US Geological Survey
The Neoglacial landscape and human history of Glacier Bay, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, southeast Alaska, USA
Date of this Version
The Holocene 19,3 (2009), pp. 381–393.
The Neoglacial landscape of the Huna Tlingit homeland in Glacier Bay is recreated through new interpretations of the lower Bay’s fjordal geomorphology, late Quaternary geology and its ethnographic landscape. Geological interpretation is enhanced by 38 radiocarbon dates compiled from published and unpublished sources, as well as 15 newly dated samples. Neoglacial changes in ice positions, outwash and lake extents are reconstructed for c. 5500–200 cal. yr ago, and portrayed as a set of three landscapes at 1600–1000, 500–300 and 300–200 cal. yr ago. This history reveals episodic ice advance towards the Bay mouth, transforming it from a fjordal seascape into a terrestrial environment dominated by glacier outwash sediments and ice-marginal lake features. This extensive outwash plain was building in lower Glacier Bay by at least 1600 cal. yr ago, and had filled the lower bay by 500 cal. yr ago. The geologic landscape evokes the human-described landscape found in the ethnographic literature. Neoglacial climate and landscape dynamism created difficult but endurable environmental conditions for the Huna Tlingit people living there. Choosing to cope with environmental hardship was perhaps preferable to the more severely deteriorating conditions outside of the Bay as well as conflicts with competing groups. The central portion of the outwash plain persisted until it was overridden by ice moving into Icy Strait between AD 1724–1794. This final ice advance was very abrupt after a prolonged still-stand, evicting the Huna Tlingit from their Glacier Bay homeland.
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