Cultural Heritage Highlights

copper blade antler projectile point

Copper End Blade and Barbed Antler Projectile Point

circa 1800 AD
Accession # WRST-00213 Catalog # WRST 15669

These artifacts are part of a composite projectile point recovered from a perennial snow field. Composite projectile points were used by Dene people to hunt big game. These specific tools were likely used to hunt caribou on ice patches located high in the Wrangell Mountains. Ice patch is a common term used to describe a perennial snow field. Ice patches tend to form on leeward, north-facing slopes and are great places for caribou to be during the summer months as the cool snow provides relief from heat and insects. Ice patches provided predictable hunting locations for indigenous populations in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon and have a hunting history dating back 9,400 years. As these ice patches melt, artifacts emerge, providing archeologists with evidence of past hunting technology.

Native copper is widely distributed throughout Alaska and the Yukon Territory with most sources being concentrated in the Wrangell and St. Elias Mountains. Several different indigenous groups in south central Alaska and the southwestern Yukon used native copper, including the Ahtna, Upper Tanana, Chugach, Eyak, Tlingit, Tutchone, and Dena’ina. While many people used native copper technology, the Lower Ahtna controlled access to many of the copper sources and developed extensive trade networks with neighboring groups. Records indicate that copper was used in the region since at least 1,000 AD, with recent research suggesting that the oldest evidence of copper use may be from the Wrangell and St. Elias Mountains.

To learn more about the highlighted artifacts and the use of copper, read the articles:

obsidian flakes

Obsidian Flakes

Accession # WRST-00110 Catalog # WRST 7726

Many ancestral artifacts found in the park are stone tools. Stone tools have been used in the area since people came to the Americas prior to 14,000 years ago. Stone preserves well, it is durable and resists decay unlike organic substances such as wood or animal products. Typically, a stone tool is made by knocking smaller pieces off a larger rock in a process called flintknapping. The results of this process are distinctive to the trained eye; there are almost no natural forces capable of breaking stone in this manner. Most stone tools are made of fine-grained rocks. In the Wrangell Mountains obsidian, basalt, and chert are common.

More common than stone tools are the by-product of their manufacture, often called flakes or debitage. The flakes pictured are manufactured out of obsidian from Wiki Peak, located in the Nutzotin Mountains, and are as sharp as broken glass. Tell-tale attributes of flakes are a striking platform and a bulb of percussion. Even after thousands of years, flakes will have these attributes which differentiate artifacts from regular pieces of shattered rock. A striking platform is indicative of where the maker struck the stone and will often appears dull or pitted. The bulb of percussion is the result of the flake breaking away due to blunt force. These often appear faintly S-shaped in profile and may have a noticeable ripple emanating out. Making a single stone tool can result in the production of hundreds of waste flakes. Flakes are more common than tools and they are often the first or only items found at an archaeological site. Sometimes flakes are used as expedient tools and will exhibit use-wear which often looks like tiny chips along an edge.

For more info:

Black and white sepia vintage photo of Kennecott town with clouds below over the glacier and words on the image, Jumbo Mine Above the Clouds.
WRST 24467 - Vintage photograph of Jumbo Mine, printed on image, ‘Above The Clouds, Jumbo Mine, Baxter, Jumbo’. Structures in foreground and mountains in background. Cataloged to the museum collection in 2019; donated by Erin Moore.

Jumbo Mine, Above The Clouds

Accession # WRST-00503 Catalog # WRST 24467

The Jumbo Mine is one of several locations where minerals were unearthed during the historic heyday of copper mining in the area now designated as the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark (NHL). Other historic mines in the NHL include the Bonanza, Glacier, and Erie Mines. Collectively, these mine camps were the key linkages between ore production and ore processing functions at Kennecott. Raw copper ore was raised to the surface at the mine camps and transferred to the mill via aerial tramways where the ore was concentrated and then shipped to the smelters and world markets. Jumbo Mine was in operation from 1913 until the Kennecott Corporation abandoned the mines in 1938. From 1911 to 1938, nearly $200 million worth of copper was processed at Kennecott.

