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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

7100 Year-old Alutiiq House

Today I got back the radiocarbon dating results for last summer's Community Archaeology excavation at Salonie Mound (see post titled 'Radiocarbon Dates' in the archives - March 2007 for an explanation of radiocarbon dating) . It turns out the house we excavated is 7100 years old! That is exactly how old I thought it would be - BUT I was really worried that I had interpreted everything wrong and that the house would turn out to be only 4000 years old (or something equally young and disappointing). Last year my '6000 year-old house' turned out to be only 3400 years old, and after talking it up big I'd had to eat crow. So this year I was a little gun shy - believe it or not, several times in the last few weeks I've even woken up in the middle of the night with the dread that I would be wrong (I admit it - I am an archaeo-nerd). So today is a great day - I was right, it is a 7100 year-old house. Vindication! We actually sent in 5 samples to be dated and every date came back within 100 years of what I guessed they would.

The house is exciting because it is far more elaborate than expected. Prior to last summer no one had ever excavated an Alutiiq house much older than about 6300 years. There were not supposed to be older houses - we thought early Alutiiq people lived in simple tents. But last summer we excavated a house that was almost 5 meters across, had walls of stacked sods, lots of large posts to hold up the roof, a storage pit feature, built up sleeping bench, and an inside hearth. People used it a long time too - we found a midden (trash heap) around the outside of the house almost two feet deep (50 cm). And that's after it had settled and decayed. This is not the simple, ephemeral type of structure one would expect to find according to our characterization of the early Alutiiq as 'extremely mobile hunter gatherers'. It turns out they did build substantial structures and obviously lived in certain spots for extended periods of time. This is big news and I can't wait to tell other Alaskan archaeologists about it at next week's Alaska Anthropological Meeting in Anchorage.

The bottom photo is a scan of the final 'schematic map', plan view of the house from my notes. The dark circles represent the post holes that held up the roof. There was a wall of stacked sods around the northern edge of the feature (top of map). The top photo is the profile of the part of the house we did not excavate (left side of map). You can see the black house floor extending into the wall near the bottom of the profile. On the left the black house floor is on top of stacked sods which probably represent the stacked sod sleeping bench while on the right you can see the stacked sod wall that went around the structure (stacked sods are the mixed up white and brown blebs). You can bet I'll be showing these pictures to my fellow archaeologists next week! And I bet you're glad you wont be there! Patrick


Leah said...

Wow! Patrick, this is so exciting! I remember when Moshe and I visited the site last summer during excavation. It must be so fulfilling to find out that your first intuition and interpretation were correct. And in my case - you are wrong; I would love to be there... :)
Warmest regards to Zoya,

The Spin Studio said...

Yeah - it's good to be right! But sometimes you learn even more when you're wrong! Last year when I was wrong it turned out to be even cooler. It forced us to think about why we got it wrong. Still, I'd much rather be right than wrong.