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Ancient artifacts returned to Alaska village

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) ” Native artifacts dating as far back as 10,000 years have been returned to the Southeast Alaska village of Hoonah.

The items recovered from one of the earliest known archaeological sites in the region “bring us closer, almost spiritually, to our ancestors,” said Frank White, leader of the Kaagwaantaan clan.

The U.S. Forest Service reclaimed the artifacts last November from a Washington State University professor who excavated them in the 1960s and 1970s. They filled 47 boxes.



Agency officials hope Hoonah residents can contribute to an understanding of the objects and begin the process of deciding what to do with them. The collection will make its public debut in Hoonah on Friday and Saturday.

“This event is designed to let the people of Hoonah see the collection themselves and make their own conclusion of the value it might have in terms of culture and aesthetics,” said Mark McCallum, an archaeologist and manager of the Petersburg-based Heritage Program for the Tongass National Forest.

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Robert Ackerman, an anthropology professor at WSU in Pullman, Wash., held a permit to examine sites in Glacier Bay National Park in the 1960s, said Mary Beth Moss, curator for the Hoonah Indian Association.

Moss said it’s not clear how it happened, but Ackerman excavated some sites on Forest Service land near Excursion Inlet and Point Couverden, just north and east of Hoonah.

The Forest Service now has reclaimed objects from three of those excavations, including items dated to 10,000 years ago.



“The beauty of it to the Hoonah Tlingit people is they had been telling folks for years their ancestors had been in the area for thousands of years,” Moss said. “It was a pretty exciting discovery.”

The earliest layer of excavated material, from 10,000 years ago, includes a few stone arrowheads or spear points. A later level, dated at 9,000 to 7,000 years ago, held small, sharp-edged blades often made of obsidian, a volcanic glass. The pieces of obsidian could be set into bone or wood and used as cutting tools or projectiles, McCallum said.

The most recent layer was dated from 1,000 to 200 years ago. It held stone tools used as hammers, chisels and axes. Excavators also found rubbish heaps of shells, charcoal and cracked rock, and rectangular patterns in the ground, reflecting the presence of houses.

When Ackerman took away the artifacts, the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act didn’t exist. The law, passed in 1990, provides a process for museums and federal agencies to return certain American Indian cultural items ” human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony ” to descendants, culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

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