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A Journey to a New Land

Sea Mammals
Post secondary Level Resources

On Your Knees Cave

On Your Knees Cave (49-PET-408) is an important paleontological and archaeological site located on Prince of Wales Island in the Alexander Archipelago off the coast of southeastern Alaska.

The paleontological evidence recovered from On Your Knees Cave and other caves on the island includes the fossil remains of both black and brown bears. These remains were dated to both before and after the last glaciation. Comparisons of the DNA of modern bears with that of the fossilized remains has led researchers to conclude that brown bears have been inhabiting the islands continuously for 40,000 years. This evidence indicates, therefore, that habitable refugia must have existed in this region throughout the last glaciation.

Archaeological evidence for the presence of humans along the Alaska coast has also been found at On Your Knees Cave. A bone tool, possibly an awl or a punch, found at the site has been dated to 10,300 ± 50 years BP. Human remains dated to about 9200 years BP were also found, along with several types of stone tools including microblades and bifaces. Isotope analysis of the human bone indicated a diet based largely on marine resources such as fish and shellfish. The stone tools were made of obsidian that was traced to a source on Mount Edziza in British Columbia.

This archaeological evidence indicates that the people who were living on the island by 9200 years BP had established trade networks for obsidian, relied on marine resources for food, and were almost certainly using some form of watercraft for travel between the islands of the archipelago and the mainland.

Further Reading:

Heaton, T. H.
1996 An Ice Age Refugium for Large Mammals in the Alexander Archipelago, Southeast Alaska. Quaternary Research 46:186 - 192.

Dixon, E. J., T. H. Heaton, T. E. Fifield, T. D. Hamilton, D. E. Putnam and F. Grady
1997 Late Quaternary Regional Geoarchaeology of Southeast Alaska Karst: A Progress Report. Geoarchaeology 12(6):689-712.