Pictograph Cave 2000 - Passport in Time

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Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Rock Art Management at Pictograph Cave

Tongass National Forest, Alaska, 2000
by Terry Fifield, FS Archaeologist

Pictograph Cave 2000Pictograph Cave, located on the Tongass National Forest in an overwhelmingly beautiful setting on the outer coast of one of the Alexander Archipelago’s outermost islands, contains spectacular examples of traditional Tlingit pictographs. One of the goals of this PIT project was to bring together a variety of people interested in the rock art of southeastern Alaska. Other goals included thoroughly documenting the designs represented at the site, exploring the meaning of the designs through oral history and ethnography, and discussing the past and present importance of the site with anthropologists, archaeologists, tribal representatives, Native cultural specialists, and resource managers. Finally, we wanted to discuss how rock art sites should be managed for their protection and preservation, as well as for education and interpretation. Into this project we injected volunteerism and public participation through the PIT program and local tribal governments. In cooperation with a parallel project focused on Tlingit oral history, we videotaped the rock art recording and many of the interviews with the intention of producing an interactive DVD CD-ROM video.

Pictograph Cave 2000 RecordingThe crew for this project was selected in part because of their varied perspectives. FS participants representing the archaeological perspective included Jim Keyser, from the Pacific Northwest Region; Sue Marvin, from the Alaska Region; and myself, from the Tongass National Forest. Local tribal governments and Native American interests were represented by Jonathan Rowan, Jr., of Klawock; Debbie and Evan Head, of Craig; and Bill Demmert, professor of education at Western Washington University and a tribal elder from Klawock. Steve Langdon, professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska Anchorage and long-term ethnographic researcher in southeastern Alaska, provided a bridge between the many participants. Volunteers on the project were George Poetschat, celebrated PIT veteran from Oregon; Carolynne Merrell, rock art enthusiast from Montana; Alice Robrish, artist and sculptor from Bethesda, Maryland; and Tim Place, Bill’s boat guy, from Bellingham, Washington. The video crew, under the auspices of Sunshine Productions, was led by Margarita Borda of San Diego and included Jed Riffe and Rick Giachino of WorksInProgress, San Francisco.

Over the weekend of June 3–4, 2000, project participants arrived in Craig, on the east coast of Prince of Wales Island, by ferry and floatplane. The assembled crew plus Jim Dixon and Bill Evans, who are involved in archaeological excavation on northern Prince of Wales Island, met on Sunday at my home in the nearby village of Klawock to get acquainted. The following morning, we left from the Craig harbor for Pictograph Cave, about 25 miles to the west. Most of the crew traveled aboard the FS vessel Tongass Ranger, a 65-foot work boat. The remainder traveled in smaller crafts. Riffe, Place, and I arrived at the sandy beach below the site an hour and a half before the other boats. Riffe set up his camera on the beach to film the arrival of the other boats and their passengers, while I prepared to ferry people to shore. The day was sunny and calm, and the sea was flat—it was a beautiful day for our first landing at the site. As the crew arrived, a little after noon on Monday, Riffe captured the event on film. We then proceeded to set up the shore camp and support facilities while the first-time visitors toured the rock art inside the cave. Enthusiasm was running high, and we had our first lessons in recording and stippling that afternoon.

The weather held for the following three days, with foggy mornings giving way to sunny afternoons. The entire crew ate aboard the Tongass Ranger, enjoying Skipper Richard Guhl’s cuisine. Half of the crew slept on the beach, and the rest remained on the boat. There were many, many trips back and forth from the Tongass Ranger to shore and many surf landings. Most of us got soaked a time or two. During our daily boat trips, we saw a lot of humpback whales, a few Steller sea lions, and more eagles and puffins and cormorants than could be counted.

We accomplished most of the project’s goals. We produced a comprehensive base map for the site and recorded all of the recognizable pictographs in the cave, on stippled transparencies and on film. We recorded interpretations of and impressions about the designs on videotape. We videotaped interviews with all participants who wished to offer their views. Perhaps the most productive aspects of the week’s work were the relationships and interactions that developed among the crew members. There were a lot of opportunities for people to share their views on the work we were doing and their feelings about the site and the art.

Pictograph Cave 2000 Keyser & RobrIt was a rare experience to see two regional archaeologists in the field together. It was a pleasure to see the enthusiasm and vigor with which both Jim Keyser and Sue Marvin went to work. The cave was cold and damp, the rock art difficult to reach, and the lighting less than great, but they persevered nonetheless. We managed to dump each of them in the ocean at least once. They returned to civilization sore and damp and, I hope, satisfied with having done a great job.

I watched two video crews, driven by very different motivations, work side by side and, to all appearances, accomplish mutual goals. We found the overlapping common interest areas, with the help of Steve Langdon and Jon Rowan, and, I think, gathered a body of footage from which will come several important educational products. We laid the groundwork for a broader strategy of rock art management for Prince of Wales Island and for future documentation projects in the region. The relationships developed will, I hope, carry over into future projects.

Pictograh Cave 2000 Klawock PolePerhaps my most profound impression of the project came from watching 12-year-old Evan Head learn about his Tlingit heritage. Debbie Head, the traditional culture teacher from the Craig School District, and her son Evan spent the entire week at the site. Debbie is the niece of Bill Demmert, an elder from Klawock. It was intriguing to see Evan sit on the beach with his great-uncle and learn about this place. Bill and Steve Langdon had been good friends since the early 1970s, when Steve did his doctoral research on traditional Tlingit fishing, in Klawock and Craig. Steve also spent time with Evan, giving him a friendly anthropological view of what we were doing. Jim Keyser took the time to teach Evan about how we were recording the designs and the care that had to be taken in the process. Evan helped record some of the designs. Evan’s mom participated in the archaeological work, walked the beach, picked berries, made meals for people, and watched Evan. Debbie’s heritage is extremely important to her. From time to time I caught her watching Evan with pride and happiness showing in her eyes, because her son was learning from all these knowledgeable people about the culture she cares so much about. For me, Evan’s experience and Debbie’s happiness and pride are the heart of why we do this work.
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