Turning the clock, the way home
The mountains, streams and forests of Juneau date back millions of years and are a constant reminder of the people who made this place their home.
Nestled throughout the city, four museums bring together artefacts to tell the story of the region and its people.
The Empire Juneau visited each museum to learn about some of the oldest man-made objects that everyone has on hand.
Sealaska Heritage Institute
Located in the Aak’w Village district in the heart of downtown Juneau, SHI welcomes visitors from all over the world to the Walter Soboleff building and hosts cultural events and celebrations in their Shuká. Hit the clan house. An underground archive space houses historical and cultural material documenting Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages, cultures and histories.
A sacred Chilkat robe is one of the objects in the archives.
According to Marina La Salle, director of the culture and history department, the dress’s age is difficult to discern, but her staff believe it dates from the early 1800s, possibly earlier.
According to the SHI website, the “blanket is intricately woven from mountain goat wool and cedar bark. This form of weaving is very complex because the patterns are created simultaneously on both sides of the blanket.
Emily Pastore, head of archives and collections, said the dress is in a Raven design. However, SHI does not know the clan ownership of the robe, and there is no associated clan crest.
Pastore said the robe appears to be a burial item due to the frayed edges at the top where it may have been placed above a grave.
In late 2015, SHI acquired the dress from eBay seller George Blucker who bought it at a flea market near Chicago in the late 1980s.
Pastore and La Salle agreed that determining the exact providence of the robe is a difficult task. Like many objects in museum collections around the world, objects change hands several times before entering a museum.
In the case of the dress, the flea market vendor told Blucker he bought it at a real estate sale in the early 1980s. The dress was acquired by a grandfather of the estate heirs. . The grandfather had gone to the Yukon Gold Rush in the late 1800s and came home with the dress.
“It was fueling an art market,” La Salle said. “This is how he divided and separated from his story.”
La Salle said Blucker removed the dress from eBay and sold it to SHI for its reserve price once he realized the importance of the item.
When the item arrived, SHI hosted a homecoming ceremony to celebrate his return to Southeast Alaska.
Visitors to the museum can also see a U.S. government order that the Navy dropped on the village of Kake in 1869.
The US Navy shell was discovered in a tree trunk in the 1940s and stored in a private house until 2011, when it was handed over to the organized village of Kake and deactivated.
Exhibitions curator Kaila Cogdill said the Village for Kake is still awaiting an apology from the U.S. Navy for the incident. Before the pandemic, there were indications of progress towards recognition or an apology.
Additionally, the museum features stone tools, including an adze with a dark stone blade and a groove cut into the base for mounting a handle.
La Salle said the adze was an essential tool for creating carved boxes, clan houses and totem poles.
Tlingit sculptor Wayne Price used an adze to finish the walls of the clan house located inside the museum.
Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museum
Tucked away in the quiet exhibit hall of the Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museum, visitors can see what is possibly the oldest Northwest Coast basket ever found in North America: the Thorne River Basket.
Dating back 5,450 years, the basket was found in the early 1990s by an archaeologist on leave fishing in a stream bed near Prince of Wales Island.
The basket was encased in mud and found near mussel shells, which Curators believe to be the original contents of the basket.
According to Mary Irvine, responsible for museum protection and visitor services, the archaeologist had the presence of mind to use her fishing knife to cut a large lump of mud around the basket of spruce roots so that ‘it remains preserved.
“It was as fragile as it gets,” Irvine said.
Irvine said the basket was held underwater as volunteers worked with glass picks and baby vacuums to clean and preserve it. Thanks to their efforts and the addition of polyethylene glycol, the basket is now strong enough to be displayed.
Next to the original is a replica of the famous Haida weaver Delores Churchill’s basket.
Visitors to the museum can also see a fragment of moon rock collected from the Taurus-Littrow Moon Valley, the location of the Apollo 17 landing point in December 1972.
According to a plaque on display with the boulder, the coin is part of a larger boulder made up of different shapes and sizes and is “a symbol of the unity of human effort and of humanity’s hope for a future. of peace and harmony “.
The Juneau-Douglas City Museum
Located downtown near the State Capitol, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum collects artefacts from the borough.
According to Niko Sanguinetti, curator of collections and exhibits, the oldest non-rocky feature at the site is the Montana Creek fish trap.
She said that although the exact date of manufacture of the trap is unknown, estimates range from 500 to 700 years.
The basket was found in Montana Creek near the confluence of the Mendenhall River in 1989. When found, it was the first such trap to be excavated on the northwest coast.
Sanguinetti explained that a hiker spotted the basketry-style trap and reported it to the Alaska State Museum.
The trap’s location in the riverbed, surrounded by gravel and sand, suggests that it was quickly buried by a rising tide.
The quick burying, along with the iron in the ground, turned out to be accidental, as it prevented the basket from rotting.
A replica of the basket hangs above the original, giving visitors a chance to see how it worked.
Tools and petroglyphs
In addition to the fish basket, the museum houses several stone tools, including a hammer, which is several hundred years old.
Sanguinetti also shared a petroglyph that features a traditional Northwest Coast shaped line design.
She said the piece was previously part of a fireplace mantel in a house near Auke Bay. When the house was demolished, someone found the article. Last year, a relative of the person who found it donated it to the city museum.
Last Chance Mine Museum
Near the end of Basin Road, the Last Chance Mining Museum collects artifacts that reflect the mining history of the area.
Gary Gillette and his wife Renee Hughes operate the museum on behalf of the non-profit organization Gastineau Channel.
Gillette said the museum building was among the oldest items on display, as it was built in 1914.
Even older than the building is an 1888 paper program detailing Juneau’s July 4 celebrations.
Activities included music, readings and sports.
The competitions presented included the high jump and a 3-legged race. Water activities included a four-oar race and canoe races with categories for Aboriginal men and women.
The last page of the program lists the people who organized the day’s festivities.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at [email protected] or 907-308-4891.