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While the length of time that the 49th state has been joined with the continental U.S. may not seem very long, the history of Alaska’s ecological and human culture goes back for centuries. With artifacts dating back to prehistoric days, the evolution and migration of people in Alaska have provoked studies from archeologists all over the world. Well-funded museums and diverse historical societies are in existence all over the sprawling state. It very much seems that Alaskans don’t take their unique and storied past for granted. In fact, they go through great efforts to display the stages of their evolving culture and natural environment, from the days of the Alutiiq and Eskimos, to the Russian Colonial Era through today.
Two of the best museums displaying cultural achievements in Alaska can be found in the state’s largest cities. The Alaska State Museum, in Juneau is known as, ‘the people’s museum’ with the mission to ‘protect, preserve and interpret’ the state’s human and natural history. It houses an impressive gallery of artifacts including early tools from native tribes like the Aleut and Alaskan Eskimo.
The Anchorage Museum pays homage to an overview of Alaska’s history, art, culture, and science. Showcasing early artifacts like ceremonial masks and waterproof clothing made of seals intestines, it carries visitors through the years into contemporary times in its new hands-on Discovery Center and modern art wing. Visitors of all ages will have no trouble finding a way to interact with traditional and innovative 3-D displays. Science play allows you to create conditions for a simulated earth quake or a tidal wave. The museum also hosts a variety of events during after-hours. Enjoy live musical performances and Friday evening Polar Nights.
For something a little bit off the beaten path, the creative seaside town of Ketchikan in Alaska’s Inside Passage offers the world’s largest collection of brightly painted totem poles. Visit the Totem Heritage Center for views of the most ancient totem poles in the collection or walk around the town touring art galleries and reading plaques about the town’s lawless past.
For Gold Mining history, the Fairbanks Gold Rush Walking Tour allows you to enter dozens of early settlers’ cabins like the Wickersham House once belonging to Judge James Wickersham or the Kitty Hensley House, the site from the book ‘This Old House’ about Alaska Pioneer, Clara Rust. In Skagway the NPS Gold Rush Museum is full of rich history about the legendary people and instruments that helped spur the great Klondike Goldrush in the 1890s. Collections include diaries and photographs of people who were directly related to the Gold Rush along with objects for running the strategic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.
If you are visiting Fairbank, you’ll want to stop by a unique museum that showcases innovations in clothing and Alaskan transportation. The Fountainhead Antique Museum is home to a collection of 80 pre-World War II vehicles and eight decades worth of Vintage Clothing. Take a trip back in time. Don an Edwardian era costume and climb into a 1911 Everitt complete with a grizzly bear hide.
In the port city of Valdez, in the Southcentral region of the state, The Valdez Museum and Historical Archive offers the chance for visitors to get inspired by the culture of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, including artifacts from the devastating 1964 earthquake. Bet don’t let that get you down! Just outside of Anchorage, in Eklutna, Alaska you can tour vibrantly painted spirit houses as part of Eklutna Historical Park. Alaskans spirit houses were a common way for people of Alaskan and Russian heritage to honor the spirit of the dead. These brightly colored gravestones are a reminder that time goes on and Alaska continues its diverse cultural evolution.