Our Submerged Past: Exploring Inundated Late Pleistocene (10,600 - 17,000 years ago) Caves in Southeast Alaska with Sunfish
May 15-June 4, 2022 / May 24-June 10, 2023
Our Submerged Past: An Internship Experience
From May 24 to June 11, 2023, Taylor Heaton worked with the Our Submerged Past: Exploring Inundated Late Pleistocene (10,600 - 17,000 years ago) Caves in Southeast Alaska expedition team as an intern with the Sealaska Heritage Institute. Read her first-hand account about joining the search for proof of past life in underwater caves in the archipelago off the coast of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.
As an intern with the Sealaska Heritage Institute, my main duties included helping transport and move equipment, recording sediment cores and bagging samples, ensuring sediment core operations went smoothly, and presenting sediment core information during community demonstrations. Through the internship, I learned a multitude of things that weren’t necessarily intended for me to learn. Being around such an accomplished and intelligent team taught me so much. Each team member was like a mentor in a different way. Learning about their lives and careers was priceless; the best wisdom and knowledge comes from those who want to share with you, and they did not fall short in doing so.
Boating around the area and observing its beauty and history kept me sufficiently happy; there are scant places more beautiful on this green Earth than Southeast Alaska. But learning about cave history and a past discovery made in 1996 of ancient human remains that belonged to a young Native man was the cherry on top. Funny enough, this famous discovery in On Your Knees Cave was made by a paleontologist with the same surname as me! Despite the many times I have been asked, we are not related, to my knowledge.
It was an honor to be a part of a research project that aims to find older, never-before-discovered evidence of Tlingit presence in Southeast Alaska. Although our presence does not need to be proved because we know our own history, it was still extremely interesting to work on investigating our history via modern scientific methods.
My favorite part of the internship were our community demonstrations in Craig and Klawock, Alaska. While we were based out of Klawock during the fieldwork, we spent most of our busy days on the boat, captained by the knowledgeable Klawock native, Roby Medina. The demonstrations were on our last day of the project, and it was our prime opportunity to engage with the local communities. Because they are small towns, word got around that there was a “robot team” staying with Roby for research. Because of the grapevine, Facebook sharing, and posters hung around town, we had a fruitful turnout at the demonstrations, with folk coming from Naukati Bay, Thorne Bay, and Hollis.
I loved being able to connect with the locals about the purpose of the project and our methods of obtaining data and information. In return, the attendees shared their knowledge and stories with the team. Everyone from young children in school to retired U.S. Forest Service officers shared their time and knowledge with us. It was an incredible experience to share time with both the research team and the people of Prince of Wale Island.
By Taylor Heaton, Sealaska Heritage Institute Intern
Published August 9, 2023