Biologist to lecture on historic Arctic, then versus now

Ted Merrell will talk about 'early days' in Alaska's north region

Posted: Friday, January 15, 2010

Ted Merrell, a local retired fish biologist, will host a lecture Saturday on what he calls the "early days" - days before statehood, before oil drilling in the Arctic and before snowmobiles were the norm in native Alaskan villages.

His presentation, which will begin at 2 p.m. on the second floor of the Alaska State Museum, will offer a unique glimpse into Alaskan history.

"It's an opportunity to see the Arctic lifestyle first-hand before it was radically changed by snowmobiles, 4-wheelers, radio, television ... when (native Alaskans) were still living as they did thousands of years ago," Merrell said.

It's a period he knows well from his time doing ecological study for the then newly formed National Marine Fisheries Service, within the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. Merrell plans to present upwards of 70 photographs he took during his time spent in the Arctic beginning in the early 1960s. Merrell said many images will highlight the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's failed Project Chariot, which involved the planned detonation of a nuclear bomb in the Cape Thompson region, and the surrounding communities affected by the project. He'll also touch on the 600-mile Hickle Highway, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, Rampart Dam and Inupiat elder, activist and author Willie Hensley.

For Merrell these images represent a simpler time and capture moments in history that have since changed radically. He most vividly remembers recording aspects of native village life that are now nonexistent.

"The first trip to Chariot and the villages was the most memorable," he said. "There was an opportunity to record village life before the mechanical age really reached them. It was a real subsistence lifestyle ... hunting, fishing, (living in) sod houses, a thousand year-old technique. It's completely gone now."

In contrast, he'll talk on ANWAR. Which, over the years, is still the same expansive wild it was when Merrell visited in 1969.

"The memory of that vast area, thousands of miles without any sign of roads, (cultivated) fields or permanent villages ... just pure wilderness. It was then, as it is today," he said.

The lecture, which is sponsored by the Alaska State Library Historical Collections and the Alaska State Museum, is the second from Merrell since spring of 2009.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at or 523-2271.

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