Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Hunt, William J. Jr., Ralph J. Hartley, Bruce McCune, Nijmah Ali, and Thomas F. Thornton, 2016, Maritime Alpine Cairns in Southeast Alaska: A Multidisciplinary Exploratory Study. Report prepared for the Tongass National Forest, National Forest Service and supported by the National Science Foundation (Project 1230132) Arctic Social Sciences Program, Division of Polar Programs. Anthropology Department, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


This report describes the goals, data recovery methods, data analysis, and conclusions of a pilot project “A Multidisciplinary Exploratory Study of Alpine Cairns, Baranof Island, Southeast Alaska,” funded by the National Science Foundation under Project No. 1230132. The project brought together experts in the disciplines of archaeology (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), lichenology (Oregon State University), and Tlingit oral history (Oxford University) to address questions regarding artificial prehistoric, high altitude cairns. Data were collected in 2013 and 2014. Pedestrian archaeological inventory recorded 50 cairns at 5 sites. Archaeological data includes cairn dimensions, GPS positions, still photographic images, and video documentation. Four cairns were selected for excavation/dismantlement based on their morphology and lichen growth. No artifacts occurred within, under, or around the excavated cairns. Radiocarbon (AMS) analysis of collected organic materials and lichenometrics indicate that alpine cairns on Cross Peak are prehistoric and built within the last two millennia. In 2014, a helicopter survey was undertaken over Chichagof Island mountains along the lower reaches of Hoonah Sound. This survey identified 39 cairns at 29 sites demonstrating that alpine cairns occur in abundance on Baranof and Chichagof Islands. Physical, historical, and oral history points to construction of the cairns by ancestors of the Tlingit and, more specifically, by ancestors of Sitka and Kootznoowoo tribes.