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Monday, February 25, 2013

Making Sense of My Own Old Notes

Last week I mentally went back in time while I re-examined some of my first archaeological field notes in Alaska.  I first came to Alaska in June of 1985 to help with the Bryn Mawr College archaeological project in Karluk.  Most of my summer was spent excavating at the Karluk One Site, but the team also surveyed the lagoon and lower river - finding and mapping old villages - and the majority of the team excavated at KAR 031 another prehistoric village site on the other side of the lagoon from Karluk One.  I remember that my first day of archaeology in Alaska was spent working on a stratigraphic profile along the erosion face at KAR 031, and I also dug a test pit in what we thought was an old Russian fort on top of the site.  So the Karluk One Site is actually not the first site in Alaska where I worked. However, within the first week I was digging away at Karluk One.  I know this because last week I found my notes from June 12, 1985 (see below).

That's me  (lower right) excavating at the Karluk One site with Dick Jordan who ran the project (on left).

What's ironic is that I NEVER thought I would ever have to examine those old notes again.  However,  the Alutiiq Museum is in the process of creating a book about the Karluk One excavation.  The site had excellent wood preservation, and the excavation ended up creating a spectacular collage of Alutiiq material culture that forms the core of the Alutiiq Museum's collections today.  Since no one took day to day overall site excavation notes we have been forced to go back to the individual unit notes to piece together a lot of what happened at the site.  A lot of the notes, maybe 25%, are in my handwriting.  Evidently, I was a quick digger.  But sadly I don't remember all that much about it.  Unfortunately, I think I was focused on the minutiae of the squares where I was digging, and was not really all that concerned with what was going on at the site as a whole.  So here I am, almost 30 years later, using my own notes to try and to piece together what was going on at the site.

Core Karluk One crew in 1985 eating lunch (left to right: Rick Knecht, Marie Shugak, Philomena Hausler, Frederika De Laguna, Patrick Saltonstall, Jennifer Krier, Brian Panamaroff).

My first set of notes from the Karluk One Site - less than a week after I first came to Alaska.

Another ongoing and related Alutiiq Museum project is the Karluk Lake and River survey.  Over the last five years we have re-surveyed the entire watershed - all except the last 2 miles of the river and lagoon.  Between 1983 and 1987 Bryn Mawr College teams did do an initial survey of the system, but they were new to Kodiak archaeology and did not have much experience doing river surveys. A quarter century later we are much better at doing such surveys on Kodiak. We have a lot more experience. The recent Karluk survey was my fifth such survey of a major river system. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure helps!  Also, since 1985 we have excavated a great many sites on Kodiak and we are better at recognizing features from the surface.  For example, I can recognize cold trap sideroom tunnels on the surface since I have excavated a number of them.  As a result, our survey maps are much more detailed.

Unfortunately, on our recent survey we did not have landowner permission to investigate the uplands around the lagoon and the last 2 miles of the river.  To complete the survey I needed to go back to the old survey maps/notes and 'translate' what they found into something compatible with our new data.  This was NOT easy.  For one thing, all the old survey maps were made by different people doing the drawing and are not very standardized.  For instance, sometimes they measured houses based on outside wall dimensions, sometimes they used top-of-the-wall dimensions, and sometimes (like us) they used interior dimensions.

 Nonetheless, I was able to put my 'Karluk River survey eyes' on and do a lot with their old maps.  Also  since we mapped many of the same sites I could compare how we mapped the same thing.  To look at some of our recent Karluk River survey site maps check out this blogpost (click on 'blogpost').  We now have a complete survey of the whole river, and it is an amazing dataset.

Just yesterday I wanted to see how settlement patterns changed through time.  So I created a photoshop document using a map of the river and lake as a base layer.  Each time period got its own layer in photoshop, and I put dots of various sizes on the layer to represent the sites and their respective sizes.  Below is the layer that represents the Kachemak (2500 to 1100 years ago) occupations along just the river (my base map also shows the whole lake).  It seems that during this time period the Alutiiq people made heavy use of the middle section of the river - there are NO late prehistoric sites in the lower mid section of the river.

There are lots of other very cool patterns in the data set.  The next step will be to figure out what the patterns mean.  To put the puzzle together and create a picture so to speak.  We might even need to return to some of these sites and do a little digging to figure it all out.  We will also have to go back and re-examine the notes, artifacts and samples from the excavations Bryn Mawr College did way back in the 1980s.  I just wish I could remember a bit better what I did way back then.  I wish I knew then what  I know now.

A portion of a prehistoric village map that I helped create back in 1985, and recently had to re-interpret.

Settlements along the Karluk River 1100 to 2500 years ago.

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