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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Supporting Evidence

Archaeology is about creating stories and then testing them to see if they are true. And if you have ever been a part of any of the excavations I've lead you will know that I am constantly coming up with various scenarios to account for what we have found so far. I rarely get the story right the first time, and it changes and evolves as we find new stuff that either supports or contradicts it. This is sometimes confusing to people who think I am being 'wishy washy' - they assume that archaeologists always get it right the first time. But archaeology, just like any science, creates a story or explanation that changes and evolves with the evidence - slowly getting closer and closer to the truth as competing explanations are crossed out one by one.

But this year at the Amak Site everything we have found continues to support my original story that I came up with on day one of the dig - a temporary camp where Alutiiq people hunted seals. In the last 2 weeks we have come up with plenty of evidence to support my original story and nothing to contradict it. This never happens, and I am a little worried that it is too good be true. I keep on waiting for the other shoe to drop and for us to find something that totally contradicts my story.

On Friday we found a flensing knife and 5 finished bayonets - including 2 that had not been broken - and practically nothing else. I made a joke with Jill the museum exhibits coordinator that we could create an exhibit of the dig and have the space to include every single artifact that we have found so far. On the one hand would be a small pile of flakes and on the other there would be a bunch of bayonets for spearing seals and a couple of whetstones and abraders for sharpening the blades and straightening the shafts of the spears. It really does look like Alutiiq men brought tools to the site and worked on their gear while they waited for seals to show, and then successful, butchered the seals and took them back to another camp to be processed.

Still, How do we know they were hunting seals, and are we really sure it was men who were doing it? My point being there are still parts of my story that are based on assumptions and are most definitely subject to change. Also, there are 2 major finds that I still cannot fit into my story for the site. What is the HUGE pile of rocks and why have we found that most of the dirt was removed and then piled up on another part of the site?

The pile of rocks is not a structure (there is no living surface associated with it), and a cache still just does not seem right. April (the museum's language coordinator) mentioned that the elders she works with often talk about building rock blinds to hide behind while duck hunting, and I kind of like this new explanation for the rock pile. Only perhaps it was a blind to hide behind while an Alutiiq hunter tried to lure the seals closer to the beach.

The redeposited dirt and sod is more difficult to explain. Without shovels it represents an enormous amount of labor, and it does not appear to be associated with a house or structure. Perhaps it represents Alutiiq punishment and a bunch of teenagers were instructed to make a pile of dirt? (this is a joke). Anyway, I have a feeling we will figure it out, and I am pretty sure that the explanation will add and amend the story we have so far for the site. Patrick

Photos: Molly and Christy mapping the rock pile. The focus of too many pictures while mapping - Christy smiles (Molly Odell photo). Alana with the ground slate point and flensing knife she found. Jill with her bayonet and the same bayonet in situ where she found it. For a different viewpoint and some more photos check out Molly's blog -

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