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5 November 2003
Documentation of ancient Alaskan hunting grounds

The potential of the Tangle Lakes region of Alaska (USA) as a source of platinum, nickel, copper and other metals has led a state agency to undertake urgent documentation of hundreds of known archaeological sites. In the summer of 2003 the Alaskan Office of History and Archaeology began the first of a two-season special project. There have been new finds of prehistoric arrows thought to be up to 1,300 years old, and flakes from even older stone tools. The significance of the region stems from the herds of caribou that have been hunted for perhaps 10,000 years, down to the present day – one site has yielded a prehistoric barbed antler point alongside a modern rifle shell. “People in the past used the area seasonally, most probably for hunting as well as berry picking, but especially for hunting caribou,” says archaeologist Richard VanderHoek. The ancient peoples, Athabascans and others, were all hunter-gatherer populations.
     In January 2003 the Federal Bureau of Land Management transferred more than 200,000 acres in the Tangle Lake region to the state of Alaska. Known as the Denai Block, this land includes part of the Tangle Lakes Archaeological District, formed a number of years ago. “There is an increasing push to get this property transferred (and documented) because there appears to be a large ore body – minerals – in the region,” says VanderHoek. Because of the mineral potential, the state Legislature has allocated money for a permanent position to administer the region, together with funding for VanderHoek’s own post, which will last through the two year life of the special project.
     A number of mining companies have sub-surface rights in the region. So far exploratory drilling has found no economically recoverable deposits, but more than $10 million has been spent over the past 10 years, indicating some encouraging results.
     Another challenge for the administration is to restrict off-road vehicles to the few defined trails within the archaeological district. Hunters in off-road vehicles have been using the region for years, causing erosion and destruction to archaeological sites that are shallowly buried beneath the very thin topsoil cover.

Source: Anchorage Daily News (29th October 2003)

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