PETERSBURG, AK <p>The oldest evidence of people living on Duke Island is a 3500 hundred year old shell midden. A “midden” is really just a collection of trash, but for archaeologists like Martin Stanford, it can tell a lot about a civilization. </p>
<p> “One of the interesting things about shell middens is that our soils here are so acidic that normally they will dissolve any organic material like bone or cordage. But because the shell is made of calcium, that neutralizes the acidic conditions in the soil and that preserves things like bone and wood and other organic materials. So in shell middens like that we have found ground up bone harpoon points, cordage, like I mentioned before and even wooden tools.” </p>
<p>Stanford says the Duke Island midden is just one of 55 sites in the area with recognized historical significance. As an archaeologist, he says he is most excited by a network of 1500 year old fish traps. </p>
<p> “ You could see it from the air, it was just amazing. There were at least seven or eight different fish traps involved with this complex. It covered over half a mile of the tidal flats. And we were able to find a wooden stake that was associated with that fish trap that was dated to 1470 years ago.” </p>
<p>For tribal leaders who proposed the protection, the area’s significance is both concrete and spiritual. Ketchikan Indian Community Board Member Irene Dundas helped write the proposal. She says Duke Island has several high-profile burial sites, the remnants of Native villages, and many less-tangible sacred sites. </p>
<p>Those areas have specific names with specific Tlingit names that a particular clan or a kwáan used to go back and do ceremonies and rituals that their clan had done forever.” </p>
<p>Forest Service Tribal Liaison John Autrey says the new designation protects these sites, even if they are not visible landmarks. </p>
<p> “Sacredness isn’t always something you can locate and measure, touch or feel, and this allows for that.” </p>
<p>The official Forest Service language says the island is “eligible for listing as a traditional cultural property in the National Register of Historic Places.” What that means practically is that the Forest Service will consult with local tribes during the review process for proposed projects. </p>
<p> “But that doesn’t mean that a mine could not be developed on the land and that is a possibility in the future.” </p>
<p>That was Forest Service archaeologist Martin Stanford again. The Canadian mining company Quaterra has more than 100 claims on Duke Island. The company’s website says surface samples show high grade nickel and copper as well as platinum deposits. </p>
<p>KIC’s Dundas says the potential for mining was what spurred the tribal government to seek the "traditional cultural property" designation. </p>
<p> “But the TCP would not stop any of the mining. All the mining acts are very old and they’re grandfathered laws. So it would take an act of Congress to change them. But it, acquiring the TCP for Duke Island, would set up a little more boundaries and reporting to the Forest Service and how the Forest Service reports to a federally recognized tribe as a government-to-government relationship.” </p>
<p>Quaterra drilled several exploratory wells during previous summers, but is not drilling this year. In March, Quaterra’s on-the-ground partner Copper Ridge Explorations terminated its option in the claim. The company did not return calls for comment on future plans for the Island. </p>
<p>Duke Island is the only "traditional cultural property" in the Tongass National Forest and the first in Alaska. </p>