SITKA, Alaska (AP) - In late January Sitka Ranger District hydrologist Marty Becker was walking over the churned up debris of the slide area on his way to do research on the cause of the slide when he spotted an unusual looking rock, and picked it up.
“It just looked like a cool rock,” he said, and at first assumed it had been shaped by natural forces.
But as he carried it back to the other hydrologist at the site, KK Prussian of the Tongass Forest supervisor’s office, he realized how well the stone was shaped to fit in his hand,.
“As I was walking, it suddenly hit me this thing is really comfortable and took a closer look at it, realized what I thought it was, showed it to KK and got the same assumption from her,” he said.
He took it to Jay Kinsman, an archaeologist in the Sitka Ranger District, who did research and confirmed that the object was man-made — a prehistoric hammer or hand maul. He said this type of tool was common in Northwest Coast Native communities extending from the Columbia River in the south to Yakutat in the north.
In a news release Tuesday about the find, Kinsman said the tool is likely 300 to 1,200 years old. Since it was moved from its original site, where radiocarbon dating could have been used on surrounding items in the same strata, it’s hard to tell exactly how old it is. Radiocarbon dating can be used only on things that were once living.
Kinsman told the Sentinel that while T-shaped hammers are rare, this is the second one found in the Sitka area. Another one was discovered near Salmon Lake about 10 years ago.
“This tool would have likely been used for driving wedges made of a softer material such as wood, antler or sea mammal along a cedar log to split off planks,” he said in the news release.
The speckled rock, which appears to be a quartzite, shows the tiny peck marks that Kinsman said were probably made by the toolmaker as he shaped the stone. He said there are also “minor signs of damage from being churned among the soil, rocks, and trees in the landslide.”
“There are much older signs of damage to the maul likely from the time of original use,” Kinsman said. “One of the ears or tangs was broken off of this particular maul at some point in time. There are also signs of wear around the striking surface. Neither of these would have precluded use, as it appears to be fully functional today.”
“It is likely that the former owner of this maul was utilizing cedar for one of the many resources derived from it (planks) on the slopes above Starrigavin Creek. The owner would have likely cached the maul and wedges for future use rather than haul them back and forth with an already heavy load of planks.”
Kinsman said the tool, which is now in federal ownership, may be displayed in the new Sitka Ranger District offices being built on Sawmill Creek Road, or may be loaned to the Sitka Historical Society Museum.
Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, https://www.sitkasentinel.com/
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