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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Destruction of the Karluk One site

Karluk River mouth in 1957 with old canneries on the spit.  The Church is on hill to the right.  The Karluk One site is on opposite side of river just above the docked fishing boats.  At this time the river flowed in front of the site.  After the  storm in 1978 the river broke a new channel through the middle of the spit.  Image courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum - Christiansen Collection.
Lately at work I have been helping put together a book about the excavation of the Karluk One Site.  This was the excavation that first brought me to Alaska as a bright-eyed-20-year-old way back in 1985.  The site had incredible preservation and we found stuff like wooden masks and dolls, spruce root baskets and ulu knifes with wood handles - things you do not ordinarily find in archaeological sites.  We found everything from the floorboards and posts of the house to the grass matting the inhabitants put on the floors. Needless to say, it was a very important site.  Sadly, the site no longer exists.  All that remains of the site is photographs and descriptions, memories, and the artifacts and documentation in the collections at the Alutiiq Museum.

For the last few days I have been documenting what happened to the site.  I looked at old photos and created the crude figure below showing how the river cut through and demolished the site during the 1990s.  I have heard through the archaeological 'grapevine' that some archaeologists believe that the large excavation itself contributed to the erosion and demise of the site.  As you can see in the photos below, the site did not erode away because of wave action from the ocean along the front of the site.  It was wiped out by the river changing course and migrating through the site.  It was destroyed by a force of nature and not the hand of man.  In fact the location of the main area of excavation did not erode into the river until 1996 when the site had already been mostly destroyed.  The site eroded from the tip south and not from the side facing the ocean. 

In 1978 a winter storm breached the spit in front of the site, and created a new river channel to the sea.  After the breach there was no longer a spit to provide protection between the lagoon and the sea, and the site and the shoreline all around the Karluk Lagoon experienced severe erosion. The front of Karluk One eroded a couple meters back at this time.  But after the beach stabilized and created a berm in front of the site this erosion largely ceased.  What destroyed the site was that the river tried to find its old channel and in doing so migrated through the site and destroyed it.  The same process has probably occurred a few times in the past couple of thousand years.  In fact I wonder if the old pond behind the site in 1983 was an old river channel from the last time this happened.

The photos below document how the river destroyed the site between 1983 and 2008 - a sad story for your enlightenment. Patrick

Crude map of site showing rate of destruction.  The map is based on a base map made of the site with a transit in 1983.  The green represent the site.  The red lines represent the river bank at various moments in time while the black lines on the site represent the eroding face of the site.  The small graph squares are equal to a meter (the site is around 140 meters long).  The church is in the lower left corner.

The site in the early 1950s (left) and in 1983 (right).  A comparison shows that relatively little had eroded prior to 1983 - one or two meters along the front (left side) and maybe 10 to 20 meters off of the tip (far end). Images courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum.

An aerial view of the site in 1983 - note the bulldozer in the middle of the site.  This is the same bulldozer going over the edge in the photo of the site from 1995. Image courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum - Karluk One Collection

The site in 1995 - note bulldozer going over the edge and how close the river is to the edge of the site.

Poor quality aerial of the site in 1996.  This is the year that the river channel started to cut into the site.   The pieces of concrete along the site's erosion face is where the main excavations took place between 1983 and 1987.

View of the site in 1998. Very little of the site remains.

Another view of the site in 1998 from the hillside above the site.  Note that  the river  channel is REALLY cutting into the site now.

View of the site from 2001 - the site is now completely gone and the river is starting to cut into the hillside behind where the site was located.

Another view from 2001

2008 - all that remains is the church on the hill and the river continues to cut deeply into the hill. Image courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum.

1 comment:

Molly Odell said...

That is really cool to see. I guess I didn't realize how much of the old (modern) village was washed away too. And how much the erosion has cut into the hill below the church - that's a big eroding face!