. Archangel Mikhail (Bancroft 1959:390; Khlebnikov 1994:3). After Baranov returned to Kodiak in the autumn of 1800, relationships deteriorated between the Sitka Tlingit and the Russians at the Archangel settlement, apparently encouraged by English and American traders (Bancroft 1959:397, 401). During the summer of 1802, the Sitka Tlingit attacked and burned St. Archangel Mikhail, killing 20 Russians and 130 Aleuts (Tikhmenev 1978:65). An English trading vessel rescued several survivors and transported them to Kodiak (Tikhmenev 1978:65), where they gave detailed (albeit slightly conflicting) accounts of the incident (Pierce and Donnelly 1979:134-139; Bancroft 1959:401-420). Kiks.ádi oral history related by Herb Hope states that the attack was a concerted effort of several villages (Houston and Cochrane 1992:3). The location of St. Archangel Mikhail, called "Old Sitka" after its abandonment, is presently a state park.

The 1804 Battle of Sitka

Baranov, in his determination to reestablish a Russian presence at Sitka, returned to the area in September 1804 with several vessels and a large force of Aleuts (Bancroft 1959:427-428). Landing near Noow Tlein without hostilities, he occupied the hill, then met with a group of Tlingit, from whom he demanded permanent possession of the bluff (i.e., "Castle Hill") and two additional hostages (Bancroft 1959:429; Lisiansky 1814:155-157). The Tlingit did not consent to Baranov's demands. Instead they rejoined other members of the village who had already moved to a fort which they had recently constructed about a mile to the east, a location that is presently within Sitka National Historic Park. This location was better protected from cannon bombardment than Noow Tlein, as shallow waters prevented ships from approaching near shore. Assisted by Captain Iurii Fedorovich Lisiansky on the sloop Neva, the Russians attacked the Tlingit fort around the first of October [reported dates vary] (Bancroft 1959:429; Langsdorf 1993:46; Khlebnikov 1994:4; Lisiansky 1814:157). After several days of fighting, the Tlingit abandoned the fort and walked overland, settling in several locations before constructing a fort in the Peril Straits area (Andrews 1960:6; Houston and Cochrane 1992:7; Jacobs 1987:7). This overland journey, called the "Sitka Kiks.ádi Survival March," was described to Houston and Cochrane (1992:6-8) by Mr. Herb Hope. Unlike the 1802 attack, which involved several villages, the 1804 battle was limited to the Kiks.ádi (Houston and Cochrane 1992:3). Numerous, and sometimes conflicting, accounts of the 1804 battle have been published or passed down through oral history. Nora and Richard Dauenhauer (1990:6-23) summarized various accounts of both the 1802 and 1804 battles at the 2nd International Conference on Russian America. A detailed analysis of the battle is beyond the scope of this research.

