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Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Archaeology of Malina Bay

Rolan helped us survey the lakes

Despite high expectations we did not find very many sites on our survey of Malina Bay.  Last time I surveyed a bay I found a site every time I went to shore (click here for story).  And lakes where red salmon spawn (like at Malina Lakes) are always a hot spot for archaeological sites.

Yet we did not find any prehistoric sites on the lakes.  In retrospect this makes sense.  Relative to the big south end systems Malina Lakes actually has a pretty small red run.  But more importantly, it is an EARLY run.  On the Karluk, Red, and Olga Lakes systems we have found that the prehistoric sites tend to be situated where late run reds and silvers spawn (click here for post).  On those systems the late run reds spawn in the beach gravels while the early run reds spawn in the tributaries to the lakes.

So perhaps the Malina Lakes early fish were not a focus because there were more important subsistence activities taking place on the coast in the early summer?  Michael pointed out that maybe the prehistoric villagers did not want to catch too much fish in the early summer because they would be difficult to store during the heat of summer.  Whereas in the fall it is only a short time until winter when the stored fish would be needed.  Also there are no where near as many bugs and flies in the fall up on the lakes, and the conditions make it far easier to dry fish.

In any case, we did not find any obvious prehistoric sites on the lakes.  I'm still positive that people did travel up on occasion to the lakes to catch fish and hunt ducks, but they did not do it intensively enough in any one place to leave behind an obvious site.  It looks like at Malina Lakes they did most of their salmon fishing by the salt water at the mouth of the creek that drains the lakes.

The apparent lack of sites on the coastline of Malina Bay is more puzzling.  We only located one small village in the entire bay and less than 10 sites total.  In comparison, Uyak Bay has hundreds of sites dotted along its shoreline.  So what is going on in Malina Bay?

I think that there are 2 causes for the lack of sites.  First of all, Afognak Island in general has a very active tectonic history.  It sinks dramatically whenever there is a large earthquake - in 1964 most of Afognak Island sank 4-5 feet.  After these big events there is a lot of coastal erosion.  The margins of Malina Bay are lined with dead spruce killed during the 1964 earthquake subsidence, and we could see that a lot of the shoreline had been cut back dramatically.  A great many sites probably eroded away and disappeared completely.  We found one site that had half eroded away and had had beach gravel and sand thrown into the remaining house pits.  

Elsewhere on the archipelago the land does not rise and fall so dramatically during earthquakes and the coastline has remained largely the same for millennia.  You find deep sites where people have lived at the same spot the entire time.  Not so on Afognak where people had to move their villages every time there was a big earthquake.

But I don't think erosion is the whole reason we did not find all that many sites in Malina Bay. On our survey I noticed that Malina Bay in comparison with other Kodiak bays just is not all that rich in subsistence resources.  There are no big salmon rivers, and the inner bay shoreline is mostly straight with low cliffs - it lacks the islands and convoluted coastlines of the more rich bays.  

And the only known sites are mostly in the outer bay or near where we saw the seals.  I just don't think there was much to eat elsewhere in the bay. In confirmation of this, we did examine places that did not erode in 1964, and many of these places were perfect for settlement.  We'd float up to them and I'd tell Michael that my 'site radar' was screaming, and that we would 'find a site for sure'.  And then we wouldn't.  We only found sites near where there was some sort of desirable subsistence resource.   Patrick

Michael contemplates an archaeological site

A lot of in an out of the kayaks while checking on likely spots along the coast

The spruce tree grew around this split red cedar firewood stacked in the crotch

An ulu drilled for a handle lashing found on the beach below a site

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