Historic photographs like this one were produced on autographic film, an invention launched by Kodak in 1914. This picture probably was taken on a No. 2 Folding Kodak Brownie camera, a very popular camera at the time. Kodak sold more than half a million Brownie cameras between 1915 and 1926. Autographic film allowed the photographer to inscribe written information on the film at the time of exposure. All autographic roll film was labeled with an “A” (e.g., standard 120 film would be labeled “122” and autographic film would be labeled “A122”). Beginning in 1915, Kodak began selling autographic backs as an upgrade option for their existing cameras. The autographic process became unpopular in the 1920s and was discontinued in 1932.

For more information on the mines at Kennecott visit the NPS website at:

For more information about the history of cameras and photography see:

hard hat and carbine lamp 1930
Hard hat and carbide lamp 1930.

NPS/Rachel Heckerman, Photo Intern

Hard Hat and Carbide Lamp

circa 1930
Accession # WRST-00504 Catalog # WRST 24480

The hard hat is a relatively recent advent to head protection and safety in the workplace. The first commercially available head covering developed to improve workplace safety was the “Hard Boiled Hat” patented in 1919 by the Bullard company. The image is of a Fiberglass MSA Skullgard Type K Helmet (from Crumb Gulch near Williams Peak, circa 1940) with a carbide cap lamp (found at Jumbo Mine Camp, circa 1930).

The hat was modeled from a WWI helmet called the “Doughboy” and was manufactured with steamed canvas, glue/leather, and painted black. Advancements followed this initial marvel to workplace safety. The Mine Safety Appliance Company (MSA) began producing the “Skullgard Helmet” in 1930. Early versions were made of Bakelite plastic, the world’s first entirely synthetic plastic developed by Belgium chemist Leo Baekeland. Bullard developed the first aluminum hard hat in 1938 and in the 1940s both companies shifted to fiberglass construction. Thermoplastics replaced fiberglass in the 1950-1960s and remains the most common material used in hard hat design today.

Carbide lamps were invented in the early 1900s and replaced the oil wick lamp and candle as a means of lighting mine tunnels in non-gaseous mines. Carbide lamps used acetylene gas to power the flame. The lamps had two chambers, an upper full of water and a lower with calcium carbide. When water from the upper chamber dripped onto the calcium carbide, acetylene gas formed, and ignited to produce flame. The amount of water dripped controlled the flame and a built-in reflector allowed the miner to control the direction of light. Carbide lamps were largely replaced by the electric battery powered lamp in the 1930s.

Check out these websites for more information on the history of hard hats and carbide lamps:

Atlas Blasting Machine, circa 1960s
Atlas Blasting Machine, circa 1960s

NPS/Rachel Heckerman, Photo Intern

Atlas Blasting Machine

circa 1960s
Accession # WRST-00504 Catalog # WRST 24479

The blasting machine was developed in the late 1800s and was commonly used in mining activities until the 1970s. A blasting machine is a portable device used to generate electric current to fire a blasting cap, which in turn detonates an explosive charge. The advent of the blasting machine and blasting cap allowed for the use of electric current to detonate explosives in field applications.

The Atlas Blasting Machine was first patented by George Haddow in 1920 for the Atlas Powder Company. The Atlas Powder Company changed its name to Atlas Chemical Industries in 1961. This object is thought to have been owned by the Geneva Pacific Corporation. It was collected by a person who wished to remain anonymous and later turned in to NPS staff in the 1990’s. The historic item was cataloged in the Wrangell-St. Elias museum collection in 2019.

The Geneva Pacific Corporation mined in the Glacier Creek/Chitistone drainages during the 1960s and 1970s. The company purchased numerous claims, including the world-famous Binocular Prospect from Martin Radovan, a miner who lived and worked in the Glacier Creek drainage from the late 1920s to 1974. During this time, he also discovered and staked two other prospects in the cirque which bears his name, and built a substantial camp on the banks of Glacier Creek near the mouth of Radovan Gulch. To learn more about Martin Radovan and the famed story of the Binocular Prospect, read Tunnel Vision: The Life of a Copper Prospector in the Nizina River Country written by Katherine Johnson Ringsmuth and published by the National Park Service in 2012.

Last updated: January 30, 2023

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
PO Box 439
Mile 106.8 Richardson Highway

Copper Center, AK 99573


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