Castle Hill: 1805 to 1817

Following the 1804 battle, Baranov began constructing a fortified settlement on the hill at the former Noow Tlein village site. The Russian settlement was named Novo-Arkhangel'sk (New Archangel) to commemorate the first settlement of St. Archangel Mikhail that had been destroyed in 1802. John D'Wolfe (1968:37-38), an American sea captain who spent the winter of 1804-1805 at New Archangel (Sitka), described it as "a singular round piece of land with a flat top, standing out in the sea, and bearing the appearance of a work of human hands." Lisiansky described the settlement during a visit in June 1805:
The next morning I went on shore, and was surprised to see how much the new settlement was improved. By the active superintendence of Mr. Baranoff, eight very fine buildings were finished, and ground enough in a state of cultivation for fifteen kitchen-gardens [Lisiansky 1814:218].
Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, a founder of the Russian-American Company and Russian government official, arrived at the new settlement on August 26, 1805, where he found "numerous log buildings with stone foundations" (Pierce 1990:419; Tikhmenev 1978:89). In a letter to the Directors of the Russian-American Company dated November 6, 1805, Rezanov presented a detailed description of New Archangel:
There is a lighthouse on one of the islands... The fort is placed on a high rocky promontory, or kekur, extending out into the bay. On the left, half way up the hill, stand enormous barracks with two sentry boxes or turrets for defense purposes. Almost the whole building is built of wood good enough for shipbuilding, on a foundation of logs and cobblestones, with cellars. The building is on a slope and the foundation reaches the water. Close to the barracks is a building containing two stores, a warehouse and two cellars. Next to it is a big shed (balagan) for storing food supplies, built on posts, and under it a workshop. Facing the fort and next to this shed is a goodsized warehouse (sarai) and a store connected with it built of logs and facing the sea. The wharf is between this warehouse and the fort. To the right, at the foot of the mountain, is a building containing a kitchen, a bath and several rooms for company employees. A big log blacksmith shop nine sazhens long [1 sazhen = 2.13 m or 7 ft.] and five wide is built in three sections on the shore. In the middle section are three forges, in the other two sections -- work shops. Then comes the barn for the cattle. On the hillside above these buildings is another bathhouse. Beneath the fort there is one more bathhouse, with a room. On the hill is a temporary log house five sazhens long and three wide with two rooms and a porch. I have one of these rooms and the two ship apprentices the other. I have enumerated to you many buildings but the men were living in tents till the first part of October. As soon as a roof is placed on a building, they move right in. There are some broken down Kolosh yurts in which live the native workers and Kadiak Americans [Rezanov 1805, in Pierce and Donnelly 1979:153-154].
The physician and natural scientist Georg Heinrich Langsdorff, who accompanied Rezanov, also described the infant settlement:
The citadel hill had been fortified with cannon. Several Company ships armed with cannon lay at anchor and regular watch was kept day and night... Quarters were, for the most part unfinished and consisted of small rooms without stoves. Their roofs were so bad that the frequent rains continually penetrated them. All of the promyshlenniks had to work every day on the construction of the barracks, warehouse and other quarters that were so desperately needed... Altogether there were almost two hundred people at the settlement, including overseers and assistant overseers, naval officers, master shipwrights, promyshlenniks and Aleuts [Langsdorff 1993:48].
Baranov and Lisiansky are reported to have made a treaty with a Tlingit envoy in August 1805, after which the chief was presented with a token of friendship consisting of "a staff on which were the Russian arms, wrought in copper, decorated with ribbons and eagle down" (Bancroft 1959:438-439). Lisiansky (1814:221-225) reported that the negotiations took place in Baranov's house, and that pewter medals were also distributed. No Russian accounts which describe the terms of the treaty have been located (Bancroft 1959:439, footnote 29). Tlingit accounts of the treaty have been presented by Alex Andrews and Mark Jacobs, Jr. In a transcribed interview, Alex Andrews (1960:6-7) explains that the Indians did not know the value of the plaque presented by the Russians, and it was believed to be a retribution or atonement for the dead. He further stated that Baranov came to Peril Straights to negotiate the treaty. Mark Jacobs account of the treaty was related in a speech at the Second Russian-American Conference in 1987:
It was finally decided by the Kiks Adi's to return and sit down for the peace talks. It was at this peace treaty that the present Castle Hill was given to Baranov in exchange for a double-headed eagle badge, which is depicted on the totem pole [in Totem Square, Sitka]. It was explained to mean, "From now on and forever, we will be brothers. You look one way and we the other way." The round knob on the bottom of the totem pole represents Castle Hill. The only piece of real estate ever given to the Russians [emphasis in original document]... The double-headed eagle badge, received from the peace talks, is now in the State of Alaska Museum in Juneau [Jacobs 1987:9].
Despite peace negotiations with the Kiks.ádi, tensions remained between the Russians and the Tlingit of southeast Alaska in general. This culminated in the destruction of the Yakutat settlement in September 1805 (Bancroft 1959:45). The years following the founding of New Archangel were difficult for the settlement's inhabitants. A well-founded fear of the Tlingit prompted the Russians to adhere to military discipline, with cannon always loaded and sentries posted (Bancroft 1959:451; Pierce and Donnelly 1979:157). The settlement was also impoverished due to difficulties in obtaining supplies, a shortage of vessels, and an unsuccessful trade in sea otter skins (Bancroft 1959:450; D'Wolfe 1968:39; Khlebnikov 1994:7). The shortage of supplies would have been more profound if foreign ships had not, after the spring of 1805, began to frequently sail into New Archangel (Khlebnikov 1994:13, 19). Despite the difficulties mentioned above, New Archangel became the seat of the Chief Manager and the center of Russian possessions in America in August 1808 (Fedorova 1973:134). Baranov remained Chief Manager of the Russian-American Company until the end of 1816. Finally, advanced age, failing health, and unfounded charges of mismanagement of company affairs prompted an investigation by Captain-Lieutenant and Cavalier L.A. Hagemeister (Bancroft 1959:510-513; Khlebnikov 1994:26). By authority of the Russian-American Company, Hagemeister took over command of the Russian-American colonies in January 1817, appointing K.T. Khlebnikov office manager at Sitka. In July of the same year Hagemeister made a trip to California for supplies, and placed Lieutenant S.I. Ianovskii in charge of the colony. Hagemeister returned to Sitka in the autumn of 1817, and in November departed for Russia.

Castle Hill: 1817 to 1836

Baranov departed New Archangel for Russia on Hagemeister's vessel in November 1818, after paying a farewell visit to the colony at Kodiak (Bancroft 1959:513-514; Pierce 1990:186). He died at sea, however, before reaching his final destination. Ianovskii served as Chief Manager until the renewal of the Russian-American Company charter in 1821, at which time he was replaced by Naval Captain M.I. Murav'ev (Bancroft 1959:534-535). One of Murav'ev's first orders of business was to invite the Sitka Tlingit to return to their former village, separated from the fort by a palisade. Under Hagemeister's management, and that of his interim successor S.I. Ianovskii, virtually all of the buildings from Baranov's tenure were replaced (Khlebnikov 1994:30, 138). Khlebnikov (1994:30) reported that the barracks was so dilapidated that it was on the verge of collapse, for which reason the employees had built five small houses outside the fort. Khlebnikov (1994:138-140) reported new construction for the years 1818 to 1830, as follows:
1818. Tower No. 1, with two stories, octagonal, with eight cannons.

