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Sunday, August 14, 2011

People or Activities?

The Community Archaeology excavation is nearing completion. We've almost finished the main block and have made good progress on another 3 by 4 meter block where we are uncovering some sort of smoke processing feature from the most recent use of the site - in the Early Kachemak. We continue to find practically nothing but ground slate bayonets. In fact, we've found so many that we often just put them into the artifact bag and don't stop to take photos anymore! Looks like a hunting camp to me.

A recent email from a colleague got me thinking about what it all means. My colleague commented that what we are finding looks like classic Ocean Bay II Tradition material without the chipped stone. His comment helped me recognize a bias on my part. I tend to assume that the artifacts people leave behind reflect their activities at a particular site. And this is true, but artifacts also reflect cultures - ways of making and using objects. Different societies make certain tools with their own particular style and even use different tools from each other. Archaeologists can sometimes examine the tools from a site and say who lived there in addition to what they were doing there.

Living on Kodiak where practically everything we find has been left behind by Alutiiq peoples I tend to focus on the Alutiiq culture, and forget that there may be multiple groups of people represented in the archaeological record. On the Alaska Peninsula, for example, pulses of settlement from nearby areas - the Alutiiq word to the east, the Aleut world to the southwest, the Yup'ik world to the northwest, and the Athapaskan world to the north brought peoples of different cultures into the same environment - at different times and at the same time. Sorting out the histories of different cultures there is difficult with archaeological data. What does this mean for the Amak site? I don't believe that Womens Bay had a distinct Alutiiq culture, or two groups of different people living on its shores at the same time. However, my friend's comment reminded me that the archaeological record is complicated. Not everything we find can be attributed to site function, though that's the way I often see it. Patrick

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