Archaeologists found answers to how shipwrecked sailors survived in 1813 in Alaska during the harsh winters of January with little to nothing that would help them on unfamiliar grounds. For nearly one month, they were able to live off the land and survive the freezing cold after their ship violently hit rocks and fell to the waters near Kruzof Island.
In 1812, frigate Neva belonging to the Russian-American Company set sail from Okhotsk, Russia with 75 people on board to deliver the shipment of furs and guns. For three months, they endured sickness on board and harsh storms that claimed the lives of 15 of their crew members, damaging the ship and forcing them to push toward Sitka.
Just a few miles from their destination, Neva hit rocks and collapsed into the cold waters in January 1813, with only 28 survivors managing to make their way to the deserted shores of what is today Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. They had little but their own knowledge and bits of wreckage from the early 19th century ship to survive until rescue.
In spite of all odds, only two of them perished before they were saved, meaning that the rest 26 used scraps of copper and whatever they could find to resist the cruel conditions of the Alaskan shore in the middle of winter.
According to Dave McMahan, an archaeologist who is part of the Sitka Historical Society and took part in the excavations, the artifacts left behind are now offering an exceptional insight into the “adaptation that allowed them to await rescue in a frigid, unfamiliar environment” for almost one full month.
Researchers found a collection of items that were shifted from their initial use in order provide the survivors tools for living in the dead of winter. The collection found at the over 200 year old campsite featured gun flints that crewmembers used to build fires, withered down musket balls, modified sheet copper and copper spikes, iron, a Russian axe, and a fishhook made from copper.
The ingenuity, whether born out of desperation or extensive survival skills, is an excellent display of the crew’s ability to keep themselves alive with very little by using what scrap pieces they could find.
Researchers have been searching for records for two years, and have finally managed to find the campsite of the Neva survivors, but due to the fact that the grounds are significant to the Tlingit people of Sitka, they have not dug around too deeply for bodies.
However, they plan on continuing their research, and hopefully find the wreckage within the waters, along with possibly more artifacts that washed up on shore and used by survivors .
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