May 2014 - Footprints on the Land

May 05, 2014 Posted by: Kathryn Myers
May's Object of the Month is a micro-blade core found near Lower Twin Lake which dates from around 12,000 - 9,500 years Before Present (BP). Is it the oldest object in the collections? Was it found at the oldest archaeology site in the park? These are hard questions to answer - for one thing, we don't know all there is to know about our park yet, and for another, it depends! Fuzzy answers? Yes. Here's a little bit more to explain...

We know that ice retreated from the Lake Clark basin around 14,000BP. We also know based on pollen analysis from sediment cores that vegetation became established in the park around 12,000 to 11,000 BP. We have evidence that people have been in the region for more than 11,000 years, indicating that they moved in very soon after the glaciers retreated. The earliest radiocarbon dates we have are from an archaeological site near what is today named Two Lakes. The dates from this site indicate that people were living here between 8,817 and 11,743 years BP. Although there was lots of lithic material found at this site as a result of stone tool making, there were no diagnostic artifacts found. A diagnostic artifact is one that is indicative of a particular time period or cultural group.   


Seen here is a micro-blade core made out of a beautiful peachy chert from the site west of Lower Twin Lake. The arrow points to the direction the micro-blades were struck off of this core. Can you see the long, thin scars left on the core?The micro-blade core shown here is among the oldest diagnostic artifacts we've found in the park to date. Made out of a beautiful peachy chert, it is one of several found to the west of what is now known as Lower Twin Lake.  Micro-blades are a specialized stone blades made from silica-rich stones like chert, quartz, or obsidian that are that are at least twice as long as they are wide. The artifact you see here is not the blade itself, but the stone, or core, from which the blades were manufactured.  Notice that this core is wedge-shaped. Based on this distinctive shape, archaeologists have determined it and the others found near Lower Twin fit into a cultural tradition known as the Early Beringian/Denali Complex, which dates from around 12,000 - 9500BP. 

The catch with these micro-blade cores is that there was no datable charcoal associated with them. Fortunately, they are distinctive enough to be identifiable even from small samples without associated charcoal. The lack of a site in the park with BOTH old radio carbon dates AND diagnostic artifacts is not surprising. Although Lake Clark has had several large-scale archaeology surveys, only about 5,229 acres have been surveyed at the reconnaissance level—this is just 0.14% of our park's 4 million acres. We have a lot more work to do!  As one Dena'ina elder states, "Our ancestor's footprints are all
over the land, from the mountains to the sea."

These micro-blades cores tell us a great deal about the people who lived near Lower Twin Lake long ago. We know they were focused on hunting large, mobile game, presumably caribou and other land-based animals, because micro-blades like those made from this core this were often used to make composite tools. For example, a spear point could be fashioned by inserting several micro-blades into a groove cut into wood or bone. Those types of slotted bone points have been found in the Lime Hills, not far to the west of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.  The fact that many of the micro-blades found at Twin Lakes are made of high quality chert that is not typical of the fine-grained igneous material commonly seen in the park and preserve suggests that the people who lived at these sites were highly mobile or engaged in a wide trading network.  

As Brian Fagan writes in Where We Found a Whale, "We have only a mosaic of oral traditions, ethnographic studies, and archeological sites to tell their stories, but we know enough of them to be in awe of their ingenuity, brilliant innovations, and opportunism."  Each artifact we find and study hints at another side of the story of those who lived before us. To learn more about the history of the people in the park, check out Where We Found a Whale: A History of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

The little red dot is a National Park Service archaeologist surveying near Twin Lakes in 2002.


2 Comments Comments icon

  1. September 25, 2014 at 11:56

    Hi Michael, Thanks for your comment. You are right, artifacts can tell us a lot about the people that lived in the area where they are found, and it is fascinating to think of what people thought of the landscape hundreds and thousands of years ago. Thank you for not removing the artifacts you found from their locations. Those that are taken forever alter an archaeological site--a non-renewable resource. Archaeologists may or may not know of the sites you come across. Additionally, artifacts taken for private collections are lost to history. The information they contain cannot be shared with Native people, the scientific community, or the public. In the future, you can take a photo and a GPS reading. Leave the artifact in place, but share the data you gathered with an archaeologist, who can work with the landowner to document its precise location and preserve it. Under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979, it is illegal to dig in, or to take, purchase, sell, receive, or transport materials from a site on federal and without a permit. Similar laws protect state and private lands, and Native American burials. For more information, please go here:

  2. September 14, 2014 at 09:09

    Having found chippers and partially formed blades miles from their volcanic sources in the past, I am curious as to what should be done when finding them. Since I had always thought that far more was known about these objects , believed they had already been discovered and picked through (I remember people with collections that astonished me), I had realizatons that they were carried to places with beautiful views, warm springs, and possible camps, I entertained beliefs that possibly the point-makers were as uplifted by their surroundings when found in places of particular beauty. Rarely did I carry something away - perhaps a chipper that perfectly fit my hand. Should we attempt to alert anyone when we find such things? Mostly I just pick them up and leave them after inspecting. Haven't been to these places in many years, but unlike the garbage that invading miners spread about, I feel that an intrinsic value exists in the shards, telling us something important about those who passed and paused long ago.

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