Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Welcome Back Justin

Justin excavcates 'L3b' at the bottom of the Kashevaroff Site

Long time Kodiak and Community Archaeology stalwart Justin Hays is back.  He first dug with us up at the Outlet Site by Buskin Lake in 2000, and helped run the Community Archaeology dig in 2004 and 2005 at Zaimka Mound, Bruhn Point and Salonie Mound.  He also helped out at Olga Lakes and Horseshoe Cove. 

For the last few years he has been working in Interior Alaska where the archaeological sites may be older, but the artifacts and features are no where near as plentiful or robust.  He seems happy to be back on the coast.  And we are certainly happy to have him back - Welcome Back Justin!


Justin excavates L1 at the Zaimka Mound Site in 2003 - Early Kachemak house depression in the background

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Some artifacts

Molly with a non-funtional, 'toy' Bayonet

We have completed the first week of Community Archaeology and have been digging into the oldest layers of the site.  The layers we have been excavating date to 6 to 7 thousand years ago.

What's been interesting is how many complete tools, and how little manufacturing debris we have been finding.  Normally you find maybe 50 or 60 flakes and chips of slate or chert before you find a tool of some sort.  But practically every artifact we find is a complete tool, and a great many of them are unbroken.

My explanation for the lack of tool-manufacturing debris is that it was a hunting camp where Alutiiq hunters brought their completed tools.  The manufacturing debris is back at the home base where they made the tools.  We are finding the flake knives, skin-scrapers, knives, and hunting lances that they lost or left behind while they were hunting and butchering sea mammals.

For instance yesterday I found 2 complete tools made of basalt - a scraper and HUGE chipped stone knife.  Basalt is a rock not found on Kodiak and must be imported from the Alaska Peninsula.  So far we have only found 1 flake of basalt, and yet we have the 2 tools.  Clearly, they were not made on site.  We are have found relatively local slate and red chert manufacturing debris.

Like last year we also continue to find 'toy' bayonets.  They are small replicas of bayonets that would not have been functional.  We think they represent the work of young hunters emulating their elders with their lethally functional hunting lances.  Patrick

A complete sideblade - an early knife

Evan with a complete bi point

A REALLY big complete chipped knife made of imported basalt

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

First Day of Community Archaeology 2016

 And so it begins.  Yesterday was the first day of Community Archaeology 2016 at the Kashevaroff Site.  We began where we left off at the end of last summer - deep into the older layers of the site.  Usually our first day of the dig consists of breaking the sods and shoveling off the 1912 Katmai ash, and then it takes a couple of weeks to dig down to the oldest layers at the site.  Not so this year.

Last year we did all the hard work getting down to the oldest layers and then tarped it over to protect it for the winter.  So this year all we had to do was remove the tarps and the backdirt put down to protect the site - and we began to excavate the old stuff.  And right away Gisele found a complete ground slate lance.  I believe it may be the best day one artifact of all time.

Our goal this year at the site is simple - finish the excavation.  We have 2 large blocks open and both are down to the older layers.  Our task this year is to get to the bottom.  After 3 years I feel we have a handle on the site's stratigraphy and on what was going on at the site.  This year I hope to confirm what we found during the first 3 years, and learn more about the site's earliest inhabitants.  But I'm sure there will be some surprises.  Patrick

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bubbles of Joy

This weekend has been full of bubble blowing and deck sweeping.

 Several weeks ago Patrick and I decided the time had come to say goodbye to our old kid plastic playset in our fenced-in yard area.  It was a mini log cabin complete with a slide which broke years ago and it was becoming dilapadated. The kids  hadn't  touched it this summer.   The kids have moved onto playing more on the bouy swing and basketball court.

Patrick was quite nostalgic and sad about it. The Velveteen Rabbit story always tugs at Patrick's heart strings, hence the sadness when saying good bye to toys or outside equipment cherised by the kids. Off to the dump the play set went. With the green-red plastic cabin gone, the evening light comes into the back deck until 10 pm!

With a butter knives in hand, Stuey and I cleaned out the pine needles from the grooves in the deck. Groove by groove, we pushed the dirt, pine needles and some small plants through the planks.  This is a chore I used to do every summer but haven't done in probably 5 years!  Since our fire pit was put in on the ocean side lawn and our gill rusted through, we spend the bulk of time on the ocean side lawn.

 I put a red gingham table cloth on the patio table. Yesterday morning Stuey and I played several games of battleship together on the table.

Bubbles are a-plenty here as Stuey is mastering the art of blowing bubbles! Yesterday during a drive out to Pasagshak, I taught Stuey how to blow bubbles. With a pack of apple green hubba bubba, Patrick and I talked him through how to form a bubble and I demonstrated.

 At first Stuey was highly discouraged and teary saying, "I can't do it. I won't ever be able to do it" and then he had a successful, almost accidental small bubble. Then another one. And then they got bigger and all day today hes been blowing bubbles nonstop. Hes been laying on the couch saying "mom, you should of seen that one! IT was SO big!"