1819. (1) Tower No. 2, two-storied, octagonal,with eight cannons; (2) pier near the shore; (3) windmill.

1820. (1) Chief manager's house in the upper fortress, eight sazhens [56 ft. or 17.04 m] in length; (2) tower No. 3 in the upper fortress, the same size as the others, with six cannons; (3) a battery on the seaside, with eight cannons; (4) lower barracks, divided into three parts by hallways (with a mezzanine on both sides) these rooms can house 80 men, they are nine sazhens [63 ft. or 19.17 m] in length, there are three rooms for officials upstairs; (5) an apartment house, two-storied, nine sazhens [63 ft. or 19.17 m] in length, they house the priest, the doctor, two officials,the office, pharmacy and hospital; (6) house of the office manager; (7) bathhouse for officials; (8) bathhouse for the garrison; (9) spinning (weaving) shop; (10) bakery; (11) a new harbor on pilings to replace the old one, eaten by worms; (12) three stairways to the upper fortress and a reviewing stand; (13) a two-storied arsenal for small arms; (14) gates and a wall for the middle fortress from the barracks to the priest's house, with a battery of two cannons.

1826 to 1828. (1) A three-storied store 18 sazhens [126 ft. or 38.34 m] in length, the lower floor contains a section for storage in general, there are two rooms for storing materials, and two for storing goods and supplies, the central floor is for materials and furs and supplies, the floor under the roof is used for storing various types of goods; (2) a two-storied house for apartments of officials, downstairs there is a barracks, a school, three separate apartments for officials, upstairs -- six separate rooms and two kitchens, both buildings are covered with metal roofs.

1830.(1) Two new pilings... for the building of the harbor area; (2) a large warehouse 18 sazhens [126 ft. or 38.34 m] long...; (3) some of the old buildings can still stay up awhile, others are falling apart, these include: in the central fortress: general store, trading store; inside the fort: workshops, blacksmith's shops, quarters for the shop workers and a metalwork shop, the general kitchen, the stable, three kazhims for the Aleuts, the carpentry shop and saw shed [Khlebnikov 1994:138-140].

In 1822, the Chief Manager's new residence (begun in 1820) in the fort was finished (Fedorova 1973:222). Its roof was covered with iron from St. Petersburg, and the lower walls and adjacent floors were sheathed with flattened lead to deter rodents (Fedorova 1973:222-223). Only the Chief Manager's house and the barracks were covered by iron. Other buildings were covered with tree bark bartered for from the Tlingits (Fedorova 1973:223). Frederic Litke, who visited Sitka in 1827 described the settlement:
The settlement is at present made up of two parts the fortress and the outlying areas. The first encloses the governor's two storied house, situated on the highest point of the rock, at around eighty feet above sea level, surrounded by towers and by batteries armed with thirty-two cannon, which makes it like a citadel... All of the structures in the fortress are company property; they are well maintained, although not without difficulty for the magnificent wood of conifers and saplings used here, because of its poor quality and the effect of the climate, does not last very long. One of the towers along the fortress walls houses the arsenal, with enough firearms and hand arms for over a thousand men, kept in good order [Litke 1987:46].
The Baroness Wrangell, wife of the chief manager in the early 1830s also provided an account of the manager's house:
the town consists of small houses, dwarfed by the imposing appearance of the fort, in which our house plays a great role. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by four small towers, from which cannon look in all directions... [1831 letter from the Baroness Wrangell, quoted by Pierce 1989:30].
By some accounts, apparently based on oral history, the house was constructed of "bricks... acquired from a passing ship," and torn down in 1833 due to damage from an earthquake (Hanable 1975:2). The bricks are described as yellow bricks, engraved "Stenwick," from Holland (DeArmond 1995). Written descriptions of the period mention bricks only in the context of their scarcity, and their use in the manufacture of Russian stoves (Fedorova 1973:223). Also, an 1827 engraving by F. H. von Kittlitz, who accompanied Litke on his voyage to New Arkangel, seems to depict a log or frame building with a gabled roof (Henry 1984:55). By the 1830s, however, the house -- sometimes called the "original castle," was already deteriorating. Wrangell obtained permission from the main office at St. Petersburg to build another, in the meantime moving into the port headquarters (Pierce 1989:32). Construction efforts were generally less profound after 1827, when the shareholders of the Russian-American Company confirmed a decision to transfer the colonial capital back to the Kodiak settlement (Fedorova 1973;143). The transfer did not occur, largely due to a lack of manpower for new construction on Kodiak (Fedorova 1973:145).

