Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Ancient fish trap to be displayed at Juneau museum


Anchorage Daily News
April 10, 2005

JUNEAU - An ancient Tlingit fish trap is moving to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum as a permanent exhibit.
The basket-style trap - estimated to be 500 to 700 years old - is made of Sitka spruce and hemlock, and held together with spruce root lashings.

It was first noticed in Montana Creek, northwest of Juneau, in 1989 and part of it was removed then so it wouldn't be washed away, said Ellen Carrlee, curator of collections and exhibits at the city museum.

The rest of the trap was carefully excavated from the creek bank in late 1991. The trap was conserved at the Alaska State Museum over the next two years, and it has remained there since, out of the public's eye.

But a state grant now has allowed the city museum to prepare the trap for display. Independent archaeologist Jon Loring, Carrlee and others have been working for two weeks to replace the ungainly metal and wood supports with unobtrusive ones that will allow viewers to see the trap.

"It was in storage all this time with this framework," Carrlee said. "Now we're making mounts to support this large, unwieldy, fragile thing without making it look like Frankenstein."

The trap had to be held rigidly in place while it dried, Loring said.

"The branches were green and flexible when it was made," he said. "If you didn't hold it rigidly in place, they would grow back to their genetic memory, to the shape they were when they were branches."

The trap will be taken Tuesday to the city museum, where preparations for display will continue for another week or two, Carrlee said.

The trap may have been used in conjunction with a stick fence in the stream, Loring said. Fish going upstream, probably Dolly Varden, would be funneled by the fence into the trap. Fishermen apparently removed the trapped fish through a door that hinged open with cords.

Such basket-style fish traps are rare finds. Presumably, they were taken out of streams when they weren't in use.
There is evidence in Southeast Alaska of at least a couple of hundred fence-style traps, commonly called weirs and often found in tidal areas, Loring said.

Marie Olson, an elder in Juneau, said Tlingits didn't know of such traps in the area until this one emerged.

"We had the fish weir with rocks and upright sticks," she said.


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