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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

And on into the Kachemak. ... ...

Last Friday we thought we had everything figured out at the site, and then on Monday we found stuff that totally changed how we viewed the site. Such is archaeology! As an archaeologist you put together all the clues to figure out what happened at a site and build your story as you go. Then occasionally you find stuff that seems not to fit with your thinking at the time - so you have to re-adjust your story to make it fit the facts. Once you've adjusted your story it's a better story because it accounts for more facts. If you dig long enough at a site you stop getting surprised and then you know that your story is pretty close to what actually happened. You got your final story.

On Friday we thought we were digging into a 180 year old Alutiiq house that had been built into a 3000 year old site. We assumed that all the midden in front of the site was associated with the 180 year-old house. Then on Monday we found much older artifactsand noticed that we had found nothing historic in the lower midden in front of the house. The lower midden was practically pure shell, and in my last post I discussed how this might reflect a lack of hunters living at the site in the spring. Now I know that it is actually a couple of thousand years older than the upper midden. No wonder it is different from the upper midden!

The artifacts pictured above were all found on Monday, and the 2 of bone were found in the lower midden. The top piece is a bi-laterally barded dart used for sea mammal hunting, and stylistically it is typical of the Kachemak Era on Kodiak (3500 - 1000 years ago). The other bone artifact is a socket piece that would have fitted onto the end of shaft and given it heft to add energy and help with killing sea mammals - the dart would have fit into the hole at the end of the piece. The slate point is a 'Three Saints Bay' style endblade that would have also been used to kill sea mammals and is stylistically typical of the Kachemak Era.

After we determined that the midden in front of the site had a lower Kachemak component I had to re-think about what the site looked like 3000 years ago. I went back to our notes from 2002-2004 at the adjacent Zaimka Mound site and examined all the profiles of test pits we had excavated all over the surrounding meadow. I noted where the 3800 volcanic ash was present. If it was not present then I knew that that part of the meadow had been under water when the ash fell. I also noted where 'black kachemak' deposits and old shell midden deposits had been present. From this I created the map of what the area looked like 3000 years ago.

It looks like as the shoreline migrated away from the older Zaimka Mound site that the Alutiiq moved their site down to the beach in front. They built a new mound from debris deposited as they smoked fish and threw their shell midden off of the sides.

My map is based on what the meadow looks like today with the modern beach and features on the underlying map. You can see all the modern ATV trails and the late prehistoric housepits that are mostly built on land that was not present 3000 years ago. The areas shaded grey are the 2500 to 3500 year old 'black kachemak' deposits where Alutiiq people were smoking fish. The areas shaded yellow is where we found old shell midden deposits and the blue represents what was then covered by the sea. The red shaded area is our current excavation - note the 180 year-old house drawn on the original base map.

Well that's our story for now. ... I'm sure that as we continue to dig more at the site that it will change again - especially with all those late prehistoric houses that would have been in the water 3000 years ago. Right now we know practically nothing about them. But by the time we finish digging at the site, and this may take a few years, we ought to have a pretty good story to tell. Patrick


Isiik said...

This is so cool Piugta. I look forward to more details on this archaeological mystery!

Akensee4miles said...