Site of 19th Century Tlingit Fort Found in Alaska

It was at the center of an 1804 battle with Russian forces

Sitka in the present day.
National Park Service

In the early 19th century, the Tlingit defended their homes in present-day Alaska from Russia’s colonial incursions. Much has been written about the battles fought in 1802 and 1804, the latter of which found the Tlingit establishing a fort called Shís’gi Noow — which, translated, means “Sapling Fort.” The fort proved crucial to the Tlingit defeating the Russian forces in a battle in early October, 1804.

The history of Sapling Fort and the battle fought there has been written about before, but the actual structure has been lost to history. Or at least that was the case until recently; now, however, the location of this historically important site has been discovered. Writing at Ars Technica, Kiona N. Smith details the process by which it was uncovered — and, unsurprisingly, it involved ground-penetrating radar, something that’s been helping scientists find lost sites around the world.

Thomas Urban, an archaeologist at Cornell University, was involved with the effort to search the coastline for traces of the fort. Eventually, they discovered a structure in the shape of a trapezoid which matched accounts from both sides in the battle regarding the fort’s shape. According to the article, this is the culmination of a search that began in 1910.

The work done by Urban and his colleagues also lines up with an archaeological survey conducted in 1958. Via electromagnetic induction, the scientists also discovered metal debris near the site — likely more traces of a battle fought over 200 years ago and still studied today.

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