Castle Hill: 1836-1867

Construction of a new two-story residence finally began in November 1836, under the management of the next governor, I.A. Kupreianov (Pierce 1989:32). The structure measured 12 by 7 sazhens (84 by 49 ft., or 25.56 by 14.91 m)(Pierce 1989:32). It is this structure, the largest and last of a series of Russian buildings to occupy the hill, that was popularly called "The Castle." Ironically, it is often referred to as "Baranov's Castle," even though its construction was initiated some 18 years after Baranov's departure from Sitka. By April 1837, workers were ready to place sheet iron on the roof, and work had begun on new towers and batteries (Pierce 1989:32). Kupreianov modified the construction plans to add a small observatory and lighthouse to the pitched roof of the house, said to be visible from a distance of 20 miles (Pierce 1989:32). Captain Edward Belcher, on the British vessel Sulphur, visited Sitka in 1837 while construction was in progress. Although he exaggerated the structure's dimensions, Belcher otherwise described it as follows:
The building is of wood, solid; some of the logs measuring seventy-six and eighty feet in length, and squaring one foot. They half dovetail over each other at the angles, and are treenailed together vertically. The roof is pitched, and covered with sheet iron. When complete, the fortifications (one side only of which at present remains) will comprise five sides, upon which forty pieces of cannon will be mounted, principally old ship guns, varying from twelve to twenty-four pounders. The bulwarks are of wood, and fitted similarly to the ports on the maindeck of a frigate [Pierce and Winslow, eds. 1979:21].
The Castle, which lasted until 1894, has been described in detail by a number of visitors, and graphically documented in a numerous sketches and photographs. Various portrayals indicate that the Castle occupied virtually all available space on top of the hill. The building was outfitted with furniture of sufficient quality to impress foreigners (Pierce 1989:32), and in many ways was the center of social life in Russian Sitka. The Castle was the location of the transfer ceremony through which the United States acquired Alaska on October 18, 1867. The often recounted ceremony has been described by Bancroft as follows:
On Friday, the 18th of October, 1867, the Russian and United States commissioners, Captain Alexei Pestchourof and General L.H. Rousseau, escorted by a company of the ninth infantry, landed at Novo Arkhangelsk, or Sitka, from the United States steamer John L. Stephens. Marching to the governor's residence, they were drawn up side by side with the Russian garrison on the summit of the rock where floated the Russian flag; "whereupon," writes an eye-witness of the proceedings, "Captain Pestchourof ordered the Russian flag hauled down, and thereby, with brief declaration, transferred and delivered the territory of Alaska to the United States; the garrisons presented arms, and the Russian batteries and our men of war fired the international salute; a brief reply of acceptance was made as the stars and stripes were run up and similarly saluted, and we stood upon the soil of the United States [Bancroft 1959:599-600].
There is apparently no precise date when the name "Sitka" began to be used over "New Arkangel," but Bancroft (1959:599 footnote 17) is of the opinion that "Sitka" came into general use sometime around 1847. The name "Sitka" was most likely modified from Sheet'ka, the Sitka Tlingit People's name for their traditional territory (Polasky 1997).

Castle Hill: 1867 to Present

Following the transfer of Alaska to the United States, General Jefferson Davis (Chief of American Forces in Alaska) used the Castle as his residence and headquarters (Pierce 1989:42). The building was abandoned in 1877 when the U.S. Army departed Sitka, and was reported to be in dilapidated condition in May 1878 (Pierce 1989:42). During the 1880s the building served as offices for the Signal Service, and is described in the papers of Fred Fickett housed at the University of Alaska, Anchorage archives. The 1890 census reported that:
the castle or governor's residence has been let fall half to ruin, the ill usage and vandalism of the past ten years leaving it stripped and despoiled of every portable feature of its interior finish and sadly defaced. Different attempts to have the building preserved and repaired for government use have failed entirely, and as the castle plot was not made a government reservation its site may be taken up by any claimant, if the building should burn to the ground. [Eleventh Census 1890:52].

In 1893, the U.S. government began to repair the structure for use as offices. On March 17, 1894, just before officials moved in, however, the building was destroyed by an early morning fire (Pierce 1989:42).

On July 18, 1898, President McKinley reserved Castle Hill for agricultural research and weather service reporting (Pierce 1989:42). On the site of the old "Castle," the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) constructed a building which served as the headquarters of the Office of Experiment Stations in Alaska. Photographs of the facility depict a two-storied frame structure, smaller than the Castle, with columns on the north side and a gabled roof. A map of the facility shows stairs on the north side of the hill in the same location as those present today, as well as a harbor light and water tank on top of the hill (Georgeson and Evans 1899:41). The headquarters was moved to Juneau in 1931, and in 1932 both the Juneau and Sitka offices were closed (Hill 1965:12). A 1939 writer (Colby 1940:169) described the building as a private house owned by the Department of Agriculture. The building was demolished in 1955, after which time the site became a grassy territorial and later a state park (Hanable 1975:2).

On October 18th, 1959, after Alaska was granted statehood, one of the first official raisings of the new 49 star flag took place on Castle Hill at the scene of the 1867 transfer ceremony. In 1962, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark under NHL Criterion 1 as the scene of the formal transfer of Alaska to the United States, the seat of the Russian-American company from 1806 to 1867, and the place where one of the first official raisings of the forty-nine star flag occurred. In 1965, in preparation for the 1967 centennial celebration of the Alaska purchase, a stone wall (parapet) was constructed with spaces for six cannon, six interpretive plaques, and a flagpole (Hanable 1975:2). Also during the 1960s, fill material was placed around the base of the hill to give it its present physiography. Since statehood, the site has been operated as a unit of the Alaska State Parks system, and is the locus of a formal flag raising ceremony on October 18th each year.


