Researchers at Cornell University and the National Park Service have identified the location of the remains of a wooden fort in Alaska – the last physical stronghold of the Tlingit against Russian colonizing forces in 1804. The journal Antiquity writes about this.
It was possible to locate the old fort using geophysical imaging and ground surveys, as well as penetrating radar. According to geographers, it was not possible to find the exact position of the fort for more than 100 years, for which it received the name “elusive”. In fact, it was called Shiskinou, which means “village fort” – on the Alaska Peninsula at the place where the mouth of the Kasda Hin River (Indian River) meets the Sitka Strait in Sitka National Historical Park.
“The fort’s exact physical location has eluded researchers for a century,” said co-author Thomas Urban, a research fellow at Cornell University. “Previous archaeological excavations have found some clues, but no one could find convincing evidence linking these clues together.”
To find Shiskinou, Urban created a network to use electromagnetic induction to determine the potential outline of the fort, and then created a small network to drag the GPR. Urban’s modern instruments echo the unusual shape of the fort’s perimeter.
“We believe that this study has provided the only conclusive evidence for the location of the fort, which is an important site in New World colonial history and an important cultural symbol of the Tlingit resistance to colonization,” Urban said.
In 1799, Russia sent a small army to Alaska to develop the fur trade, but the Tlingits successfully drove them out in 1802. Waiting for the return of the Russians, the Tlingits built a wooden fort, Shiskinou, in two years. The Tlingit received their weapons and cannons from British-American merchants.
When the Russians returned in 1804, the Tlingits held them back for five days, but failed when gunpowder, delivered to the fort from a warehouse across the Sitka Strait, exploded in a canoe. The Tlingit clans fled the Shiskinou at night through Shi (Baran Island) to Chaatla Nou, and then the Russians established a trading post in what is now Sitka.
“A large-scale study was required to conclusively rule out alternative sites for this historically and culturally significant structure,” said co-author Brynnen Carter of the National Park Service.