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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Karluk River Archaeology

The point of our trip down the Karluk River was to find archaeological sites (mostly prehistoric villages and salmon processing sites), and to map and date them. So at each site Molly and Mary would dig a test pit into the center of an old house pit looking for the hearth and charcoal to radiocarbon date. Meanwhile Mark and I would run around the site numbering the house depressions and arguing about what was what. Then I'd draw a sketch map of the site and we'd use the transit to shoot all the house pits in and make the map accurate. The second photo is a close up of one such village sketch while the third photo is of me using the transit while Molly writes down the numbers on the map. For every house depression we recorded the size and shape of all the rooms, the depth of the house and height of the walls, and its exact relationship to the site datum and river. That's a lot of information and many of the maps are so chock full of data that I'll need a magnifying glass to read the numbers.

Of course when it was raining we could not use the transit and then sketch maps alone had to suffice and I'd try to make them as accurate as possible. Also sometimes we needed to dig a test pit just to determine if a house pit was really a house pit or just a figment of Mark's and my imagination. And a couple of times we dug test pits into old garbage dumps outside of houses looking for the old bones that represent the remains of old meals and processing activities. The photo of Mary in a test pit is from a garbage dump that to Mary and Molly's chagrin contained a LOT of fire cracked rock (remains of past banyas) and, unfortunately for Molly, pushki roots. In addition to the ubiquitous salmon bones, we found the remains of cod, clamshells, and marine mammals that the prehistoric inhabitants had carried to the upper Karluk River from the distant sea. The salmon swam up there on their own.

To some extent we do not need a radiocarbon date to determine the age of a site. We have already dated many villages and already recognize that certain house types always date the same. In the bottom photo Mary is standing in a multiroom house pit with fairly low walls, and many of the siderooms to this structure had cold trap tunnels. Such a structure typically dates to about 400 to 500 years ago. More recent structures typically lack cold traps, have much taller walls, and are associated with much more intense vegetation. Another indication of age is roof sods. Houses from the last 700 years were typically thatched with side rooms and you can see the hearth depression on the surface while older houses were roofed with sod and dirt, and to find the hearth you had to dig a deep hole.

The artifacts we found also hinted at the age of the sites. Certain types and styles of artifacts are associated with particular time periods. For instance, in the top photo Mary is holding up a tiny and well made netsinker that was used to weight the bottom of a net. Such an artifact is typically only found in sites 1000 to 2000 years old. Larger, and more 'ugly' netsinkers tend to be older, and the inhabitants of sites from the last 700 years did not use this type of technology at all

In the end we found 24 new archaeological sites and mapped another 18 that had already been found by previous researchers. One interesting pattern that we noticed is that all the most recent sites, those from the past 600 years, are located in just 3 sections of the river (at the Lake outlet, by the Portage, and on the lower river from Shasta Creek on down). While older sites are scattered everywhere up and down the river. Most of the older sites are small and it is only in the last 1100 years that you start to see the formation of large villages on the interior sections of the river. Patrick


Tim Rast said...

Thanks for sharing this. Its great to see news from the field already! That's a crazy sketchmap - how many houses are there?

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

I think the biggest village we mapped this year had 90 house pits - and that map is such a mess that you can hardly read it. I think we mapped upwards of 300 hundred housepits total. I'll have to check my notebook and count today!

Also, we usually do our survey work earlier in May. In another week the vegetation will be so tall and green that you would not be able to see and map the house depressions. Patrick

Molly Odell said...

I like the part about you and mark arguing about what's what. :)

Rich Bottorff said...

I'm wondering if the clamshells you found at the Karluk sites were all marine species, or if some were freshwater species such as Anodonta. Apparently, large freshwater clams are present in the Karluk system.

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

I've seen those freshwater clams and those aren't what we found in the middens. They all looked to be marine species of clams - even dogwhelks (neptunes)! Cod bones too. Patrick