ICE AGE PALEONTOLOGY
OF SOUTHEAST ALASKA

Timothy H. Heaton
University of South Dakota

Southeast Alaska is a spectacular region of glacier-cut fjords and islands covered with dense rainforest. Its primary industries are tourism, fishing, and logging. There are few roads through the region, and travel is primarily by boat and float plane. It is also the home to Tlingit and Haida native groups, famous for their totems and their marine and forest adaptations.

Limestone areas of Southeast Alaska have developed an impressive karst topography containing many caves. In the late 1980s the Tongass Cave Project (a joint venture of the National Speleological Society and Tongass National Forest) was created to locate, explore, and survey these caves. Caving expeditions have been conducted every summer since that time. In 1990 the first vertebrate fossils were found, and a major research effort began to explore this new scientific resource.

Large-scale paleontological and archaeological excavations have been conducted on northern Prince of Wales Island, and the research is now expanding to other islands and coastal mainland areas of Southeast Alaska. The goal of this research is to establish a complete chronology of mammals, birds, and fish living in the region before, during, and following the Last Glacial Maximum, and up to the present day. This work is helping to establish the timing and extent of glaciation, the presence of Ice Age coastal refugia for land mammals, and the possibility that humans first entered North America by this coastal route.

Overview of Southeast Alaska
Caves and Karst in Southeast Alaska
Summary of Research Results
Participants and Acknowledgments

Navigation Guide

Funding for this research provided by:
      National Science Foundation
      National Geographic Society
      Tongass National Forest
      University of South Dakota
      National Speleological Society
 

© 2002 by Timothy H. Heaton