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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Back to work

We start to work on the large late-prehistoric 'house'

Last Sunday Zoya and I woke up at 4:15 AM after a short 3 hours of sleep and flew home from my college reunion in Boston.  We got all the way back to Kodiak but the plane could not land due to bad weather so we spent the night in Anchorage.  We did make it in to Kodiak Monday morning, and I went straight from the jetliner to catch the little commuter plane to Old Harbor.  The fellow passengers on the commuter plane was a camo-clad group of large men on their way to Old Harbor for a fishing safari.  I was met at the plane by a happy crew, and back at work by 9 AM.  Quite the culture shock – from 90 degree weather and events at the Museum of Fine Arts to rain and 40 degree temperatures with snow on the mountains all around.  From summer back to late spring – from the ‘urbanista’ culture of the city to rural Alaska village life.  I was back!

In my absence the crew had removed the sods from 3 of the houses at the late prehistoric village that will be the focus of the next 4 weeks of the dig.  They opened up 96 new one meter squares to excavate - this was a lot of work!  And on Monday afternoon we started to dig in the main room of the largest house.

After 3 days of excavation we have mostly finished with the large ‘house’, and I now suspect that it was not really a house at all.  We uncovered in the middle of the room a large area of multiple old hearths filled with fire-cracked rock, burnt sods, calcined bone and charcoal.  It looks like the structure was used for some sort of smoke processing.  It clearly was not a house where people lived for extended periods of time, or where they spent the winter.

Unlike a ‘winter’ house the structure lacks well built up sod walls, storage features,  a formal hearth, and a flat floor.  Nor did we find a large variety of the tools one would expect in a house where people spent the winter and worked on the activities typical of domestic winter life – adzes for wood-working, needle abraders, flensing knives etc.  However, we did find lots of unfinished slate lance points, a couple of harpoon/arrow endblades, and lots and lots of ulus at the front of the house.  Also it does look like people were hanging out in the structure.  We found a tiny toy lamp, a well-made ground slate pendant, and a couple of quartz crystals. 

Last year the other houses we tested at the site did seem to have formal hearths and lacked charcoal features.  We had a hard time even finding enough charcoal to radiocarbon date the structures.  For this reason I am wondering if the other houses were where they lived while the structure we are now excavating was where they processed fish or seal meat.  Alternatively the houses we tested last year could be older, and the houses in the dense salmonberry thicket could represent a younger site occupation. 

It is a good thing we will be excavating more than one of the structures because if there is a variety of house types at the site we will recognize them.  This is why I like to excavate large portions of a site.  Rather than a tiny window of the past we will get more of a full-portion view of what was going on in the village.  Eventually we will learn the answers to some of my current questions.  I can’t wait to get to some of the other structures!  Patrick

View of the site where we are now excavating - we've been plagued by pretty dismal weather

Dani shows off the ground slate pendant that she found

Tiny! lamp - note the hand scale in background

Ground slate endblade - this one is REALLY sharp

Old Harbor intern Danielle shows off the quartz crystals that she found in a corner of the structure 

A broken ulu that we re-fit together

Crew excavating in the multiple hearth feature

Hearth feature with rest of structure for scale

Completed hearth feature - now to remove the rocks and to finish digging it out!

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