Sunday, June 12, 2011
Karluk River Scenics and Inland Wood
The scenery and light for our trip down the Karluk River was often spectacular. Even though it did rain a lot, even on the worst days, the sun usually made a brief visit. Those brief visits were all the more spectacular both due to their unexpected nature and to the spotlight effect with the dark clouds all around.
I took the top photo because you often hear people asking what the Alutiiq used to build their houses up on the Karluk, Ayakulik, Olga Lakes and at other inland villages on Kodiak. No one ever believes me when I tell them there are plenty of trees in those areas suitable for house construction. So I took a picture of some cottonwoods with the river behind them to prove it.
Back in 1985 when I first worked on the Karluk River other archaeologists told me that they probably had to float driftwood logs up the river to build their houses because - 'there are no trees up there'. Well they were wrong, and having just floated the river I also know that floating enough logs to build a house 25 miles up the Karluk would've been darn near impossible - certainly extremely impractical.
On our surveys we use a woodstove in our teepee, and so we are always on the lookout for wood. We've found that willow, cottonwood, and alder are our favorite fuels. We do not like black birch which is supposedly the best of the lot - it is too finicky and takes forever to get burning. Willow is plentiful, dries VERY quickly and is ready to use in the stove after an amazingly short time. Cottonwood makes GREAT coals and often burns all night. Alder burns hot and also makes great coals, and green alder can be dried in a day - if split - when it is sunny.
Prehistorically I think the Alutiiq had plenty of wood available for house construction, smoking fish, and to keep their houses warm. They certainly did not have to go to the coast to get driftwood! But we can check to see exactly what they did use. On this survey we saved some charred charcoal from a roof beam in a house that burned down. We could identify the species of wood and know exactly what was used in the construction of that particular house. We could also identify the charcoal from the hearth fires and determine what wood they used to heat their houses. I bet they used willow and alder in the hearth and cottonwood, alder or black birch for house construction. I doubt we'd find the remains of any fir trees (driftwood), anywhere up there. Now to check my hypothesis! Patrick