State of Alaska > Natural Resources > Parks and Outdoor Recreation > History and Archaeology
J. Dave McMahon
A comprehensive research design, based on results of the 1995 testing program at Castle Hill, was set forth in a data recovery plan prepared by OHA (McMahan 1997) (Appendix 4.1). As a part of the federal review process, the recovery plan was developed in consultation with interested parties and reviewed by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. This plan, which anticipated that data recovery would be conducted in a single field season, laid out a field mobilization and mitigation schedule, defined field methods, and developed protocols in the event that human remains were discovered. The document also discussed potential types of analyses that the data might support, including a set of 12 potential research questions that the analyses might address. These questions, which were contingent upon the recovery of appropriate data sets, were as follows:
Because the recovery plan was founded largely on the interpretation of disturbed deposits encountered during the 1995 testing program, it did not fully anticipate the range and complexity of data that were eventually recovered during the 1997 and 1998 field seasons. Consequently, the data set may address a much broader range of research topics than initially proposed (e.g., topics related to facets of industry, technology, trade, and metallurgy). The authors of individual sections of this report have addressed research questions supported by their respective data sets (i.e., ceramics, textiles, fauna, etc.). Individual databases, along with the master catalog, are included on CD in Appendix 4.2.
In addition to data recovery, site interpretation and public involvement were important components of the Castle Hill research design (McMahan 1997:14-15, 1999:11-13). The site 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 easier for the casual visitor to identify with the archaeology of the recent past that they have read about in history books, than with prehistoric materials. The Castle Hill Archaeological Project presented a chance to demonstrate site stewardship while interpreting a part of Alaska's history to the public.
Over 200,000 visitors are estimated to have traveled through Sitka annually in 1997 and 1998 based on Chamber of Commerce figures. During the summer of 1997, prior to construction, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of visitors visited the site each day to observe the archaeological excavations. These visitors were primarily cruise ship and ferry passengers, but also included Smithsonian Associates tours, elderhostel groups, school groups, and local visitors (Figure 4.1). The project received fewer visitors during the summer of 1998 due to ongoing construction and closure of portions of the park. Public interest in the project, however, continued to be encouraged by widespread media attention. The ongoing excavations were the subject of local radio broadcasts, National Public Radio broadcasts, and statewide television. To enhance public understanding and appreciation for the site and the project, the Office of History and Archaeology (OHA) sponsored a series of evening public lectures during 1997 and 1998. These lectures, which included both project personnel and visiting scholars, each ended with an update on the progress and latest findings at Castle Hill. Some lectures were video taped and shown on local television throughout the summer season. On request, project update lectures were provided to local organizations. Articles in Sitkas Daily Sentinel provided periodic front-page coverage throughout the duration of the project. Major and minor articles also appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, the Juneau Empire and, through syndication, newspapers throughout Alaska and the United States. In February 1998, the international publication Islands Magazine featured an article on the 1997 work at Castle Hill. In July 1998, Alaska Magazine published an article on the history and archaeology of Castle Hill based on 1997 findings. This magazine, on sale near the site, was available to visitors during the last half of the 1998 field season. Alaska Magazine also published a small article on the Ravens Tail robe fragment from Castle Hill in November 1998. In December 1998, the magazine Alaska Southeasterner featured lengthy articles on both the 1998 work at Castle Hill and the Ravens Tail robe fragment. A 1999 publication produced by the Federal Highways Administration featured the Castle Hill project as a case study for the use of transportation enhancement funds (NTEC 1999:24-25).
While there are no current plans to interpret the archaeology of Castle Hill to the public through pamphlets and on-site panels (refer Appendix 4.3), the findings continue to attract the attention of scholars. Some artifacts from the collection have been loaned to the Isabel Miller Museum in Sitka for display. Others were displayed in a major exhibition entitled Unseen Treasures: Imperial Russia and the New World, which opened at major venues across the United States before closing at the Russian State Historical Museum in Red Square, Moscow in September 2001 (McMahan 1999b). Concurrent with the Russian exhibition, other Castle Hill artifacts were part of a major exhibition entitled Beads Road in the North: Indigenous Trading and Development of Arts and Crafts in the North Pacific Rim, at the Japanese National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, during the fall-winter of 2001.
From its inception, the Castle Hill Archaeological Project was undertaken with public participation in mind. Archaeological projects in urban settings always draw visitors interested in procedures and findings. A broad cross-section of Sitka organizations and individuals provided support and/or endorsements throughout the project. These included the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the Alaska State Parks (Sitka) Advisory Committee, the City of Sitka, the National Park Service, the Sheldon Jackson College and Museum, the Sitka Historical Society, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the University of Alaska Southeast (Sitka Campus), and the U.S. Forest Service. A number of local volunteers participated both in 1997 and 1998. This enabled first hand involvement of the community, and provided an opportunity for OHA to teach site stewardship and basic principles of archaeology. Experienced non-local archaeologists and historians also participated in the excavations on a volunteer basis, reducing the cost of fieldwork. The professional staff of Sitka National Historic Park not only volunteered on the site, but collaborated in the construction of a temporary exhibit at the NPS visitor center. During both 1997 and 1998, OHA collaborated with the University of Alaska Southeast to provide an archaeological field school. The project benefited by acquiring additional labor and inexpensive housing near the site for project personnel.
During the laboratory phase of the Castle Hill Archaeological Project, continuing opportunities were made available to students and scholars. A cooperative relationship between OHA and the University of Alaska Anchorage allowed graduate students to become involved with aspects of analysis outside the current reporting scenario. By prior arrangement, portions of the collection were also examined by visiting Japanese, Russian, and American scholars. This sharing of information contributed substantially to our understanding of activities at the site.
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Last updated on Wednesday, July 21, 2010.
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