Using geophysical imaging techniques and ground-penetrating radar, a team of scientists from Cornell University and the U.S. National Park Service has confirmed the location of a fort associated with a pivotal battle between Tlingit people and Russian invading forces. The find is preceded by a century of attempts to locate the fort, which the researchers have now identified from its unusual trapezoidal shape.
In 1799, the Russian Empire sent a small army to take over Alaska in order to develop the fur trade, but native Tlingit clans successfully expelled them in 1802.
In 1804, Russian forces, with the support of their Aleut subjects, returned and fought a major battle against the Tlingit in what is now Sitka. The story of the battle was recorded in Russian sources and passed down in Tlingit oral history.
The Tlingit defended Shís’gi Noow, or ‘the sapling fort,’ on a peninsula at the mouth of the Kaasdaheen (now Indian River), which was sheltered from Russian naval artillery by wide tidelands.
After an initial engagement that included a failed Russian/Aleut ground assault, the invaders retreated under cover of naval gunfire.
The Tlingit victory was short-lived. With gunpowder running low, Tlingit elders decided to abandon the fort during an overnight tactical withdrawal. Russian/Aleut forces razed the abandoned structure, but not before recording a detailed map.
The battle, considered a pivotal moment in both Tlingit history and the history of Russian America, resulted in the establishment of a Russian colony on Baranov Island in 1804. This lasted until 1867, when the Russians sold their interests in Alaska to the United States.
“The fort’s definitive physical location had eluded investigators for a century,” said co-author Dr. Thomas Urban, a researcher in the Cornell Tree Ring Laboratory at Cornell University.
“Previous archaeological digs had found some suggestive clues, but they never really found conclusive evidence that tied these clues together.”
To find Shís’gi Noow, Dr. Urban and his colleague, Dr. Brinnen Carter from the Shenandoah National Park, the U.S. National Park Service, created a grid to see if the electromagnetic induction methods could spot the potential outline of the fort and then created a small grid for dragging the ground-penetrating radar.
Their modern tools picked up the unusual perimeter shape of the fort.
“We believe this survey has yielded the only convincing, multi-method evidence to date for the location of the sapling fort, which is a significant locus in New World colonial history and an important cultural symbol of Tlingit resistance to colonization,” Dr. Urban said.
“A large-scale survey was necessary to convincingly rule out alternative locations for this historically and culturally significant structure,” Dr. Carter added.
The team’s paper was published in the journal Antiquity.
Thomas M. Urban & Brinnen Carter. Geophysical survey locates an elusive Tlingit fort in south-east Alaska. Antiquity, published online January 25, 2021; doi: 10.15184/aqy.2020.241
Source link: https://www.sci.news/archaeology/tlingit-fort-09312.html