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Friday, September 19, 2014

Bears Being Bears

This is when you wished you had a bit more of a camera than a point-and-shoot

A big part of my job when doing archaeological surveys is assessing the conditions of the sites.  The best case scenario is nothing to note - the site is totally stable.  But generally I find that most sites are getting damaged in one way or another whether by the elements, animals, or humans.  The most common site disturbance is erosion with either a flowing river or the ocean cutting into the site.   In an earlier post (click here) I showed how the Karluk One archaeological site was completely destroyed over the course of 30 years by the river cutting into the site.

In other parts of Alaska global climate change has resulted in increased storminess and rising sea levels and archaeological sites situated on the coast are disappearing at an alarming rate (click here and here for some articles that highlight this issue).

One site disturbance that is fairly unique to Kodiak is 'bear turbation' (click here for an earlier post on the subject).  This is when bears dig into archaeological sites.  On Kodiak's salmon streams bears and humans tend to focus on the best places to catch fish.  In addition bears are attracted to archaeological sites because they are the first places to green up in the spring, and bears love to graze on spring greens.  For the most part grazing and digging for roots does not do too much damage to sites.  What damages the sites are bear trails up and down the fronts of sites to the river and, most of all, bear beds.  This is when bears dig fairly substantial holes for their 'beds'.  Often they like to put their beds where they can watch the river. and this just so happens to be where prehistoric people also built their houses.  At some village sites the bears have done so much digging that they have destroyed the house depressions - the sites are pretty much worthless to archaeologists to excavate because the bears have already dug them all up!

Yesterday when I went to the outlet to Karluk Lake we were surprised by the number of bears we saw.  Lately less people have been using the river and less people means more bears.  The bears aren't getting chased off by people fishing or rafting the river.  And the bears seem to know there are less people around, and this year the outlet to Karluk Lake is a very busy place for the local bear population.  Ironically, less people and more bears means the archaeological sites are taking a beating.

This year I saw a totally new type of bear damage - the bear 'otter slide'.  I saw three of them, and basically they are mud slide tunnels down into the river.  Up on top there would be a bedding area in the grass and then a tunnel that the bears were using to slide down to the river.  Whoo hoooo the 'Karluk River Water Park' - or maybe 'Bouncing Bears Karluk'.  Patrick

Bear Fishing

Bear beds dug into an archaeological site

Matt checks out a bear 'otter' slide

Torn apart salmon bodies, feeding bears,  seagulls crying and the murmur of the river

Approaching squall coming down the lake


Leslie Leyland Fields said...

That is just amazing---the bear water slides!! But it makes a lot of sense. What a fun discovery---but unfortunate the damage to the sites. I hiked the portage from LB to to Karluk this summer, and it was indeed very quiet on the river and the trail--but no bear sightings that day. Nor people sightings. I love your posts, Patrick! thanks so much for doing them!

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

I gather the fish and bears all sort of arrived at the same time about a week ago. It was a zoo up there! And I've always wanted to do that hike from Larsen Bay to the Portage. It does not look like it is all that far, and I'm sure that's where all the clam shells we see in the sites up there are coming from. Patrick