The remains of a 700-year-old fish trap may shed some light on the history of the Tlingit Indians in southeastern Alaska.
A fisherman found the trap along an eroding bank of Montana Creek last year.A curved and fragile section of the basket trap is being kept in a plastic tub filled with water at the Alaska State Museum because it is too delicate to expose to air, which would reduce it to dust.
Root lashings on the trap disappeared before workers' eyes when exposed to the air, said Steve Henkriskon, museum collections curator.
The surging creek, a tributary of the Mendenhall River, apparently covered the trap with mud and silt hundreds of years ago. The mud cut off oxygen, helping to preserve the trap, Henrikson said.
After collaborating with several agencies and organizations, Henrikson and archaeologist Wally Olson removed one-third of the trap from the water in May. The rest remains buried under a protective layer of mud.
Recent carbon testing dated the cylindrical trap to sometime between 1270 and 1410 - more than 300 years before Russian explorer Vitus Bering came to Alaska.
The techniques Tlingits used to build the traps have been lost, said Steve Langdon, an anthropologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Jon Erlandson, an anthropology professor at the University of Oregon, said the trap has the potential to tell anthropologists how the devices were constructed. Erlandson and his wife, anthropologist Madonna Moss, formerly worked at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and have seen the trap at the museum.
He said the trap is clearly a Tlingit artifact, likely from the Auke Tlingit Indians.