Friday, July 15, 2016

Games and Downtime

Crazy Eights in the 'tea room'

On our past trip to Afognak we played far more games than usual.  I believe it is the start of a new trend.  Crazy eights, ColorKu, obstacle course, and the 'Fog Oasis' cliff game were the favorites.  A lot more reading and downtime too.  Every afternoon it was quiet time for everyone.  I actually read a book and a half - this is something that would have been impossible to conceive of on a trip to Afognak with kids 2 years ago!  Patrick

The 'fog oasis' cliff game

'You're going down in the dumps with Donald Trump'

Estella on the obstacle course

Nora and Estella time Stuey on the obstacle course from the teepee

Huge driftwood log to play on

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

New Potatoes!

Tonight's new red potatoes - I'm going to boil them and add butter and parsley

Last year at a family function I was talking gardening with a cousin and mentioned how my red potatoes always ended up all scabby and ugly.  He told me that that's because they are meant to be eaten early - red potatoes are early potatoes. 

So this year I planted just one bed of red potatoes and plan to harvest them all by the end of August.  They started to bloom a few weeks ago, and then tonight I dug up the first plant.  They're ready!  So part of tonight's meal is boiled new potatoes with butter and parsley.

Last night's beets before I roasted them

Ohmmm wait a second. .... .. I guess I better not back up

Forkie by the road reminds that it is getting close to hunting season!

Exploring the Coast North of Camp

Hiking to the North on 'North Beach'

It seems that on every trip to Afognak we discovered something new.  On this trip we hiked along the coast to the north of camp for the first time.  In the past we've always gravitated either up the mountain behind camp or towards the old village to the south.  I had explored around 1/2 mile or so further north and had found a rocky but low coastline.  So that is sort of what we expected to find more of on this trip.

What we discovered is Fort Abercrombie or Termination Point on steroids.  High cliffs and untrammeled old growth spruce forest.  There is a steep hillside that ends in cliffs and the trail cuts along the slope through the old growth spruce forest.  And it is a pretty good trail too.

The good trail begins a little further along than I had explored in the past and is a heavily used bear trail.  Clearly it is the bear highway along the coast to Litnik at the head of the bay. Going out the bay, the trail cuts inland at what we call 'lost and found beach', and turns west behind and inland of Lipsett Point - hence we never seem to see bear sign at camp.  All the bears are on the bear highway a 1/2 mile or so inland.  This is the bear trail we cross when we climb up the mountain behind camp.

I think we'll be exploring a lot more in this direction in the future.  Patrick

Nora and Estella used the juice box straws to sip stream water

BIG Sitka spruce and a mature understory

We followed a bear trail along the cliff tops

The north coast is cliffy with a steep mountain slope up above

Looking north towards the head of Afognak Bay from the turn around point

This is actually the coast south of camp where the coastline is much lower and more sandy

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Tonight I harvested the first beets from the garden for dinner.  I think they are the best looking beets I have ever grown.  Big, round, and unblemished.  And best of all none of them are bolting before they get big (so far at least).  Let's hope they taste as good as they look!  Patrick

Monday, July 11, 2016

Photographing petroglyphs

Straight photo of the petroglyphs

Petroglyphs can be hard to see and photograph.  I've noticed that the weather and light can make a big difference in their appearence.  Earlier this spring I closely examined a rock face for petroglyphs and found nothing.  Then it started to rain and suddenly there were the petroglyphs (click here).  I've also noticed that petroglyphs are often easier to see from a distance rather than close up.  It seems that your eye has an easier time making sense of less rather than more detail.

After finding the petroglyphs this spring another archaeologist had had me send her a photo so that she could apply some software to it that is especially designed to enhance rock art.  It ended up not showing much more detail than I could do myself by playing with the contrast and definition in 'Photoshop', but it did pique my interest.  The image she sent back also reminded me of the photos I take with my point-and-shoot camera set on the 'dramatic' setting.

So this past weekend on Afognak I decided to try taking photographs of the petroglyphs on the drama setting.  It worked pretty well!  I still think I can achieve much the same effects with 'Photoshop' at home, but for a field setting to help one see the carvings the 'dramatic' setting worked amazingly well.  I can see myself using the technique to help find and draw undiscovered petroglyphs.

In the field it is hard to change the light or the weather (water bottles and flashlights only go so far), but by changing the filters in the camera you can make your own 'weather' and 'light'.  Next time I plan on trying the various 'clouds', 'fluorescent', 'sunny day' etc settings.


