Search This Blog

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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Week Three

Bree and the tunnel to a sideroom in the undisturbed, top level of the site

It's week three of Community Archaeology at the Kashevaroff Site, and we are getting deep into the site.  While we have been finding very cool artifacts I am a little disappointed by how disturbed we are finding the lower levels of the site.

It appears that the early inhabitants at the site did a lot of digging and sod tossing. In the main block I had hoped to find an intact early house or structure of some sort, and while we have found post holes and parts of some living surfaces we have not found any substantial, well-built features.  Worst of all, we have already found the glacial till that marks the bottom of the site, and everything appears mixed up right to the bottom.  We found this same situation last year in the block further down the slope but I had hoped it would be less disturbed further up slope where we are digging now.  It appears that there are actually more intact old deposits down slope where we were rather than upslope where we are now.

In many regards what was going on 5500 years ago during the Ocean Bay II component at the site closely resembles what was going on across the valley at the Amak Site.  Sod quarrying, smoke processing, and sea mammal hunting on a massive scale.  I do know that if we can figure out why the inhabitants at both sites were quarrying sods and moving dirt on such a massive scale that we will have learned something significant.

We did find one intact feature at the site.  It was the bottom of the cold trap entrance tunnel that we excavated last year.  We discovered that the sideroom and tunnel had been renovated and filled with grass sods.  Last year we excavated the top renovation.  This year we got to check out what the tunnel and sideroom looked like before it was renovated.

The cold trap tunnel had gravel on the bottom and was lined with planks and sods.  We think that it intruded too far into the sideroom and that the inhabitants filled it in to make the room larger.  They turned the tunnel into a step.

Over at Block B Catherine and her crew have been uncovering evidence of massive smoke processing, and many more of the notched cobble 'line sinkers'.  We have never found such notched cobbles with smoke-processsing features before.  So it is a new type of feature.  It is also interesting how differently that part of the site was utilized than where we are digging at the main block.  Different activities were clearly taking place at different parts of the site.  More on the smoke processing features in a later post.  Patrick

Cold trap entrance tunnel to side room of the 400 year old house associated with the top layer of the site 

Molly and a 'boot-creaser' or toy Bayonet

Ariel and a microblade - the microblades hint at an early occupation of the site

Leslie's Toy Bayonet

Soloman's ground slate sea mammal lance

Close-up of Soloman's somewhat unique lance

2 bayonet preform set together on a living surface from deep in the site

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Teepee Time and Rescue

This is an Afognak post from our trip out there 3 weeks ago that I almost forgot to load up onto the blog.

One of the most exciting aspects of our last trip was surviving an intense storm.  The winds were so strong that I had to collapse the big teepee, and we all hunkered down for a 1/2 day in our sleeping tents.  The rain pelted the thin nylon of our shelters and the wind did its best to tear something loose.

Nora read Archie comic books in our tent while I napped.  I gather in the other tent it was less relaxing with Stuey demanding a bit more hands on attention from Zoya.  Zoya was only 'allowed' to take quick cat naps between 'toots' and before the next game of 'dot-to-dot'.

While out there, I also cooked salmon in a way I had not tried for a number of years.  Someone gave us a red salmon and rather than cooking it over an open fire I decided to cook it in a pot.  I basically poached the salmon on top of pasta with cheese and beach lovage greens on top.  It was excellent camp food.  Here is a link to the recipe I posted on the blog from a few years ago.

The trip ended when we barely beat another big storm and came home a day early.  If Rolan and Seahawk Air had not picked us up when they did early Sunday morning we would have been stuck out there in a storm until Tuesday.  Wow - that would have been a lot of 'dot-to-dot' games!


Marshmallows over the cookstove

Mmmmmm - poached salmon on pasta!

Rolan to the rescue!

Some More Artifacts

Alexandria's chipped point preform

Here are some more pretty artifact photos from the end of last week.  They pretty much all represent hunting and butchering gear - lances for killing sea mammals and knives for cutting them up.  However, in block B, where it seems there was some intense smoke processing going on, they have also been finding a number of notched cobbles.

