April 16th, 2013 at 8:09 pm
“Ise is the silence language of the peak,” Conrad Aiken wrote. If so, much of southern Alaska is a mute oration made by mountains. Harding Icefield, to be linked with Kenai Fjords in one national monument, covers more than 700 square miles. With few crevasses and no heart-pounding climbs, it confers solitude on three backpackers who can Jose themselves like three commas on a blank white page.
Here are the snows of yesteryear, compressed into glaciers like the Nabesna that scour much of the eight-millionacre fastness of proposed Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The mountains descend into gentler and richer terrain. Mining and logging may cut through adjacent country that enthusiasts using online loans should also be in the Park.
Allest mountain in North America, the best-known landmark in Alaska now lies partly outside the park named for it. Designated additions would bring the entire mountain within Mount McKinley National Park, raising its acreage to just over five million.
In this view the gothic buttresses of Cathedral Spires give way to a crenellated middle ground of nameless peaks. Far beyond stands the mass of Mount Foraker. Even farther, peaking above the highest cloud layer, is McKinley—the Indians called it Denali, the Great One.
With the 1971 opening of the new park-bordering highway linking Anchorage and Fairbanks came symptoms of the Yellowstone syndrome—heavy use of a small part of a great park. Where people go, neon can follow. To forestall that, the Park Service envisions a planning and management zone outside the park where federal, native, state, and private interests can join in a development both prosperous and harmonious.
Something for all: puffins to people
No two proposals can better show the diversity of concept and purpose of Alaska’s new parklands than coastal Chukchi-Imuruk National Reserve and Lake Clark National Park. Chukchi-Imuruk will not soon attract the casual tourist. Scenic grandeur does not assault the eye, nor are accommodations grand. And yet, here the past and present of native people meld. Here lava flows and explosion craters document some of the Arctic’s most remarkable geology. And here migratory birds from nearly every continent nest or stop over. The king eider (left, above) puts clown offshore, and the tufted puffin (left), who looks like a clown, flies well enough to get the job done.
Lake Clark National Park
Bycontrast, Lake Clark would be the kind of national park most people would order a la carte from a yard-long menu of nature’s fare. Start with a seacoast, then add smoking volcanoes, alpine valleys, and spectacular mountains that in turn fall away to tundra. Season with trout, bear, moose, and sheep. And for something to drink, braided rivers (right) that pour from glaciers. Small by Alaskan standards at 2.6 million acres, the park will be a fair-size backyard for the people of Anchorage.
When Alaska’s oil runs out, as it will, the parks will remain. Then, perhaps, the last frontier and the last wilderness will become as one. The question is not will people corne, but how many and how soon.
January 17th, 2013 at 8:15 am
MUMMIFIED BODIES are nothing new to Denmark; the country’s peat bogs contain many human remains preserved by tannin in the peat. Such bodies are probably those of executed criminals or victims of murder, for they were thrown into the bogs rather than given proper burial.
The mummies from Qilakitsoq were plainly of a different sort. To begin with, they had been given proper if not elaborate burial, and, more important, there were no signs of violence on any of the bodies. Whether the eight people died together or separately is still uncertain, but several clues suggest the latter.
Our initial plan merely to conserve the bodies and clothing from Qilakitsoq gradually expanded to include analysis of all aspects of the finds. One of our first tasks at the museum was to date the remains by the carbon-14 method, and thanks to Inuit burial practices, we had ample material to test. The early Inuit believed that the journey to the Land of the Dead was long and cold, a trip that required not only warm clothing but also extra skins and furs for emergencies. Lucky travelers eventually reached Inuit heaven, where game was plentiful, but less fortunate souls ended up in hell. This region was known as the Land of the Gloomy, where the condemned sat through eternity, listlessly snapping at butterflies, the only available food.
The bodies at Qilakitsoq had been well prepared for the afterlife, dressed in heavy sealskin trousers, anoraks, and kamikshigh boots stuffed with insulating grass. Whoever buried the bodies had added extra sealskins at the top and bottom of each grave. Assuming that the two layers of skins represented the earliest and latest possible times of burial, we took samples from the skins and carbon-dated them. All results pointed to the year 1475, with a possible error of 50 years on either side.
In both graves the bodies had been placed one atop another, five in the first grave and three in the second. In the larger grave the topmost body was that of the six-month-old child, the best preserved of all the remains.
That fact is not surprising, for in the early stages of decomposition body heat is a key factor. The higher the body’s inside temperature, the greater the bacterial action and consequent breakdown of tissue. Thus, people who die with high fever tend to decompose rapidly, as do overweight people, whose insulating layer of fat retains body heat for a longer period. Children tend to decompose the most slowly, for their body volume is small compared with the skin area, providing for rapid dissipation of heat.
So well preserved was the body of the sixmonth-old child that in describing the discovery of the graves Hans GrOnvold had reported: ” . . . and then we saw a doll that had fallen to the side, a doll that turned out to be a little child.”
For purposes of identification we numbered the bodies, beginning with the child as Mummy 1 at the top of the first grave and so on down to Mummy 5 at the bottom. Similarly the bodies in the second grave were numbered 6 through 8.
Our next step was to determine the age and sex of the bodies, a process requiring several months and the help of specialists in various fields. Sex was determined either by the remains of genitals or by X-ray examination of pelvises and other bones. At a later stage we found additional evidence of the mummies’ sex in the form of facial tattoos, an adornment usually restricted to adult women among early Greenland Inuit. Ages of the bodies were determined by dental development and other physical features. In several cases the bodies were so well preserved that we were able to obtain readable prints from fingers, palms, and soles of feet.