Petroglyphs taken with camera on 'drama' setting

A lamp I found with the drama setting - shows the details better

Lipsett petroglyphs from afar - they really look good through binos

This one was touched up and still hard to see from close up

Lipsett Petroglyphs - drama setting

Lipsetts Petroglyphs - artsy black and white setting

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Teepees In the Trees

The last few days I have been going back through the blog archives and checking out posts about our trips to Afognak in years past.  It is interesting to see how our gear has evolved (in addition to watching me get old and the kids get big).  We used to use traditional tents for sleeping.  The first year we even used an old Moss tent that had been on numerous archaeological excavations extending back to 1994.

These days it seems all we use are teepees.  It is hard to beat how quick they are to set up and how big they are inside.  Both of our sleeping teepees have bug nets and floors.  On this past trip Nora and Estella slept in the Golite Shangri-la 5 while Zoya, Stuey and I slept in the Hyperlight Mountain Gear Ultimid 4.

However, one thing has not changed.  We have always used a big old teepee and a woodstove for a cook tent, and it has always been set up in the same spot.  But it is interesting to see how much moss used to be inside the tent.  Now-a-days it is pretty beaten in all around the cook tent and we imported gravel to make a floor on the inside.  Also in the old days we still did most of our cooking on an old Coleman 2 burner stove.  These days we do most of our cooking on the woodstove.  Patrick

Nora brings back firewood to the teepee

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Fried Chicken, Grilled Pizza & Potato Salad....Oh My!

Somewhere I read that people grieving the loss of someone crave new experiences. New travel. New food. I totally buy it.  For the first time ever, I made fried chicken. Coke Brined Fried Chicken and it was totally killer.

In one of the beautiful conversations with my mom the last few months of her life, she encouraged me to go out and go to new places, do new things. She said it with such heart and I knew right then that I indeed would seek out new experiences in these months and years following her death. That it was a most true way to honor her final wishes.

The past week I pulled down a few recipe books which I've hardly touched on my shelf and decided to try new ones which spoke to me.  Sitting on the deck in the sun, I flipped and read recipes and narratives. I read the stories which were in between the recipes, written by chefs.  Stories of their lives, experiences with food and with upbringings. These were stories which I may have skimmed over in the past but now enjoyed.

The first recipe I searched out was  a potato salad recipe. I'll admit to never making a potato salad recipe. Part of this is I know Patrick isn't a fan of mayo salad recipes, so  for years I've held back knowing that he wouldn't be a fan of it.  We had so much potato salad I  brought a big serving to my friend Melissa. And Patrick liked it! He even had seconds. Stuey wanted absolutely nothing to do with it because he said it smelled gross. Oh well.

That same night we enjoyed grilled pizzas on the outside bbq pit. The fire, I can't get enough of it. The heat, the flames, watching it come to life. Building it up, adding to it.  Good thing there has been lots of sunny weather because I'm all about firing up the coals and cooking outside.

Cooking the potatoes, flipping the pizza on the grill, mixing the fried chicken batter all makes me smile inside. These are comfort foods, indeed.  It feels so good to be cooking.

And I know my mom would be smiling down, glad for my success in finding a potato salad recipe I'll be making in the years to come.


Afognak July 2016 Best-Of's

Pensive pre-breakfast moment in the teepee - quiet anyway

Afognak 2016  Best-ofs (compiled by me on the last day by group survey)

Favorite foods:
Egg drop soup
chili cheese fritos
peanut M&M's
mini chocolate donuts

Favorite places to go:
Old Believers Village
Lost and Found beach
Drinking stream
graveyard point

Favorite things to do in the cook tent:
Color-ku board game
Crazy 8's
watch Brewster sleep

Favorite games to play outside:

Fog Oasis
Obstacle Coarse on logs near tent

Things we like most about camping:
walking on the beach
no laundry to do
write, read and saw wood
sitting by wood stove
staying cozy in teepee
blow up mattresses
no electronics
boat ride
teaching Brestwer how to swim

Things we liked least about camping:
bugs. mosquitos. thick.
inconvenience of going to the bathroom, especially at night
Brewster going bonkers in the early morning hours wanting to be fed
running out of good books to read (Nora)


Kayaking on a sea of pewter

One morning while on our latest trip to Afognak I took Nora and Stuey in the Kayaks while Zoya walked on shore with Estella and Brewster.  The tide was dead low and it was flat calm.  It was a grey day and very difficult to see where the sky ended and the sea began.  I felt like I was floating on a sea of pewter.

As we paddled along the coast we realized that if we yelled there was an echo back from the forest.  The trees higher up were draped in fog and it was sort of eerie to hear your voice come back and repeat what you said a second or so later.

As we paddled along the coast we could occasionally see Zoya, Estella and Brewster as they made their way through the spruce trees along the tops of the cliffs.  Brewster was a little ball of bounding white in the dark trees.  He finally noticed us down below and ran down to the beach and swam out to the kayaks.  He never swims and I was shocked at how fast he could go.

We all met up and had a picnic before heading back to Lipsett Point.


Pit stop on the go