Windham Bay Petroglyphs - Passport in Time

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Windham Bay Petroglyph Documentation

Tongass National Forest, Chatham Area, Alaska, 1998
by Karen S. Iwamoto, Chatham Area Archaeologist

It was very timely indeed that we conducted this successful PIT project in Windham Bay, Alaska, to record petrogylphs. Many of the petroglyphs that had been oh-so-apparent in 1986, when I last visited the site, were barely discernible in June 1998!

Sylvia Miller, Mary Irvine, Ron Winters, and Carolynne Merrell combined to be a magnificent rock-glyph-recording team. Sitka District Archaeologist Rachel Myron and I rounded out the team for a week of recording six rocks containing a wide assortment of petroglyphs. These folks were all talented artists, and true lovers of the art. The care they took in recording these petroglyphs was very evident, with the end result being a detailed map of the site, not to mention quality sketches of the glyphs themselves.

After setting up camp, we skiffed over to the site in the late afternoon to identify the rocks containing the glyphs. To the best of my recollection there had been 10 or 12 previously identified rocks with glyphs, and this is what I was prepared to see upon our arrival at the site. That first afternoon, however, we found only three rocks with petroglyphs. I was horrified! The morning sunlight the next day showed that there were actually three more. One, however, was very difficult to discern, and we eventually dropped it from our inventory, because it was just too far gone to record with any certainty.

We started the project by systematically surveying the beach. We flagged those rocks that had any semblance of glyphs on them. Then we began to record each rock and the associated glyphs. Those with the most experience began working on the more intricate designs. There was one rock that I recalled being buried in a small stream, so we began digging Wednesday morning looking for the rock. After lunch, the afternoon sun filtering through the alder leaves showed that we had uncovered the correct rock before lunch, but we had not been able to recognize the glyphs in the morning shadows. The glyphs on this rock are distinctly different from all of the other ones on the beach. All of the others have depictions with definite humanlike facial characteristics, but the glyphs on this particular rock do not.

As we were departing the site for the last time on Friday afternoon, Sylvia Miller was hypothesizing to Ron Winters that most of these rocks were found near streams. We had been anchoring our Zodiac on the western side of a bight, and had been crossing a couple of small streams to get to the location where most of the petroglyph rocks were. Sylvia began to look just inside the treeline along the stream closest to our anchorage. Our previous surveys had not identified any petroglyphs near this stream. Her hypothesis proved correct! Sylvia found one more rock within the treeline immediately east of this small stream. The “A” team set to work; they had this rock sketched and stippled, and the site map adjusted within one hour! They worked magnificently together.

We have stippled sketches of all of the rocks that had clearly identifiable petroglyphs. Given the rapid rate of deterioration of these rocks I thought it would be best to make rubbings as well, since we rarely get over to this part of the forest. Carolynne Merrell had brought along all the necessary tools to complete a few rubbings, and a few were recorded on rice paper as well.

The trip was full of adventure, complete with sunshine in the rain forest, a small bear incident, a couple of inadvertent dips in the ocean courtesy of the FS archaeologists, and a lot of laughter. It was good for the soul, no doubt about it. And to top it all off, we were able to record a very important, rapidly disappearing resource!
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