Unlike the notched shingles typically used to weight the bottom of nets these cobbles are notched on the short rather than long axis.  They are also coming from 4000 year-old deposits that should pre date the development of Alutiiq net fishing.  We've all been wondering if perhaps they were used to weight sea mammal nets.  Later in time such side-notched cobbles were typically used to sink fish hooks to the bottom.

So perhaps the site inhabitants were fishing in the shallow lake that was once in front of the site?  In support of this idea, a few years ago when we excavated a site up at the outlet to Buskin Lake we did find a number of line weights and calcined fish hooks.  So maybe Alutiiq people did use hook and line gear to catch fish in fresh water lakes.  We know they used such technology in the ocean, but it never crossed my mind that they might also be doing it on inland lakes.  Patrick

An end-scraper for processing hides

Flake knife for cutting up meat

Natalie's weird barbed bayonet

Alexandria's ground point with wild geranium for scale

A pair of notched cobbles from block B

Line drawing of some line and hook fishing gear found at the outlet to Buskin Lake (drawing by April Counceller)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Stratigraphy Ah Ha moment

Leslie finds the bottom of the site unexpectedly early

On Tuesday Leslie found the glacial till at the bottom of the site. This is the hard packed gravel layer laid down by glaciers more than 14,000 years ago.  It should have been a LOT deeper down there.  Last year we found the bottom of the site almost 2 meters down below the surface.  This year Leslie digging in the field behind the site found it less than 1/2 a meter below the surface.  What is going on?

What's interesting is that Leslie did find all the normal layers from about 4500 years ago to present.  It is just all the old layers that are missing.  Cue back to last year when we were excavating the lower layers of the site and finding multiple layers of re stacked, 'tossed' sods.  Guess where they came from? You guessed it - Leslie has found the sod quarry.  It seems the people living at the site prior to about 4500 years ago harvested sods from the field behind the site and brought them to the front of the site to build their structures.  

The fact that they stopped doing this around 4500 years ago indicates that people started to use the site differently.  Other than harvesting and importing sods, I am still not sure exactly what people were doing prior to 4500 years ago at the site, but I do know what they were doing later in time - smoke processing meat of some sort!

At the bottom of Leslie's pit there is a layer of weathered ash mixed with beach pebbles and flecks of charcoal.  We have been calling the layer L2A.  It is capped by a homogenous weathered and largely sterile ash we call L2 that seems to represent a volcanic ash fall from about 3800 years ago.  We find the same layer in all our excavations near the city of Kodiak.  We don't always find the L2A layer, but I think I know what it represents - repeated smoke processing.

In the main excavation in the same layer we have been finding pits filled with alternating layers of beach pebbles mixed with charcoal and sods.  I think the pits basically represent smudge fires for smoking sea mammal meat.  They heated up gravel to retain heat and then covered the fire with sod to lower the oxygen and maintain the fire.  Basically a low heat fire that lasted a long time without the addition of more valuable wood.

From this time period we are pretty much only finding sea mammal hunting and butchering gear so I suspect the site was a place people visited seasonally to hunt sea mammals.  In the other excavation at block B, in more recent deposits, they even found bits of calcined sea mammal bone, but they also found some fishing line weights.

In any case, Leslie's discovery of the bottom of the site with nothing older than L2A on it indicates that from L2A times forward Alutiiq people stopped intensively quarrying sods, and only used the site to catch and process meat - a hunting camp.  I am hopeful that the older sod quarrying is an indication that the site was used more intensively prior to the 'L2A' time period.  Maybe it was a small village where they were building houses with sod walls and roofs?  

We'll see when we get there!  Patrick

Rachel uncovers the top of a 'L2A' smoke processing pit

The beginnings of a much bigger smoke processing pit from block B

Soloman with some fishing gear - line weights?