Overview and Research Justification

Because little archaeological work has been done at Castle Hill (SIT-002), uncertainties exist regarding the nature of subsurface archaeological deposits and the degree of disturbance from past construction. OHA addressed these questions in April 1995 by conducting limited subsurface excavations to test for the presence, type, depth, complexity, integrity, and scientific value of buried deposits (McMahan 1996). The test excavations demonstrated that most, but not all, of the Castle Hill deposits have undergone some degree of disturbance. The investigation included a review of historic literature, as well as interviews with local residents regarding modifications to the site since the 1950s. This work did not totally resolve the issues identified above, but did yield enough information to allow formulation of an opinion that the site is eligible for inclusion on the NRHP under 36 CFR 60.4 Criterion D (data potential). The SHPO concurred with the FHWA and ADOT&PF in this opinion (Ballard 1996; Bittner 1996). Inherent in the conclusion that Castle Hill meets NRHP eligibility requirements under Criterion D (Ballard 1996; McMahan 1996) are two assumptions:
(1) The property must have, or have had, information that can contribute to our understanding human history or prehistory, and

(2) The information must be considered important [Townsend et al. 1993:23].

Despite more than 100 years of Russian occupation in Alaska and a large body of archival literature, a relatively small number of Russian period sites have been studied archaeologically. In this context, the information contained within the Castle Hill deposits is important to our understanding of historic events and activities in Russian America. Both the archaeological and archival records of historic sites are biased by the various processes used to create them. Archival documents often contain incomplete accounts of day to day activities or details, and are biased by authors' perceptions. For example, probate inventories and other historic documents often describe expensive items while ignoring common items such as tobacco pipes, window glass, and nails (South 1977:194-195). Local merchants' inventories document the quantities of items received or on hand but omit detailed descriptions and places of manufacture. Conversely, archaeological data sets describe and quantify items selectively discarded or lost by the occupants of the site. The archaeological record is biased in favor of more common than expensive items, and in favor of items with long use lives such as ceramics and glass. The data sets contained within archaeological and archival records are often complimentary and seldom redundant. Despite abundant archival references to historical events at Castle Hill, there is little description of the details of day to day life (cf. Dilliplane 1990). Archaeological data recovery and analysis may provide insights into daily life not found in archival records. The questions below are not all inclusive, nor is it expected that the data recovered will be adequate to address all topics. Rather these are examples of research questions on which certain types of data (if preserved) can be focused.

Research Questions

(1) What are the interrelationships between the archaeological, archival, and oral history records of Castle Hill (cf. Dilliplane 1983; Leone 1988:29).

(2) Are archaeological deposits from the earliest (Tlingit) use of Noow Tlein (Castle Hill) preserved? Are datable materials present? What was the nature and antiquity of the Tlingit occupation of Noow Tlein prior to European contact? Few details of Noow Tlein are known.

(3) What are the spatial relationships among artifacts and clusters of artifacts? Are patterns present which suggest specific activity areas that can be related to episodes of Tlingit or Russian use of the site?

(4) What is the pattern of material culture discard and curation at Castle Hill (cf. South 1977:195), and how does this pattern compare or contrast with other sites in Russian-America? For example, it may be possible to compare patterns of discard between Russian-American Company employees of management status (i.e., Castle Hill) with those of working class employees in outposts such as Kolmakovskiy Redoubt (Oswalt 1980). The Castle Hill assemblage may also be compared with Russian-American assemblages from manufacturing sites such as the Middle Bay Brick-kiln in Kodiak (Dilliplane 1980; 1981), institutional sites such as the Russian Hospital in Sitka (Blee 1986), or with local assemblages related to activities of the clergy such as the Bishop's House (Shinkwin 1977).

(5) Is it possible, from the pattern of material culture discard discussed above, to define measures of socio-economic status (cf. South 1988:25) or behavior (Dilliplane 1985)? For example, studies have shown that the ratio of tea cups to flat ware is a correlate of socioeconomic status (Spencer-Wood 1987:16). It may be possible to define an archaeological measure of class distinctions by comparing the Castle Hill assemblage with assemblages from other sites in Russian-America, including those cited above.

(6) What Russian-American industries are represented by the Castle Hill artifacts. What types of items were manufactured locally or in the Russian-American colonies, as contrasted with imported items.

(7) How were materials modified for re-use? For example, preliminary excavations at Castle hill revealed a glass fragment which had been intentionally retouched through the removal of pressure flakes. Prior to the Russian occupation of Castle Hill, its Tlingit inhabitants may have adapted broken trade items for re-use. A scarcity of supplies during the early Russian occupation of Castle Hill may also have necessitated the creative re-use or repair of some items which would have been discarded if replacements had been readily available.

(8) What are the patterns of subsistence and food preparation, determined through the study of fauna, flora, and kitchenwares? For example, butchering patterns have been studied as markers of ethnicity on historic sites (Williams and Cohen-Williams 1997).

