Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cool Finds

An exotic chert microblade - microblades are only found in Kodiak's earliest sites
At the end of last year we thought we were pretty close to bottoming out in our excavation block, and on the last day we did bottom out on one side of the block.  So this year we thought it would only take a few days at most to get to the bottom of last year's excavation.  It turns out that the deposits are far, far deeper than we expected and that the shallowest part of the site is where we did bottom out last year. The rest of the excavation block is much deeper.  At the end of last year I think we had only gotten about half way to the bottom.

The bottom layer of the site is quite thick and seems to represent about 2000 years of repeated visits to the site.  Everything is quite mixed up, but towards the river and valley floor there tends to be thicker deposits where the inhabitants dumped trash over the bank slope.  Further away from the bank edge the deposits are thinner and there are more living surfaces - hard red or black stained surfaces that represent the floors of old shelters. This portion of the site is littered with old post holes.

Most of the artifacts from the bottom layer of the site are stylistically characteristic of Kodiak's Early Ocean Bay II Tradition - ie they date to around 5 to 6 thousand years ago.  However, we have also found a few artifacts that are typically found in only the earliest sites on Kodiak Island.  These include an unground adze head used to carve wood, a microblade, and a finely-flaked, chipped stone point made of basalt imported from the Alaska Peninsula.

The latter finds indicate that Alutiiq people probably first lived at the site sometime around 7000 years ago.  Unfortunately where we are currently digging all evidence of this earlier time period has been churned up by the later occupants.  5 to 6 thousand years ago there was a lot of digging and dumping going on where we are currently digging, and I have not entirely figured out why.

I do know that we are finding quite a few ground slate bayonets typically used to hunt sea mammals and the ground slate knives used to butcher them.  So it seems likely that the site was a place where people stayed while hunting and butchering sea mammals.  We have not found the wide variety of tool types typically found at a more permanent settlement.

In any case, I do not expect to figure out what was going on at the site after just 2 short field excavation seasons. The site is very complicated and large.  So far we have only excavated a small portion of the site.  We need to excavate other areas of the site to get an idea of what was going on elsewhere on the hillside. But in the meanwhile we continue to find cool stuff!


Jesse with a bayonet midsection

Jesse found a few bayonets and 2 of the pieces even refit back together

Leslie with the tip of a flensing knife

Arielle's toy flensing knife - we've now found 3 tiny, non-functional tools that seem to have been toys

Rome with the tip of a bayonet that he found

Nicole shows off a toy bayonet

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


My niece, Cami, has been in Kodiak with us for a month helping with Nora and Stuey. She has a soul of gold and is loving, caring and so wonderful with the kids.  We have 1 week left with her before she flies home to Bozeman to start college this fall. 

Cami makes catchy home videos with the kids on her Ipad, has a light hearted spirit and fabulous sense of humor, makes games and paper creations with the kids, does dances and bakes with Nora. She creates fun with the kids and loves them. 

Yes, there have been hard moments where N and S test her patience. I remind her that if the kids are occasionally "mad" at her, then she is doing things right. :)

And next week we get to celebrate her 18th birthday before she departs! Fun family moments together this summer. 

My highlight of her Kodiak trip was our bear viewing trip that we did to Frazer Lake. Bear watching was so fun with her alongside. 


Monday, July 28, 2014

A Quick Road Trip To Surfers Beach

Cousin Love

As we pull up to Surfers beach, the car doors fly open and the kids run up to the big dirt hill which sits alongside the parking lot. Dashing up to the top, they slide, and jump off the top, race back up and repeat. The kids are breathless with enthusiasm. 

On the drive out to Surfers beach, Ella followed closely behind me. Patrick pretended to be the paparazzi and took pictures of her in her Subaru behind us. Our car joked about who is the fastest driver---Ella or I?

Sister time on the beach with Ella. We sat on the sand and watched the kids frolic in the surf. We debated on when to call the kiddos in from the cold Alaskan the end, the kids came in on their own, and were eager for towels and dry clothes.

California? No. Hawaii? No. Alaska? Yes!  Brrr.....

Loved the surf enthusiasm!

