Sqilantnu Archaeological District Details

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe shares cultural knowledge through guided interpretive walks.
The Kenaitze Indian Tribe shares cultural knowledge through guided interpretive walks at the K’Beq Interpretive site located opposite the Russian River Campground entrance.‚Äč


Sqilantnu Archaeological District


Sqilantnu is the Dena’ina term that refers to the upper Kenai River area. The Sqilantnu Archaeological District contains remnants of at least 5 prehistoric cultures: American Paleoarctic at microblade sites, Notched Point culture, Riverine Kachemak, Prehistoric Dena’ina and Eskimo, and historic Dena’ina and Eskimo. For countless generations this area and its abundant resources has been the catalyst for different cultures to work together. Abundant archaeological remains of five prehistoric and at least three historic cultures, documents prehistoric and historic contacts and interactions between Dena’ina, other Athabascans, Supiaq, and, extending into historic times, between Dena’ina and Russians, and even later with American governmental agencies, fishermen, guides, and others gathering at the Russian River.


The earliest archaeological sites in the Upper Cook Inlet region have been found at Beluga Point on Turnagain Arm and along the upper Kenai River. These sites, which date to the early Holocene (geological epoch which began 11,700 years ago and continues to the present), have characteristic core and blade assemblages (Reger 1981:257, 1998:3; Pipkin 1989; Reger and Pipkin 1996:433; Yarborough 1983). Other components at Beluga Point and sites along the Kenai River contain artifacts that are reminiscent of pieces found on the Alaska Peninsula 3,500 to 4,500 years ago (Reger 1998:3-5, McMahan 1985:181).


There is a data gap separating the early to middle Holocene occupations of the region and later cultures. However, during the last millennium B.C. and the first millennium A.D., the Susitna River drainage and the interior of the Kenai Peninsula were inhabited by Pacific Eskimos who were taking advantage of the area’s rich salmon resources (Reger 1998:5-6). Reger, who has termed these people “Riverine Kachemak,” believes they were related to coastal groups of Cook Inlet and had ties to the Norton culture of Bristol Bay region. Excavations of semi-subterranean house depressions at Russian River have documented the presence of this fishing culture about 1750 to 1850 radiocarbon years ago (Corbett 1998).



The confluence is the heart of the Sqilantnu Archaeological District. It holds the densest and most diverse concentration of prehistoric archaeological remains, and has been the focus of human use for at least 6,000 years. The area extends from the first bend west of the Russian River ferry, east to the end of the Beginnings site. The North and south edges are defined by the boundaries of the Sqilantnu Archaeological District. Within the confluence area are sites representing the oldest occupations of the upper Kenai River, Riverine Kachemak, Dena’ina, and historic occupation and use by other historic Native peoples. This location can be accessed by the Russian River ferry or through the Russian River Campground.


Maintaining a Connection to “Place”

Specific actions by the Dena’ina Kenaitze Indian Tribe (KIT) have demonstrated an on-going cultural relationship with the Sqilantnu Archaeological District. In 1992 KIT created a youth culture camp called Susten, or Breaking Trail, to educate tribal youth in their history and heritage. The first project was creating a heritage trail and protecting an eroding and degraded archaeological site within the District. In the 20 years following this project Susten campers have participated fully and meaningfully, as field crews and laboratory assistants, in archaeological investigations and surveys with USDA Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service archaeologists. These have resulted in major and significant scientific discoveries. Further, KIT has developed and maintained a popular interpretive site (K’Beq) within the Sqilantnu Archaeological District to educate the public about the Dena’ina cultural heritage.


The fundamental message of KIT and Cook Inlet Regional, Inc (CIRI) has been that the traditional Native way of life has changed but the people maintain traditional values rooted in a sense of place. That place is, in part, the Sqilantnu Archaeological District. CIRI and KIT realize that tradition and archaeology are necessary to explain how ancient values are still relevant to modern people. Native people have been here a long time and are still present. In many cases they themselves do not know their history, or maintain a connection to “place”. It has become critically important to develop a sense of stewardship in the youth, to maintain that rootedness.



The K’Beq heritage site is located across the Sterling Highway opposite the entrance to the Russian River Campground.The KIT facilities include a small cabin, a boardwalk around archaeological site SEW-168, and a historic cabin relocated from the Stephanka Historic District on the lower Kenai River.


At K’Beq, Dena’ina Athabaskans share their traditions and culture with visitors through interpretive walks featuring archaeological sites and traditional plant use. Tribal interpretation highlights Dena’ina knowledge and respect for the plants and animals of Yaghanen (the good land), the Kenai Peninsula. Explore Dena’ina culture by viewing artifacts over 500 years old, their story told by descendants of those who made and used them. Throughout your visit listen for the ever-changing, endless song of the Kahtnu as it travels through the ancestral lands of the Kenaitze. Your hosts, tribal elders and youth alike, want each visitor to leave K’Beq as a Kenaitze Ida’ina (friend of the Kenaitze). 


Maintaining a sense of place unites modern Kenaitze culture with the past, demonstrating the belief that human and natural worlds are intertwined. The river and its riparian habitat, and the adjacent forests and mountains, are clearly associated with cultural beliefs and practice.


The Sqilantnu Archaeological District has been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A, as a Property of Traditional Religious and Cultural Importance, also called a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP).


Kenaitze youth map archaeological sites in partnership with USFS.
Kenaitze youth map archaeological sites in partnership with USFS.


Literature Cited

Corbett, Debra

            1998 - Riverine Kachemak on the upper Kenai River. Paper presented at the 25th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Assocation, Anchorage.

2000 - FWS and Kenaitze Tribe Russian River Excavations, 1977-2000.  Alaska  Anthropological Association Newsletter, pp. 3-5.

Kalifornsky, Peter

1984 - K’tl’egh’i Sukdu: Remaining Stories.  Kenaitze Indian Tribe, Kenai, and the Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks. 

1991 - A Dena’ina Legacy: K’tl’egh’i Sudku: The Collected Writings of Peter Kalifornsky, edited by James Kari and Alan Boraas.  Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks.

McMahan, J. David

1985 - Excavation Results from SEW-214 and SEW-216. In Progress Report, Sterling Highway Archaeological Mitigation: Phase 1 Excavations at Four Sites on the Kenai Peninsula, ed. by Charles E. Holmes. Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, Public Data File No. 85-04, Department of Natural Resources, Anchorage.

Pipkin, Mark E.

1989 - The Assemblage from the Round Mountain Microblade Locality, 49KEN-094, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.  MA thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, Eugene.

Reger, Douglas Roland

1981 - A Model for Culture History in Upper Cook Inlet, Alaska.  Dissertation, Washington State University, Department of Anthropology. 

1998 - Archaeology of the Northern Kenai Peninsula and Upper Cook Inlet. Arctic Anthropology 35(1): 160-171.

Reger, Douglas, and Mark Pipkin

1996 - Round Mountain Microblade Locality. In American Beginnings: The Prehistory and Paleoecology of Beringia, ed. by F. H. West, pp. 430-433. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Yarborough, Michael R.

1983 - Survey and Testing of SEW-175/176 and SEW-187, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Report to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Cultural Resource Consultants, Anchorage.


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