Profile of a 'L2A'  smoke processing pit

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some Pretty Artifacts

Ariel's agate imported from the Alaska Peninsula at block B

Here are some of the pretty things that people have found in the last few days at the Kashevaroff Site excavation.  Mostly they consist of ground slate points and knives.  A lot of sea mammal hunting and butchering seems to have taken place at the site.

It's ironic but some of my favorite finds (that I will post about when I get back from the dig today) while significant are certainly not pretty.  For instance, yesterday we found some line weights at the site.  Finally some fishing gear - but what are they doing with line weights?  I would have expected net sinkers.  Grooved pebbles certainly aren't as pretty as a flashy bayonet.

We have also been finding cobble tools near the smoke processing pits.  Another ugly tool but they hint at the activities taking place around the pits.  And then there are the pits and tossed sods.  Yesterday we even found a sod quarry.  The latter finds are really hard to make into a pretty picture, but tell a GREAT story.

I like the pretty artifacts because they keep people excited and digging - moving lots of dirt.  But it is the more mundane artifacts, features and other clues that we find that get me really excited.  They tell the story of what Alutiiq people were doing at the site.

Leslie's bayonet tip from block A

Hannah's incised re-sharpenned bayonet from the main excavation

Christine's small ground point from a smoke processing pit at Block B

Solomon's flake knife from block B 

Hannah's ground slate flensing knife from Block B

Leslie's reworked bayonet from the bottom of block A

Last Week's News

Wow!  Lot of 'dirt under the bridge' since this photo was taken!

This morning I was looking at Community Archaeology pictures from the end of last week, and I was struck by just how long ago it seems they were taken.  We have moved a lot of dirt since then.  These pictures were all taken when we were still digging in the top level of the site.  We have since moved back at least 3000 years in time to the earlier levels.

I'll post about some of our discoveries in the last few days later today.  But, suffice it to say, the excavation blocks now look a lot deeper!

Jesse screening in the rain

Jesse and Catherine have been supervising and screening the 'block B' excavation

Courtney found a nice sideblade

Jesse starts to uncover a possible smoke processing pit

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Visit to our Afognak Neighbor

Family photo at Nancy's place

On Afognak we set out for a paddle to go around the point to meet our neighbor, Nancy H. Patrick had met her before, but this was a first for the kids and myself.

Stuey and Patrick in one boat, Nora and I in another-the seas were seriously glassy calm that morning. Nancy graciously showed us her cabin, made delicious strong coffee and shared juicy watermelon with us.

She had a cold beer for Patrick.

Stuey and I played on the beach for a bit while Nancy and Patrick talked. I saw the clouds rolling in and I knew the tide was changing, which was going to make our trip home harder.

It was time to leave.

I said to Stuey, "Let me go get daddy so we can head home. "
Stuey replied, "No, no, mommy. Its ok. Let him talk. He needs to get his talkies out."

We finally set off back to camp. The tide was very strong and within an hours period the winds had picked up. Furiously, we paddled. If Nora stopped paddling, we went backwards.

"Mom, this isn't fun! I'm scared."  Nora said.

"Honey, I know. But please just keep paddling, because when you stop, we go backwards" I replied. We made it to a nearby beach and piled the goods into Patricks inflatable canoe. The kids, Nancy and myself walked back along the beach and trails while Patrick kayaked back.

From the distance we watched Patrick battle the tide and white capped ocean. He made it back to Lipsett Point safe and sound.


Nancy and family

Setting out on the calm waters 

Nora and I

Watermelon. Yummmm.....

Summer Bounty

Yesterday we ate the first potatoes and beets out of the garden, and today, after I harvested some garlic, Stuey, Nora and I picked a gallon of blueberries.  It's summertime and things are getting ripe and ready to eat.  The garlic bulbs were a little small still so I decided to leave the rest of the plants in the ground.  I don't think I've ever harvested beets or potatoes in July.

The kids really got into the blueberry picking.  There was no stopping them until we had filled up the gallon bucket.  Nora wants to make pies.  I foresee a lot more berry-picking adventures this summer.  Patrick