State of Alaska > Natural Resources > Parks and Outdoor Recreation > History and Archaeology
Alaska's Maritime Heritage Overview
Resources in Peril:
It is currently estimated that as many as 3,000 shipwrecks and an untold number of inundated terrestrial sites may be located within Alaska's waters. Heritage sites within the dynamic coastal zone are especially vulnerable to damage or loss through human and natural forces. Subsidence of lands around the Gulf of Alaska as a result of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, as with previous seismic events, inundated or placed many coastal sites within the reach of storm waves. We now anticipate that predicted rising sea levels and changing storm patterns over the next few decades will further alter the shape of coastline, speeding erosion and submerging or destroying many cultural sites. The effects of climate change on underwater sites is largely unknown, although it is expected that negative impacts will occur from changing currents, ocean acidification, and expanding ranges of boring marine organisms. Human impacts include increasing infrastructure for oil extraction, the laying of subsea communications cables, and bottom trawling. Concurrent with these impacts, the recent diffusion of new and inexpensive remote sensing, navigation, and diving technologies has removed many of the barriers that previously prevented site discovery and exploration. This has resulted in new discoveries and knowledge, but also an increase in incidents involving the disturbance of protected heritage sites.
Ownership and Legal Protections:
The State of Alaska owns the vast majority of lands between mean high tide and three miles (4.8 km) from shore. Exceptions include lands that have been conveyed from the state as municipal entitlements and small parcels, such as tidelands and/or limited submerged lands surrounding old canneries or patented lots that predate statehood. Submerged cultural resources must be interpreted in the complexities of a legal framework grounded both in traditional admiralty law and more recent laws aimed at resource protection. Attorney and diver David Howe adeptly explains the broader legal framework in the attached document (Howe 2000). The protection of submerged cultural resource sites in Alaska is achieved largely through implementation of several sections of the Alaska Historic Preservation Act (AS 41.35), which affirms the State's "title to all historic, prehistoric, and archeological resources situated on land owned or controlled by the state, including tideland and submerged land ... " While recognizing the complexities of the "law of the sea," the State of Alaska asserts a colorable claim on the resources described in AS 41.35 for purposes of protecting the resources under the Act. In essence, the state assumes ownership and management responsibility until the courts decide otherwise. Management responsibility is delegated to the Office of History and Archaeology (OHA), within the Department of Natural Resources.
The Challenge and the Future:
OHA is challenged by limited resources in its responsibility to manage a vast number of submerged and intertidal cultural sites. To overcome this limitation, the state has begun to partner with federal agencies and academic institutions outside Alaska to begin generating the baseline data needed to identify, manage, and interpret maritime heritage resources. In recent years, concurrent with technological innovations and the growth of academic programs in maritime archaeology worldwide, there has been increasing interest in the exploration of Alaska waters. The state has partnered with outside agencies and organizations to conduct several important maritime heritage projects over the last several years. It is unrealistic, however, to expect that Alaska's fragile maritime resources can be recorded and protected by the state and its partners alone. Along with the gradual compilation of baseline information, the most important step in resource protection is the development of public education and diver outreach programs. In September 2010, the State partnered with the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to offer Alaska's first Maritime Heritage Training workshops to a diverse audience of recreational divers and nonprofessionals, as well as terrestrial archaeologists. The study and management of Alaska's maritime heritage is still in its infancy but, with assistance from our professional and avocational partners, the outlook is promising.
Office of History and Archaeology (OHA)
OHA and SHPO Staff
Alaska Historical Commission
Alaska Geographic Names Program
Alaska Gold Rush Centennials
Alaska Archaeological Survey
Alaska State Historical Parks
Alaska OHA Photo Galleries
Cultural Resource Plan for the Denali Highway Lands
Frequently Used Resources
Alaska Heritage Resources Survey
Report Submittal Checklist and Cover Sheet
Permits for Investigations on State Lands
Report Submittal Checklist and Cover Sheet
Request for SHPO Section 106 Review
Castle Hill Archaeological Project
Broken Mammoth Archaeological Project
The Wreck of the Kad'yak
Southeast Alaska Historic Shipwrecks
Alaska State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)
SHPO Main Page
Alaska's Historic Preservation Plan
National Register of Historic Places
Section 106 Review Process
Rehabilitation Tax Credit
Certified Local Government Program
Education (Project Archaeology)
HPF Development Program
Historic Preservation Links
Historic Preservation Series
National Historic Preservation Act
Unalaska South Channel (Amaknak) Bridge Project
New Hours Set for AHRS Research
Last updated on Wednesday, October 2, 2013.
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