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Thursday, July 30, 2015

KDM Column~ Archaeology Friendships

Printed in Kodiak Daily Mirror July 2015

By Zoya Saltonstall

This week the  Alutiiq Museum community archaeology dig begins. For Kodiak, this means a chance to participate in a free, public site excavation and learn about Kodiak history. For our family, this means an influx of visiting scientists to our home.   My husband Patrick is an archaeologist and leads the community dig as well as remote digs every summer. Early on, I learnt  what this time of year meant for our home. 

My first taste of archaeology season was shortly after I met Patrick. I had just returned on the morning jet from a trip out East shortly after meeting Patrick.   As I walked up to the house I noticed  tents on the lawn and I tiptoed over the sleeping bodies in my living room. This, I realized,  was to be a classic scene at our  home during  archaeologist during field season.   These 15 students and a professor  were on their way to Old Harbor for an archaeology trip  and needed a place to crash for the night. As the group  awoke, they were all very friendly and appreciative for the sleeping quarters.  Patrick explained to me  that this is how it is when learning how to be an archaeologist. You camp out, crash on couches, for days, weeks or months. And then you repay the favors to the new crop of budding scientists. 

 For the years that have followed, the scene was indeed a very similar one at our home. Students fly in from various corners of country as well as local community members to participate in the digs and surveys.   Some experience their "firsts" here. First trip to Alaksa. First time kayaking. First time camping. First time on an archaeology dig. First time eating goat. First time eating fresh salmon. Its fun to be part of those firsts and that energy which comes along with it.  (And archaeologists are way more fun and entertaining as a whole then I ever imagined they would be!)
 Every year the survey  locations and crews are are slightly different.  But one thing is the same-our home becomes an archaeology stomping grounds of sorts . 

There have been some unforgettable guests-the ones whom I can chuckle about as I recall the moments.   There was a student from Texas who was camping in Fort Abercrombie. She would come to our house occasionally to shower and after one long stint in the shower, I discovered the walls were stained red. She had died her hair red in the shower. It took some scrubbing to get the hair dye off.    Or the older gentleman who took to occasionally walking around his house in his underwear. Or the one who left rotten halibut in our fridge and it took months for our kitchen to recover. There were times when I resented the  responsibility of housing archaeologists and I would be so ready to have the house to ourselves come the fall. The last guest would leave and I would breathe a deep sigh of relief to welcome the change of seasons.   

Then there are   house guests whom I have grown to treasure, such as Catherine West.  Catherine is a professor at Boston University who has been coming to Kodiak for as long as I've known Patrick. We drink tea and coffee and summer drinks together, giggle and quickly catch up on life every few years when she is in town. We share in the ups and downs of life with kids, relationships, life and death. When my dog, Roxy,  died- she wrote a beautiful card. When she lost a close family member, I shared in her loss. Although thousands of miles separated us, she was very much on my mind during her time of grief.   The summer archaeology experience has allowed our friendship to grow. 

This week at the community dig the shovels will be lifting off the sods, putting those top rich layers aside to discover the treasures hidden below. The trowels will come out. These are the metal implements will  push the dirt into dustpans and put into buckets. The dirt is screened through a screen to look for any missed artifacts. The process takes time,  but it ensures that no teeny tiny artifact is lost into the dirt pile. For myself, and my kids who aren't at the dig every day, these next few weeks holds treasures for family. Treasures  in the form of  time  with wonderful souls who have traveled from afar to learn about and explore Kodiak. And a chance to discover new layers to old friendships.

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves black labs and chocolate.

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