A big purpose of the trip was  to show Surfers beach to my niece, Cami. She had some nice time on her own to walk along the shore and enjoy the views on her own as well as with us and the kids.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Community Archaeology - End of week one

Our biggest find of the week - the rest of the house foundation that we started last year
On Friday we finished uncovering the 300 year-old foundation set into the top of the site.  It is the back half of the house we excavated last year (click here to read post).  The house had a tiny little raised sideroom.  A tunnel with a step connected the sideroom to the main room of the house.

What is interesting about the house is that it represents a different 'type' of house typical of Kodiak's late prehistoric period.  In their winter settlements the Alutiiq built large 'winter' houses with numerous siderooms and internal features like roasting and storage pits.  Multiple families would live in these houses - each family with its own sideroom.  The house we just finished excavating seems to be the type of house that one Alutiiq family would build at their fish camp.  It is much smaller and less elaborate with no internal features other than a hearth.

Around the Kodiak Archipelago we typically find no more than 2 or 3 of the 'fish camp' style houses at any one site and they are usually found in places that would be unsuitable for year-round settlement - at places where the Alutiiq would have focused on seasonal resources like late summer salmon, spring cod, or pupping sea lions.  'Winter' houses are often part of large villages and are found at protected places more suited to winter settlement.

On Friday we also excavated into the oldest layers of the site at the bottom of last year's excavation block.  It is really mixed up at the bottom with many intersecting living surfaces, numerous large post holes, and the occupants also seem to have churned up the layers moving dirt and sods around the site.  There are many chunks of charcoal mixed into these layers and I am wondering if the occupants were covering their hearths with sods and dirt to extend burning times? I do know that ancient Alutiiq peoples also used sods to build the walls and roofs of their houses and to hold down the edges of their tents.  We will need to excavate some more to determine exactly what they were doing in the lowest levels of the Kashevaroff site.

Another interesting pattern is that there is relatively little chipped stone in the lowest levels of the site.  Mostly all we find are ground slate bayonets and flensing knife fragments.  In the younger layers we already excavated and that date to somewhere around 2 to 5 thousand years ago, we found much more in the way of chipped stone tools and associated waste products.  Generally on Kodiak it is the other way around - the older sites contain more chipped stone and the younger ones have more ground slate.

Finally, the coolest artifact from the week is Gabe's lamp.  He found it in the lowest layers of the site so it is on the order of 5 or 6 thousand years old (we have not done any radiocarbon dating at the site yet). I think the lamp is interesting because it indicates they needed light at the site.  In summertime it is pretty much light all the time so perhaps the lamp indicates they visited the site later in fall?  Or, alternatively, they were living in dark houses that, so far, we have not found.   Patrick

Close up of the sideroom - it's not very big!

Back half of the house foundation and sideroom with Leslie for scale

Gabe with his 5 to 6 thousand year-old lamp

Ariel with her 'toy' bayonet

House comparison - 'winter' house from last summer's excavation at Old Harbor on left and this summer's 'fish' camp house on right.  The lower portion was excavated last year.

Last summer's house from the Old Harbor excavation - MUCH bigger rooms and many more internal features

Friday, July 25, 2014

Community Archaeology 2014 - We start to Excavate

After more than 2 days of removing last year's back dirt and the sod and Katmai ash from this year's new units we finally start to dig
Every year we start the dig by busting out the sods and removing the Katmai ash over the area we plan on excavating.  This generally does not take more than a day or so.  But this year we opened up a huge new area (6 by 6 meters), AND had to remove all of the dirt we dug in 2013 from last year's excavation block (also 6 by 6 meters).  Last year we did not get down to the oldest material at the bottom of the site.  So on the last day we covered where we got to with tarps and backfilled all of our dirt back on top.

I wish we had not put so much of the dirt back into the hole.  It was a LOT of work getting it all out!  And we did not start digging in earnest until Wednesday afternoon.  Actually, we did a lot of digging in the first few days but did not start digging and FINDING until day 3.

We have already uncovered the back half of the circa 300 year-old house that we partially excavated last year.  It has a tunnel to a tiny sideroom with a bench.  The sideroom is raised above the level of the main room and, in contrast to the thatched main room, seems to have had a dirt and sod covered roof.  It would have been a cozy and warm room.