(9) What are the consumer choices in material items used at Castle Hill? For example, Deagan (1988:9) has examined consumer choice on historical sites by comparing the archaeological record with locally available materials on inventory lists.

(10) What are the construction details of the earlier Castle Hill structures, including those of Tlingit as well as Russian design? For example, it may be possible to date and locate some of the cellars that are known (from archival records) to have been associated with Russian buildings that pre-dated the Castle.

(11) What are the formational processes that effect site deposits (or how the artifacts got to be where they were found) at Castle Hill? What time periods are represented or not represented in the archaeological record at Castle Hill, and why?

(12) How did patterning within the material culture record change through time? A rich but incomplete archival record of Castle Hill, coupled with sparse undisturbed deposits, provides a historic context in which to place materials from disturbed areas of the site. It may be possible to test a hypothesis that "average to below-average quality goods were generally imported to the colonies... [except 1840-1850]... and colonial products consistently registered at below-average standards without exception" (Dilliplane 1990:402-403). An agreement was reached with the Hudsons Bay Company in 1839 to provide supplies to the Russian-American Company. If artifacts from the 1840-1850 period can be isolated, it may be possible to compare these with artifacts from earlier and later periods.

Data Potential of Disturbed Deposits

The results of the April 1995 testing program suggest that most, but not all, of the Castle Hill deposits have undergone some degree of disturbance. Given the depositional circumstances at Castle Hill, this limits but does not completely negate the data potential of the deposits. The language which defines NRHP criteria is intentionally vague, and is crafted to allow archaeologists to reach conclusions regarding scientific significance on the basis of current and future problem domains (Staski 1982:130-131). In other words, data requirements depend on the specific research topics and questions to be addressed by the archaeologist (NPS 1991:23). In many instances, severely disturbed sites are considered to possess insufficient data potential (i.e., contextual integrity) for a determination of scientific significance under Criterion D. An example of such a site is a plowed field in which artifacts from several cultural components have been mixed to the extent that assemblages cannot be reconstructed (NPS 1991:23). At Castle Hill a rich but incomplete archival record, coupled with sparse undisturbed deposits, provides a historic context in which to place materials from disturbed areas of the site. It is expected that some artifacts, such as ceramic sherds with manufacturers' marks, can be dated within a relatively tight framework. Other items can only be dated within a broader framework on the basis of material type or method of manufacture. Thus, assemblages of varying interpretive value can be reconstructed. It may be possible to use these assemblages in conjunction with those from undisturbed deposits to address questions involving broad time periods, such as differences between Native, Russian, and American occupations. Given the historical significance of the site, the artifacts themselves may be important for display and interpretation.

Public Education and Interpretation

Archaeological projects in urban settings always draw a number of watchful visitors who are interested in procedures and findings. This was amply demonstrated during the April 1995 investigation of Castle Hill, which hosted numerous visitors (including local and non-local school classes) and several local volunteers on a daily basis. As a state park and prominent overlook, Castle Hill is a high profile site which draws both local and non-local visitors. During the summer months, visitation to Sitka is increased by cruise ship and Alaska Marine Highway traffic. During the peak tourist season, organized walking tours of downtown Sitka are conducted. A well-managed site excavation presents a distinct opportunity to improve public appreciation and support of archaeology and history. Castle Hill is unique in that many of the elements important in state and local history are contained within a single, confined location. Also, it is often easy for the casual visitor to identify with the archaeology of the recent past which they have read about in history books and seen interpreted at local museums. Given the historical significance and high public profile of Castle Hill, any recovered artifacts may in themselves be important for display and interpretation.

The timing of the proposed archaeological data recovery at Castle Hill is coincidental with the upcoming 1997 Veniaminov bicentennial celebration, which will take place both in Europe and the United States under the sponsorship of UNESCO. Ioann Veniaminov (St. Innocent of Alaska) is closely associated with Sitka, where he ministered from 1824-1836. A traveling museum exhibit on Bishop Veniaminov (locally coordinated by Peter Corey of the Sheldon Jackson Museum) is scheduled to open at the National Park Service's "Russian Bishop's House" in Sitka in May 1997.

Personnel and Research Strategy

A six person excavation team under the direction of David McMahan (archaeologist, MA) will spend approximately 45 work-days excavating at Castle Hill (SIT-002) beginning as early as possible in May 1997. Other OHA professional staff participating in the field investigation and archival research, as needed, include Charles E. Holmes (archaeologist, PhD), Douglas R. Reger (archaeologist, PhD), and Rolfe G. Buzzell (historian, PhD). Additional staff will be comprised of college student interns, Alaska Conservation Corps (ACC) workers, and volunteers (through the Volunteers in Parks program of the Department of Natural Resources). OHA encourages participation by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the interested public. The field investigation will be conducted in two independent mobilizations ("field phases"), synchronized with the construction schedule (Figure 1):

(1) Mobilization 1: The first mobilization will commence as early as possible in May 1997, prior to construction. It will consist of the establishment of excavation control points across the site, followed by intensive testing and block excavations in or near the proposed access ramp. Data collection efforts will initially be concentrated within the footprint of the existing gravel ramp/trail, but may focus on other areas determined through testing to have better data potential. The completion of Mobilization 1 will clear the south and east sides of the hill for initial construction efforts.

