Virtual archeology provides educational, personal experience for Kake youth

This summer, zone archaeologists from Petersburg and Wrangell Ranger Districts accomplished a fun and interactive project with the Training Rural Alaska Youth Leaders & Students/Youth Conservation Corps (TRAYLS/YCC) crews in the native village of Kake—from a distance!

Originally, five Kake TRAYLS/YCC students and their crew leader planned to travel to Grave Island, the location of Kake’s cemetery, with USDA Forest Service archaeologists Gina Esposito and Jane Smith. There, the archaeologists would teach the students special techniques used to record petroglyphs, a type of ancient art where images are carved into rock, and apply those techniques to recording the headstones of the students’ ancestors.

When the trip to Kake was cancelled in order to follow state and local health mandates regarding Covid-19, Esposito and Smith adapted by filming a video where they showed how to record a locally accessible petroglyph in Petersburg using non-invasive methods. They demonstrated how to lay a plastic covering over the image and use permanent markers to stipple—make a series of dots—over the pecked image. Eventually, a life-size image is captured on the plastic sheet. This approach is less harmful to the petroglyph than rubbings, which can erode the rock carvings.

The TRAYLS/YCC crew then watched the how-to video and participated in a Zoom meeting with Esposito and Smith, where they discussed archaeology on the Tongass National Forest. From there, the Kake TRAYLS/YCC crew headed to Grave Island on a sunny August day where they recorded their own grandparents’ headstones with the same techniques demonstrated in the video.

“Not only were they learning about these new archaeological terms and methods of documenting history, but they were also making it relevant to their own lives,” said crew leader Audrey Clavijo. “Having the video and interaction where the crew made it relevant to themselves and their heritage was a profound experience and something that will stick with them.”

Through this creative virtual field trip, Forest Service archaeologists were able to remain connected with their youth partners in Kake, while ensuring the health and safety of everyone involved. In addition, the Kake TRAYLS/YCC students had the opportunity to engage in a new activity that connected them with their ancestors and the rich cultural heritage of the region. It is Esposito’s hope that the project will be done again with future Alaska Youth Stewards, the new name for the TRAYLS/YCC program.

“I hope to have more multidimensional experiences like this in the future if we are required to do virtual learning activities,” said Clavijo.

To see what other great work the Kake TRAYLS/YCC crew accomplished this summer, check out their blog at

Employee in forfront, greenery and blue sky in background
Courtney James of Kake YCC/TRAYLS recording her Grandmother Emily's headstone at Grave Island, Kake, AK



Employee holding a recorded image, employee in the background, standing on rocks

Forest Service archaeologists Gina Esposito (left) and Jane Smith (right) showing the finished recording of one of the faces at the Sandy Beach Petroglyphs in Petersburg, AK. The actual carved petroglyphs are visible on the bedrock outcrop behind them.