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Monday, July 26, 2010

What we found at Penguk

At Penguk, the most important discovery was the enormous variety in structure types that we uncovered. We excavated parts of at least 10 structures and almost all of them were built differently or contained different types of features from each other. Seven of the structures are about the same age and from the late Norton era (around AD 500). Another 2 might be early Norton and we also tested a late prehistoric multiroom house (Kodiak style house). The variety of contemporary structure types indicates that the Late Norton people were doing a lot at the site. They were building HUGE houses, banyas (saunas), different types of processing structures (perhaps for smoking fish and processing caribou?), and even little special use structures. Judging by the number, size and variety of structures I would guess that at around AD 500 up to 300 people lived at the site for all of fall, winter and spring. This was not a seasonal camp, but a full on village.

Previous excavations at Norton Tradition sites have tended to be small in scale and have consisted of trenches through structures. They focused on 1 or perhaps 2 of the structures found at a particular site. I am proud to say that our excavation was HUGE. We opened up 97 square meters and probably moved around 100 cubic meters of dirt. That's a lot of digging for 6 people! And yet I'd still say we did not dig enough. I like to excavate enough structures at a particular site so that I can start to recognize house and structure types. What's a typical house at a particular site look like? We found at least 7 different types of structures and only excavated 2 types that seem to duplicate each other. Basically we learned there is a HUGE variety of structure types in the late Norton, but we did not dig enough to learn all about them. We will, however, learn more when we analyze what types of artifacts we found in each structure. We will learn what they did in each structure.

The top photo is a collage of drawings from my notes. The top 2 parts of it show how I interpret the 'banya' that we found (third photo) and 'Mary's house' (second photo). Mary is sitting on the bench at about the same place where I put a stick person in my schematic view of how I interpret her structure. The fourth picture is of a HUGE bermed house (walls of stacked sod over 6 feet high and 10 feet wide) with benches all around and a tunnel entrance in the corner (where jill is squatting for scale). And finally the bottom photo is of Molly with a bell-shaped, clay-lined pit that she found in the corner of a structure we believe dates to the early Norton. The clay pit was 70 centimeters deep, 120 centimeters wide at the bottom and only 40 wide at the top! We also found a thatched roof processing structure where the Norton people had used gravel as part of the processing process, another structure that had a flat roof capped with dirt and grass that burned down and I believe was for smoke processing, and finally another that had a 'peaked' sod roof.

Wow! Now I guess we got to dig a bunch more at a Norton Tradition site to begin to understand this huge variety. But I'll leave that to the archaeologists who usually work on the Alaska Peninsula. I think that in the future I'll stick with mosquito-free Alutiiq Tradition sites on the Kodiak Archipelago! Patrick

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