Collections from Alaska National Parks

National Park Service, Centennial One Object Exhibit

In celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, this exhibit showcases one object from every national park museum collection in Alaska. We invite you to explore museum collections from Alagnak Wild River, Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, Alaska Regional Curatorial Center, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Cape Krusensteern National Monument, Denali National Park and Preserve, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Kenai Fjords National Park, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Kobuk Valley National Park, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Noatak National Preserve, Sitka National Historical Park, Western Artic National Parklands, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

This lanceolate stemmed point was chosen to showcase the skill and artistry of past residents of the area, their adaptive re-use of objects, and their selection of strong and beautiful lithic materials for stone tools. Like a majority of the museum collections from the Alagnak Wild River, this object is archeological. It was excavated from an eroding prehistoric village site along the Alagnak Wild River, which meanders through a unique landscape of open tundra, spruce forests, and dramatic canyon walls in Southwestern Alaska. With barbed shoulders, a contracting stem, and a convex base, it is very similar to stemmed points from the Brooks River Falls Phase. Based on this distinctive shape, it dates from 1350-900 BP.

Alagnak Wild River, ALAG 507

This bone projectile point was excavated from a large prehistoric village and midden along the coast of Aniakchak. It has four unilateral barbs: three large barbs and one small barb at the tip. Unlike most dart points, it does not appear to have a hole in the base for line to go through, although the base may be incomplete or have been reshaped after a break. Alternatively, line could have been wrapped around the point base or it could have been part of a fishing spear due to its large size.

Aniakchak National Monument, ANIA 1232

Alaska Native people on the Seward Peninsula have harvested foods directly from the land and sea, such as berries, fish, seals, and caribou, for thousands of years. In the late 1800s, caribou numbers declined and reindeer herding was introduced as a supplemental food option through the establishment of the Reindeer Herder Program. Today, some of the cabins and corrals, once frequently used by herders, are slowly decaying into the tundra. It is still possible to hear the clank-clank of a reindeer bell in Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, the only national park unit that permits reindeer herding as part of the park's enabling legislation.

Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, BELA 14583

This ivory carving of a walrus with a detachable extra head may have been used as a paper weight, with the hole used as a pen holder, or it might have been a desktop flag stand. This object demonstrates how traditional crafts in Alaska were adopted to the tourist trade in the 20th Century. Alaskan natives frequently honor the creatures they depend on for subsistence in their ivory carvings, which decorate their personal belongings as well as being beautiful, whimsical, and useful objects for sale or for gifts.

Alaska Regional Curatorial Center, ARCC 298

More than 100 beach ridges along 70 miles of shoreline on the Chukchi Sea provide evidence of human use for 5,000 years, and the Inupiat continue to use the area today. Human occupation of the cape spans numerous cultural traditions and changes in subsistence, settlement, and socio-economic organization that occurred throughout the region. The Chukchi Sea provided marine mammals, including seals and whales, and the artic terrain provided terrestrial resources.

This miniature harpoon head pendant of antler with a brass inset blade demonstrates the rich resources of both land and sea around Cape Krusenstern.

Cape Krusenstern National Monument, CAKR 8725

This is a pair of heavy, galvanized, sheet metal crampons for climbing boots with points on the bottom and slotted uprights for boot straps on top. The front and back sections are hinged so as to bend with the boot. The homemade crampons were left on the Muldrow Glacier on Mount McKinley by members of the 1910 Sourdough Expedition. They were found and recovered by the Lindley-Liek Expedition in 1932. Condition note: Two rivets for the strip attaching front and back sections of the right crampon are missing.

Denali is North America's highest mountain, and mountain climbing has become a part of the park's identity. These crampons signify the self-reliance of making your own stuff and reflect Denali's spirit of adventure. The crampons survived against the odds and draw meaning from the Gold Rush, the dramatic landscape and speaks to that adventurer's spirit. Denali is about climbing and exploring, and this piece best represents that feeling.

In November 1909, in Fairbanks, Alaska, four gold miners, Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Charley McGonagall, and Bill Taylor, set out to be the first to climb Mount McKinley to win a bet., and to disprove explorer Frederick Cook's claim that he had summited Mount McKinley in 1906. The trip began in December 1909 as the group left Fairbanks with their horses, mule, and dog teams. McGonagall's prospecting experiences near Cache Creek at the base of Mount McKinley had discovered a pass overlooking the vast glacier. This pass would be a door to the summit. Anderson had pioneered a shortcut from Broad Pass to the Kantishna, over the Alaska Range, and had developed expertise in glacier travel. All of them knew cold, snow, and daily hardship.