(2) Mobilization 2: Clearance of a corridor along the existing trail will allow the construction contractor to move equipment to the top of the hill, and inside the stone parapet. The construction contractor, while monitored by archaeologists, will first remove the concrete sidewalk from inside the parapet. Archaeologists will then conduct data recovery excavations on top of the hill, while the construction contractor works on the accessible pathway corridor. This work will also be monitored by archaeologists. The construction contractor will resume work on top of the hill after archaeologists have cleared the area.

Figure 1. Locations of 1995 tests and areas proposed for 1997 Mobilization 1 and 2 data recovery.

If possible, archaeologists will conduct the two mobilizations in tandem for maximum cost efficiency. However, if the contractor is unable to initiate construction immediately following Mobilization 1, the archaeologists will demobilize and conduct Mobilization 2 in synch with the contractor's schedule. Approximately 27 work days are estimated for the completion of Mobilization 1, and 18 work days for the completion of Mobilization 2. It is expected that some overlap of tasks will occur. The archaeologists will coordinate with the construction contractor in scheduling day-to-day tasks to maximize both data recovery and construction efforts. A tentative archaeological mitigation schedule is presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Archaeological mitigation schedule for Castle Hill (SIT-002).
Mobilization Phase Activity Dates
Planning and pre-field preparation Ongoing
Mobilization 1 (ramp/trail) May 12 to June 10
Mobilization 2 (top of hill) June 11 to July 1
Construction monitoring June to September, as necessary
Demobilization July 2 to July 3
Analysis and report preparation Preliminary Report: Jan. 31, 1998
Final Report:     May 31, 1998


Field Methods

A metric grid will be used to facilitate the mapping of surface materials, features, surface tests, and block excavations. If possible, the metric grid established during the 1994 preliminary investigation will be expanded for this purpose. A field transit will be used to lay out the grid, as well as to maintain horizontal and vertical control across the site. The field investigation will follow standards and guidelines outlined by the Secretary of the Interior and published in the Federal Register (1983:44722), and will include an intensive testing program coupled with block excavations. Test pits will be excavated using a combination of shovel and trowel techniques, with the objective of identifying high-potential areas. Testing will be supplemented by the use of a 4-inch-diameter bucket auger and a 1-inch-diameter soil tube on a judgemental basis. Where appropriate, block excavations will be excavated (by trowel) to maximize contiguous data recovery. A goal will be to expose cultural deposits and associated features. Natural or cultural stratigraphic levels will be used when they are discernible; otherwise, standard 10 cm levels will be used. The sediment from both test pits and block excavations will be screened through 1/4 in. mesh to objectify and maximize data recovery. The use of smaller 1/8 mesh, while shown to recover 50% more than 1/4 in. mesh in tests (Reed 1994), is unfeasible at Castle Hill due to the large quantity of historic materials present and the amount of sediment to be screened. The use of 1/4 in. mesh is expected to produce an adequate sample but, at the discretion of the field supervisor, 1/8 in. mesh may be used. If appropriate contexts are identified (e.g., hearths, cellars, floors, or other intact cultural features), sterile sediment samples will be collected for flotation processing and/or pollen analysis. A metal detector may be used on a judgemental basis to facilitate the location and/or verification of metal artifacts. All artifacts and other materials, such as charcoal, faunal,and bulk samples, will be recorded in three-dimensions and collected in appropriate specimen containers.

An attempt will be made to routinely enter all artifact and sample data into a computerized data base while in Sitka. At the completion of the field excavations, all test and block excavations will be back filled and all temporary tags and other markers and stakes will be removed. If needed, permanent markers will be left in unobtrusive places for future reference (i.e., if the site grid is not tied into nearby permanent architectural features or monuments). During the field investigation, access restrictions or barriers will be used as necessary to protect exposed materials and maintain a safe environment for visitors. It is expected that fieldwork will be completed during the spring and summer of 1997, and that research and report preparation will occur between the fall of 1997 and spring of 1998.

Treatment of Human Remains

The most common mode of Native mortuary treatment in the region at the time of European contact was cremation; and prominent overlooks were sometimes preferred burial locations. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) has expressed concern that cremation mounds were once present in the area, and that human remains associated with Noow Tlein (Castle Hill) could potentially be disturbed by construction (Polasky 1996). Previous work has not identified human remains at the site, which has been disturbed by a long continuum of construction activities of increasing magnitude. In the unlikely event that ancient human remains are identified in the field during the archaeological investigation or construction at the site, work in the immediate vicinity of the remains will cease and the remains will be secured against further disturbance. The SHPO, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, ADOT&PF, Alaska State Parks officials, and other interested parties as deemed appropriate will be notified as soon as possible. The disposition of the remains will be determined by the above parties through consultation. If human bone fragments are identified during the sorting of artifacts and animal bones in the laboratory, the human remains will be set aside in a secure location and the above consulting parties notified. All human remains will be treated with dignity and respect by the archaeologists.


