Sunday, June 5, 2011

Archaeology on the Karluk River

Mary holding a ground slate ulu
The remains of the walls of a sod house with two wooden posts still sticking up

Mary in a particularly deep test pit in the midden
Me in the test pit that gave me pushki burns (notice I had taken my gloves off, I will never be doing that again!!)
Mary standing in a side room of Koniag period multi-room house

 Even though I only got to participate in half of the Karluk River Survey, I  still saw a lot of really cool archaeology. I've always heard about the big villages along the Karluk River and was very excited when this opportunity came along. The Alutiiq Museum likes to do their surveys in the spring before the vegetation comes up very much. It is so much easier to see the house pits and other surface features when the vegetation is down! Most of the house pits are clear as day. It makes me think back to the other places I have surveyed in July and August in other parts of Alaska and Russia and how difficult it was to find the house pits until you literally step or fall into them.

The first village we surveyed was huge - I can't remember how many house pits it had, but it was a lot. Perhaps a couple of hundred people had lived there at some point in time. We found that there had been two periods of occupation at the site. One older Kachemak occupation (probably around 1000 years ago) and one Koniag occupation (probably between 800 and 300 years ago). We were able to see different styles of house construction for the two periods: the Kachemak houses were usually smaller and had roof sods and the Koniag houses were generally larger and did not have roof sods. We did find one large Koniag-looking multi room house that did have roof sods though - a bit of a puzzle for us. We are especially interested to get a radiocarbon date from that house to see how old it is. Perhaps it represents a transition from the roof sod to no roof sod construction between the Kachemak and Koniag periods.

One of the other villages we surveyed had house depressions with wooden posts still sticking out of the ground all around. It was really cool to see just how much wood was needed to frame up these houses. The wooden posts seem to have mostly turned to moss now.

We also found preserved faunal middens at some of these sites so we got a glimpse into what sort of animals people were eating. We of course saw tons of salmon bones, but also cod and a variety of marine shellfish such as clams, mussels, snails, and cockles. People carried these marine products all the way up  the river to consume later. We also saw some sea mammal bone, bear bone, and either dog or fox bone.

After all these years of working in coastal Alaska, it was very cool for me to see what some of these same people were doing inland on Kodiak Island. We have our suspicions that people were living on Karluk Lake and River in the fall and winter - when there are fish up there, the mosquitos aren't bad, and the ground is frozen and easy to hike around on. Hopefully we will be able to test some of our hypotheses in the future.

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