On April 3, 1910, the group, minus Lloyd, set out to reach the summit. With a bag of doughnuts, three thermoses of hot chocolate, some caribou meat, and a 14-foot spruce pole, they became the first party to summit the 19,470-foot north peak of Mount McKinley (Denali). They became known as the Sourdough Expedition, and had met the challenge of climbing with what is considered rudimentary gear and no technical climbing experience. In 1913, the Hudson-Stuck climbing party saw the spruce pole when they summited the south peak and verified that the Sourdough Expedition had summited the north peak. In 1916, the route the Sourdough Expedition used would become McGonagall Pass, a climbing route still popularly used today by hikers, backpackers and climbers.

Denali National Park and Preserve, DENA 405a and b

This hide scraper represents ideals central to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, particularly continuity of indigenous lifeways and traditional knowledge, including the use of local materials. Collected by Robert Marshall during his time in the village of Wiseman in the early 1930s, it is also connected to the Bob Marshall legacy, especially his appreciation for the native cultures. The handle, ergonomically shaped to better fit the user's hand, is carved from spruce and has been adorned with the owner's marks. The bit was knapped from obsidian from the Batza Tena source, roughly 130 miles away.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, GAAR 2

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska is known for one of the most rapid post-Little Ice Age glacial retreats on earth. Scientific interest in Glacier Bay began in the latter part of the 19th century, well before President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the area a National Monument in 1925.

By the 1880s, several eminent scientists, including George F. Wright, John Muir, William S. Cooper, and Harry Fielding Reid, were regular visitors to Glacier Bay. In 1890, Reid established 31 photographic monitoring stations located at strategic points overlooking the bay’s principal glaciers. The young, inexperienced Harvard graduate William O. Field, Jr. took up the work of recording changes in these glaciers from 1926 until 1974. Braving the bay’s notoriously cold, soggy weather, navigating small boats through ice-choked fjords, and hiking miles over rocky terrain, Dr. Field carried this large format Graflex camera to each of the 31 photo stations to maintain an unbroken photographic record of glacial movements and the colonization of the first plants on newly exposed land.

NPS rangers, naturalists, and biologists of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve continued the 100 year record of glacial and landscape change under Dr. Field’s direction until 1994. The venerable Graflex camera was “retired” in the 1980s in favor of smaller, more convenient 35mm camera formats and film.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, GLBA 6822

To many, Brooks River is the Heart of Katmai National Park and Preserve. It is the home of many of Katmai's famous brown bears, the gateway to the geologically significant Valley of 10,000 Smokes, and the spot for blue ribbon rainbow trout. What many visitors may not know is that this area is also a National Historic Landmark and an Archeological District consisting of 20 different prehistoric sites. People have made their homes along the Brooks River for at least 4,500 years, and many Alaska Native people with ties to the Katmai area consider the prehistoric Brooks River residents their ancestors. From 2002-2003, working with the Council of Katmai Descendants, NPS archeologists partially excavated one of these sites in an attempt to learn more before sections were lost to erosion. Some of the artifacts found were delicately incised pebbles. All of these local pebbles have intricate designs on them. While the designs are of a similar style, no two are exactly the same. While it is impossible to postulate what design elements such as arcs, clusters, lines, dots, triangles and tree like patterns might mean, archeologists have suggested they could represent facial features, or clothing and personal adornment. It is also possible these designs are not anthropomorphic at all, but rather part of a counting or tallying system, or represent mythical or magical creatures. Along the same lines, function of these pebbles is impossible to determine. They do not appear to be tools, so perhaps they were either a ceremonial function or game pieces. Hundreds of these artifacts have been recovered in Kodiak and in Aniakchak National Monumen--while the designs in the Kodiak and Aniakchak pebbles have different elements, they are similar, suggesting a similar function. These similarities suggest a past connection between these groups of people.

Katmai National Park, KATM 41753

The Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) people who occupied the Kenai Fjords Coast used oil lamps in their homes to provide light. The lamps were shaped from stone and filled with seal or whale oil.

Kenai Fjords, KEFJ 12244

During the winters of 1897-1898, thousands of men and women arrived in the twin ports of Skagway and Dyea during the winter and crossed the parallel Chilkoot and White Pass trails into Canada to reach the Klondike gold fields. Ice creepers, also known as crampons, were an essential piece of gear during the Klondike Gold Rush. The gold seekers, commonly nicknamed Stampeders, were required to carry a year's worth of supplies to receive permission to cross the Canadian border. Hauling their goods was easier in the winter since the ice and snow allowed Stampeders to use sleds, pulled either by themselves or by dogs. Stampeders' ice creepers were usually hand-made by blacksmiths who set up shop in the boom towns that sprung up around Skagway and Dyea's harbors. The area is still known for its icy winters and today's residents use modern versions of these historic objects for their safety and comfort.

Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, KLGO 55082

William S. Blood Sketch Book containing 8 pages of meticulous pencil drawings.

William Blood, a young man from Nottingham, Ohio, was one of many men who traveled to Kotzebue Sound in the late 1800s to go prospecting up the Kobuk River. His first diary entry is dated May 19, 1898, when the schooner he was a passenger on was towed from the wharf in Seattle and he set off on his journey. The last entry is on May 26, 1899, a day when the river was clear of ice and the weather was fine. Blood's excellent sketch book drawings depict Alaska Natives and their clothing, personal adornment, hunting tools, and means of transportation, providing us with valuable information about everyday life in Northwest Alaska.

Kobuk Valley National Park, KOVA 10165

This backpack is a commercial pack frame that was heavily modified by Richard Proenneke over the thirty years he lived at Twin Lakes. He used it to haul a wide variety of things including axes, wood, antlers, fishing gear, stones, animal meat and hides, and garbage. Proenneke, Lake Clark’s most famous resident, is an icon of wilderness values and an inspiration to those who value simplicity, a direct connection with nature, self-reliance, and ingenuity.

In 1967, Proenneke began crafting what would become his cabin and wilderness home for the next thirty years at Twin Lakes. He brought a desire to know the wilderness around him,and with tireless travels on foot and by canoe he did just that. His pack frame, which traveled with him across Lake Clark country, is a symbol of Proenneke’s affinity and care for the land and its creatures which, along with his photos and journals, played an early and important role in the wilderness movement in Alaska and the United States.

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, LACL 5162

Noatak National Preserve lies above the Arctic Circle and has been home to people for well over 11,000 years. The Inupiaq peoples of the upper Noatak region have provided opportunities to study the cultural ecology of the Nuataaqmiut homeland and the development of some of the earliest New World cultural adaptations. This brown chert stemmed projectile point from the Lake Kaiyak area is a fine example of the archeological material collected in the preserve.

Noatak National Preserve, NOAT 5855

The Tlingit people are renowned for their fine workmanship in wood carving. While totem poles are perhaps the largest and most well-known of their carving feats, Tlingit carvers also focus artistic efforts on ceremonial objects such as staffs, masks, rattles, and bowls.

Possibly made before Europeans reached Alaska more than 200 years ago, this Tlingit feast bowl would have held food at a potlatch. It is made of steamed, folded wood and decorated with intricate carving, paint and inlaid opercula. Potlatch feast dishes were made of tasteless, odorless alder; however, the bottom of this bowl is made of a cedar plank secured with strong spruce root, suggesting that it may not be the original base. The sculptural elements and asymmetric designs add to this bowl's uniqueness.

Sitka National Historic Park, SITK 3952

Radiocarbon dated to 550+-20 years old, this composite arrow was recovered from a melting ice patch at an elevation of 6600 feet above sea level. Ice and snow patches are attractive to sheep and caribou in the summer to help them cool off and avoid mosquitos and flies. Hunters exploited this by targeting them at these locations. This arrow demonstrates the technological complexity of the traditional Ahtna people of the area. The Ahtna were renowned for their copper technology and trading, and the search for copper later drove Russian and American exploration of the region. The copper end blade and antler arrow point are currently on display at the C'ek 'aedi Hwnax, the Ahtna Cultural Center located on the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve headquarters campus.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, WRST 15668

This object was collected from the mining office at Coal Creek Camp. It represents the earliest days of the Gold Placers, Inc. industrial placer gold dredge mining operation in the Coal Creek Valley. Early mining efforts tried to speed up the dredging operation by thawing the permanently frozen gravels using steam. Teams of men would drive long steam pipes, with bits such as this chisel bit attached, into the ground. The technique was abandoned when it was discovered that stripping the ground with a bulldozer was more efficient.

Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, YUCH 303

Credits: Story

Park museum staff from: Alagnak Wild River, Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, Alaska Regional Curatorial Center, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Cape Krusensteern National Monument, Denali National Park and Preserve, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Kenai Fjords National Park, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Kobuk Valley National Park, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Noatak National Preserve, Sitka National Historical Park, Western Artic National Parklands, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

National Park Service, Museum Management Program Staff:
Amber Dumler
Stephen Damm
Ron Wilson
Joan Bacharach

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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