Archaeological documentation is not complete until the recovered data are organized, catalogued, analyzed, interpreted, and a report prepared. The analysis of Castle Hill materials will also include the collection which resulted from the 1994 testing phase (McMahan 1996). Analytic tasks will begin in the fall of 1997 and continue throughout the winter months. Analysis of an archaeological site may be conducted at several levels:
(1) the site level, which may address the natural environment, stratigraphy, depositional history and site formation, available resources, and intersite comparisons;

(2) the feature or activity area level, which may address intrasite relationships and specific functions within the site; and

(3) the artifact level, which may address technology, typology, and specific task function.

Methods of analysis are dependent on the type, quality and quantity of data collected at the site, as well as the specific research topics to be addressed. Some types of analyses must be accomplished by retaining the services of specialists, and may be limited by budget constraints. Specific types of analyses which may be employed are:

Artifact Analysis -- Artifacts are the basic analytic units of archaeological sites. They will be classified on the basis of published typologies and descriptions when possible. Artifact attributes keyed to catalog numbers will be recorded in a computerized data base which will become a part of the permanent archaeological record. Artifact analysis will serve as the primary mechanism for dating the historic archaeological deposits in which they are contained, and for determining the degree of disturbance to the deposits. The functional classification of artifacts (cf. South 1977:83) may elicit material culture patterns which allow for the identification and interpretation of activities at the site. Artifact analysis may also reveal patterns of discard and curation (cf. south 1977:195), patterns of re-use and modification, trade, class distinctions (cf. South 1988:25; Spencer-Wood 1987:16), consumer choice (cf. Deagan 1988:9), and changes in material culture patterning through time. Artifacts will be treated as necessary to stabilize them against deterioration and facilitate analysis. For example, some metal artifacts may be cleaned by electrolysis, then coated with a preservative. Organic materials will also require specialized cleaning and treatment. This will be accomplished through consultation with a museum conservator.

Spatial Distributions -- Computerized data analysis will allow for detailed distribution studies of artifacts and features. Analysis of these relationships will help in the identification and interpretation of activity areas. It may also be possible to elicit construction details by analyzing certain features and their interrelationships. The refitting of glass, ceramic, or lithic sherds may provide information on the degree of disturbance to or contemporaneity of the deposits in which they are located.

Archival Research -- The data sets contained within archaeological and archival records are often complimentary and seldom redundant. Due to the efforts of Richard Pierce and other Russian-American scholars, many of the original Russian documents relating to Sitka have been translated and published. With the amicable relationship that presently exists between the United States and Russia, the potential exists that presently unidentified sources of information may also be present in Russian archives. A careful analysis of the archival record relating to Castle Hill can provide a framework in which the archaeological data can be interpreted.

Documentation of Previous Collections -- Artifacts have been collected officially and unofficially from Castle Hill over the years. While it may be beyond the scope of this project to analyze museum or private collections, it is desirable to locate and briefly describe the various collections.

Dating -- Artifact typology and seriation, along with stratigraphic analysis and comparison to the archival record, will be the primary means of dating the historic deposits at Castle Hill. If suspected pre-contact deposits are located and datable materials are present, radiocarbon dates will also be obtained.

Faunal Analysis -- Animal bone from Castle Hill will be identified as specifically as possible, and will be examined for evidence of butchering. The data may reveal patterns of subsistence and food preparation.

Paleoethnobotany -- Bulk sediment samples from suitable contexts, if any, will be processed by flotation in the laboratory to extract plant macrofossils (e.g., seeds and charcoal). The data may reveal evidence of subsistence preferences, as well as information relating to local vegetation cover during the time of occupation. Flotation processing may also yield tiny faunal remains and artifact fragments missed during hand excavation, and will serve as a sample control with which to calibrate day-to-day recovery techniques.

Palynology -- Sterile sediment samples will be collected from appropriate contexts, if discovered, and may be processed to extract microscopic residues. Pollen and spores, along with other microscopic residues, can provide information on the time and surroundings of a past event (e.g., seasonality, environmental conditions, and vegetation cover)(cf. Zippi 1995).


Following the analysis of recovered materials, a final report of the investigation will be prepared during the winter-spring of 1997-1998. The final report will cover at a minimum the following topics:

(1) Description of the project area.

(2) Relevant background research.

(3) Discussion of the research design and research questions.

(4) Discussion of the field work as implemented.

(5) Comparison of the archival and archaeological records.

(6) Description of the recovered data.

(7) Results of the various analyses.

(8) Evaluation of the goals and objectives of the investigation.

(9) Recommendations for future management of the site.


The recovered archaeological specimens and associated records will be curated for future use in research, interpretation, preservation, and resource management. The 1994 work yielded over 2,900 artifacts, which have been cataloged and undergone preliminary analysis. Data recovery at the site is expected to yield a much larger assemblage of historic artifacts. The Office of History and Archaeology normally curates state-owned artifacts at the University Museum, University of Alaska, Fairbanks. That institution will serve as the primary repository; local museums may obtain all or portions of the collection for interpretation and/or research through loan from the University Museum.


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