In the 5 to 6 thousand year old levels at the bottom of last year's excavation block we are finding a mish mash of old living surfaces stained black and red with charcoal and red ochre.  It looks like Alutiiq people camped here repeatedly and set up their tents in slightly different places each year.  Based on the sharp bayonet spear tips we have been finding it looks like they were hunting sea mammals.  At the nearby Outlet Site on Buskin Lake the bayonets are often battered around the edges from use spearing fish and striking the rocks on the bottom of the lake/river.  None of the bayonets we've found so far have exhibited this characteristic battering.  So hunting and not fishing is what I am thinking.


At the end of last year we almost completely re filled our excavation block

We had to remove last year's back dirt bucket by bucket

Directly under the 1912 Katmai ash in the new excavation block Ariel found this cow jaw bone - evidence of the early 20th century cattle industry at the head of Womens Bay

In this photo the new units are ready to go (foreground) but we still have to completely uncover the tarps that protect the un excavated layers from last year

Our backdirt pile is already HUGE

Almost done!

Finally we start to excavate - Gabe and Matt at work in the new units

Leslie excavates the tunnel to the side room of the circa 300 year-old house it is slightly raised with a step up in the tunnel from the main room

Alex, Natalie and Marnie hard at work uncovering charcoal and red ochre stained living surfaces in the 5 -6000 year old deposits that were under the tarps - this is where we finished last year.

Marnie with a bayonet base - note the parallel notches down the sides

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bear Cubs

Did you know Kodiak bear cubs weigh only 1 pound at birth? They are born when their mamma is denned up in a hillside buried in snow, protected from the ruthless elements of winter weather.  

Within a few minutes of us arriving at the Frazer Lake weir,  a protective mamma bear sauntered confidently down a steep embankment  with her 3 little ones frolicking behind. It was going to be a good bear viewing morning! Into the river the little brown fur balls went, to try their paws at catching some fish. One small guy had a harder time with the art of catching salmon and seemed to only eat scavenged salmon or what was fed to him. The others seemed more adept, enjoying several salmon on the banks. 

My niece, Cami, is in Kodiak for 5 weeks to help with Nora and Stuey and experience Alaska. Most recently raised in Montana and starting school in Bozeman this fall, this is Cami's first trip to Kodiak (as an adult) and going bear viewing was on "our" summertime 2014 bucket list for her trip.

"Wow-this is amazing. Its like a zoo, except way, way better." Cami said enthusiastically at the prospect of no gates, no fences. Just nature. Better than any wild animal park.   A  bear came from behind us and discreetly moved into his position on the river banks in front of us.  Through the  binoculars and zoom camera lens, we could see the details of mosquitos swarming around their teddy bear like faces.  The bears are accustomed to the humans perched on the hill, watching their every move. That said, there are no platforms or walls which separate us from them. 

Seeing Kodiak bears in the wild is always humbling and reminds me where we are in the food chain. Even though Kodiak bears have virtually no interest in humans (the ones that haven't been around human garbage, at least), they are so strong and big and have the strength of several men combined. 

On the way home I grabbed the front seat on the float plane and a chance to glean Kodiak backcountry wisdom from Willy, our seasoned pilot. Willy often drops Patrick off for hunts, surveys, etc and he knows Patrick's regular stomping grounds. 

"So the start of the Ayakulik River is down there?" I asked as Willy pointed out what is known as the Kodiak refugium in the distance. I've heard so many stories about  the Ayakulik (many involving bears), as Patrick has rafted it on various archaeology surveys. Without a moments thought, Willy steered the plane over and showed me the origins of the river as it made its way through the flat lands and then through valleys towards the ocean. 

The rest of the float trip was full of surprises including spotting now vacant bear dens in the cliffs, seeing Koniag glacier (Kodiaks only glacier) and we finished the day with a fly over Patrick's archeaological dig. Most everyone stopped their digging and waved as we circled over. 

Even for this Kodiak born and bred gal, the trip was a feast for the eyes (and the soul) and gave me renewed appreciation for how spectacular our island terrific in the north pacific is. 

And as I told Willy in a little thank you note I wrote him today...."Thank you for making the journey just as amazing as our destination."