• Winter light on the Fairweather Range

    Glacier Bay

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

Early Peoples

Tlingit village drawing
Tlingit fishing camp
Tlingit tree carving

Tlingit tree carving

Early Peoples
Lt. Whidbey was not the first to see Glacier Bay. His record includes mention of the natives who paddled out in their canoes from what is now Pt. Carolus to meet his boats and offer to trade. Were these descendents of the people who once lived in the Bay but were forced out by the advancing glacier? Tlingit oral history is corroborated by modern science -- it appears that lower Glacier Bay was habitable for many centuries up until about 300 years ago, when a final glacial surge would have forced the human habitants to flee their homeland. A rich oral tradition and detailed place names speak volumes of the history of the area.

How long they might have been there is unknown. There were people living over 9,000 years ago at nearby Groundhog Bay, but we may never know who they were. A site on Baranof Island shows that people with an unmistakable northwest coast culture have been in the region for at least the last 3,000 years.

Even as Glacier Bay itself lay encased in ice, native people carried on their activities in many places along the nearby coast, places that may have been free of ice for as long as 13,000 years. The oldest known site in Glacier Bay National Park, located in Dundas Bay, is about 800 years old. Natives were at Lituya Bay, on the park's wild outer coast, to greet Lapérouse in 1786. Although a series of earthquake-triggered tidal waves, the latest in 1959, devastated most of the shoreline of Lituya Bay, a pocket of undisturbed forest still harbors archeological evidence of their life there.

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