State of Alaska > Natural Resources > Parks and Outdoor Recreation > History and Archaeology
by John Middleton
RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE
INSTITUTE OF GENERAL HISTORY
CENTRE FOR RUSSIAN AMERICA STUDIES AND RUSSIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS
32-A LENINSKY PROSPECT, SUITE 1506 MOSCOW 117334
One of the most exciting aspects for those who love history is the opportunity to see one’s perceptions change as new evidence is revealed to dispel conclusions that have become a mainstay of accepted beliefs. The Castle Hill Archeological Project offers us exactly that opportunity; to reconsider our perceptions of daily life in Russian America, and perhaps confront predjudices we have held about the tenuous nature of Russia’s hold over her American Colonies.
What preliminary inspection of the multitude of artifacts recovered indicates is that the material culture of New Archangel was much richer than previously imagined. By richer I do not mean wealthier, rather more abundant and diverse. The identification of parts of children’s toys, pieces of model ships, such luxury items as numerous parts of samovars and an unimagined wealth of Russian ceramic and pottery pieces from some of Russia’s finest factories indicates a material culture far more established than had been assumed. The great revelation to me at least, was the very Russian nature of the majority of the finds. So many of the studies on Russian-America emphasize the poor supply routes from Russia and the dependence of the colonies on foreign (particularly from England and the U.S.) goods to make up the meager materials the colonies relied on.
Other archeological sites in Russian America have produced European artifacts in abundance, however the assumptions have always been that the majority of these items were imported on western European and American ships, and reflected goods produced by those countries or by countries trading with them. Now, with the artifacts from Castle Hill, there are pieces identified as clearly being of Russian origin. While this does not diminish the trade the Russian colonies carried on with both Native and European traders, it does add a richer dimension to the culture and society of New Archangel, and by association, to the other colonial centers in both Alaska and California.
Of major importance is the ability of archeologists and students of material culture to compare and contrast the artifacts from Castle Hill with finds from the other sites in Russian America. With so many pieces in such good states of preservation, it affords a reference base for the further identification of fragments in other collections.
The most fascinating aspect, as always, is the window to the past these artifacts offer to the lives the colonists led in a society that after a century and a half we are only beginning to appreciate and understand.
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Last updated on Tuesday, March 2, 2010.
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