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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Big Villages on Rivers

Last spring I got to help map huge prehistoric villages on both Kodiak and the Bering Sea side of the Alaska Peninsula. I was struck by how different they are from each other. The top photo is the map of the village from the other side of the Alaska Peninsula while the bottom map is of a couple of villages on the Karluk River. In each map a 'big' square is 20 meters while a 'small' square is 2 meters. So, as you can see, the old house depressions from the village on the other side of the peninsula are much bigger than the ones from Kodiak. And if you look carefully you will even see 2 'Kodiak' style houses on the map in the lower left corner. The Alaska Peninsula village is also a lot bigger.

Explaining why they are so different from each other is complicated. One reason is that they were built by people with different cultural backgrounds (sort like Italian vs Irish houses) but that does not explain all the differences. The villages are also different ages - the Kodiak villages are only about 500 years old while most of the Peninsula village is about 1500 years old (the 2 'kodiak' style houses are the same age as the houses on the Kodiak map). Another big difference is that the Peninsula village is built on a hill in the middle of a huge swamp while the Karluk villages are built on the banks all along the river. In other words, on Kodiak village placement is not constrained by the geography while on the far side of the Peninsula there are only a few places where you can actually build a village. The latter might help to explain why the villages on the Peninsula are so much bigger.

These are the issues that face archaeologists as they try to interpret what they find. Archaeologists need to consider the geography and history of a particular area to put the archaeological site they are studying into a good context. Next summer we will excavate the village from the far side of the Peninsula. And we will be studying both how it fits within the archaeology of the Alaska Peninsula and comparing it with what we find on Kodiak. In the end, we hope to learn how the two peoples were related and interacted with each other. But first we got to put the villages in context. Patrick

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