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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Digging in the Rain

Just starting to remove the sods

It’s been raining for the last 2 days here in Old Harbor.  Today we did not want to muck up what we had accomplished at the site I reported on earlier, and so we moved further out the peninsula to lay out the grid and start on another site we had to excavate eventually.  We had thought that we would not get to it until next week, but with the rain and mucky conditions for digging features we decided to go out and bust some sod and start in on the other site.  At least the shovel work would keep us warm.

And boy did we ever keep warm.  We mapped the site and laid out the grid, removed the sod and shoveled off around 5 cubic meters of dirt – all in one day.  We were exhausted but elated by days end.  But, it must be said, things did not look good at noon.  Under the sod was thick homogenous layer of weathered volcanic ash, boulders and lots and lots of cottonwood tree roots - thick ones that we had to use the saw to cut through and remove.  I was beginning to question if it was even a real archaeological site.  Maybe last year when Jill and I ‘found’ the site we had just been imagining a red ochre floor and charcoal at the bottom of a deep test pit (the charcoal was radiocarbon dated to over 6000 years ago)?  How do big boulders end up on top of sterile fill anyhow? (It turns out they probably rolled down from an eroding outcrop above the site).  So we cleaned out the old test pit and dug into the walls and there, indeed, was the thin layer of red ochre and flecks of charcoal resting directly on the glacial till.  But it looked so ephemeral, and there was so much dirt to remove.  But we persevered – digging on in the mist and light rain.

Eventually we did get most of the block down to a different layer of mixed ash that contained chunks of white and gold ash, and I expanded out the old test pit to see what I could find.  It looks like the mixed ashes might be a thick layer of sods used to cover the roof of an old structure.  And then just when I started to get to the floor layer I turned up a red ochre grinder.  A stone used to crush and grind the red ochre that stains the dirt floors of old Alutiiq houses a bright red.  We clearly have a site worth excavating.  Still how did the structure get buried so deeply in just 6000 years?  Did a drift of ash from a later volcanic eruption cover the site, or perhaps silt, ash, and rocks slid down over the site from the slope above?

We still have to figure out the construction of the structure, and even if it is, indeed, really a structure with roof sods (I’ve been wrong before).  But at least we now know there is a floor of some sort down there – a place where people sat and ground red ochre.  I’m excited to get down there to figure it all out – to get at the story of what happened at that spot 6000 years ago.

I have also posted a couple of artifact pictures from the first site we excavated at for the first 2 days.  All of the chipped stone from the younger occupation at that site has been of basalt or agate or imported from the Alaska Peninsula – clear chalcedony and brightly colored chert (but, it must be said, we have not found very many).  We have not recovered a single piece of the usually ubiquitous local red chert.  We have also found the usual split cobble tools made from greywacke and the worked slate fragments discarded from the production of ground stone tools.  One of the artifacts is a tiny chalcedony core that looks like it might have been a used up microblade core.  The other is a small chipped point made of exotic red chert. 


Getting into the roots

An ochre grinder and on a living surface!

Exotic red chert chipped point from KOD 580

5 cubic meters later at the end of the day. .. .

Chalcedony core - used up micro blade core?

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