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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stone, Iron and Ceramic

Yesterday we finally got our first full day of excavation. No more removing grass sods or shoveling off ash. No rain either. Cloudy with just enough breeze to keep the bugs away - perfect for digging. Everybody was happy to settle down and start to find stuff. And we did find stuff.

The artifact of the day is the slate ulu that Miriam is holding in the bottom photo. What's cool about it is that it shows that the Alutiiq were still making ulus out of slate rather than metal at least 50 years after Russian contact. Did they prefer slate or was metal still too scarce to waste on ulus? We also found lots of European ceramic sherds.

I've been reading what Dan Thompson has to say about the ceramics found at the Castle Hill Russian fort in Sitka. He reported that in Russian America the Alutiiq preferred the painted tea sets and decorated ceramics over the plain utilitarian wares. They appeared to have enjoyed a certain amount of ritual with their daily tea. Dan reports that a certain lead-glazed earthenware made just outside Moscow occurs in Russian American sites dating to between 1815 and 1858. It is rarely decorated and appears to have not been popular with the Alutiiq and other native Alaskans. Archaeologists rarely find that it comprises more than 2 % of a site's ceramic collection. Only at the Russian fort in Sitka (a distribution center) did they find appreciable quantities of the distinctive lead-ware.

However, at Miktsqaaq Angayuk we appear to have quite a bit of it. What's going on? Were the Alutiiq who lived in the house poorer than most? On the other hand we have also found a great deal of the gaudily painted 'tea set' sherds (see Alex with painted sherd in the top photo). I have sent photos of the ceramic sherds we've found so far off to Dan Thompson, and will be interesting to hear what he thinks. Perhaps we've mis-identified the lead-ware; perhaps we've got something interesting going on. Patrick

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