Thursday, May 28, 2009
Karluk Survey Archaeology
The point of our trip to Karluk Lake and River last week was to find, map and date archaeological sites around the lake and on the river for the United States Fish & Wildlife Service and Koniag Inc - the landowners. The Alutiiq Museum has been surveying Kodiak's interior rivers and lakes for the last 7 years, and we have already completed surveys of the Ayakulik/Red, Olga Lakes, Akalura, Horsemarine, Sturgeon River, and Uganik Lake systems. Karluk Lake and River is the last major system we plan on surveying. During our surveys we have learned a great deal about how the prehistoric Alutiiq people utilized Kodiak's Interior through time.
The earliest interior sites that we've found date to 6300 years ago. Back then Alutiiq people used their sea mammal hunting gear to spear fish in the shallow rivers below lake outlets. They did not really focus on catching a lot of fish or even design new gear specifically for catching fish. All that changed around 4000 years ago when we start to find elaborate fish smoking structures at the outlets to the big lakes. The smoke processing structures indicate that the Alutiiq were starting to put away a lot more fish for the winter! Then around 1500 years ago there are suddenly many more camps on the lakes and upper sections of the river. We start to see huge seasonal villages of up to 100 houses at this time. It looks like they were still focusing on red and silver salmon, and catching them with nets in the shallow waters of the lakes. Finally around 600 years ago we start to see what we believe are year round villages on the banks of Kodiak's biggest rivers with weirs in front for catching fish, and seasonal fish camps up on the lakes.
While on survey we mostly walk around looking for old house depressions and/or distinctive site vegetation (see top two photos - old villages marked by intense vegetation along the bluffs above the Karluk River and Mark standing in a shallow house depression on the shore of Karluk Lake). We then dig test pits into the house pits and/or sites. We want to make sure they really are archaeological sites and also gather charcoal to radiocarbon date the sites. We generally try to dig in the middle of house depressions to find the hearth and the best concentration of charcoal. (see middle two photos: Mark and Aubrey taking notes and digging a test pit and a close up of the wall of one of our test pits - if you look closely you can see the old living surface in the house marked by the black charcoal and the thick roof sods above that were on the roof of the house. This house is probably about 2000 years old). Our final step at each site is to create a map of the site. We use a transit to make an accurate map of each site in relation to the landscape (see bottom photo).
This year we found a number of 1500 year old sites up on the lake but not nearby any of the creeks flowing into the lake. These sites were situated above pea gravel beaches. Back in Kodiak I learned that these shoals are where the late run red salmon spawn. The early run fish prefer to spawn in the feeder lake/creek systems on the lake. That's a cool discovery because it means Alutiiq people 1500 years ago were probably occupying those camps in October/November/December to catch the late run spawners. Another cool discovery was 4 5,000 year old sites all situated above shallow sections of a river. All in all, we found 24 new archaeological sites and mapped 244 house pits. Not bad for a 10 day survey.