The Alutiiq Museum recently completed fieldwork for an archeological survey of land belonging to Leisnoi, Inc., including Termination Point, Woody Island, Long Island, Middle Bay, Kalsin Bay, and Chiniak.
“There are sites in this area that date all the way back to the beginning of Alutiiq history in Kodiak,” said Molly Odell, project manager and archeologist at the Alutiiq Museum. Some are more than 7,000 years ago.
The survey is supported by a $43,000 Tribal Heritage Grant from the National Park Service. According to museum archaeologist and project leader Patrick Saltonstall, the goal is to support Leisnoi, an Alaska Native corporation, in its effort to conserve historical sites on its land.
“Sites are a nonrenewable resource,” Saltonstall said. “They’re a way to understand what happened in the past. People always compare it to library books — once they’re gone, you can’t really learn about certain aspects of what’s going on out there.”
With the fieldwork complete, Saltonstall and Odell will spend the coming months compiling a report they will submit to Leisnoi in the spring. The report on the sites at Termination Point and Long Island will also be submitted to the Kodiak Island Borough, which holds a conservation easement in those areas.
“For Termination Point, we found that some of the trails were damaging sites,” Saltonstall said, noting that one portion of the trail passes directly through the site of an ancient Alutiiq home. “But there’s a quick way we can fix it,” he said, pointing to a hand-drawn map of an alternate route he found during the survey.
The survey led to the identification of 14 prehistoric sites. But Saltonstall and Odell also found sites from World War II.
“That’s kind of important now because Leisnoi is going to be cleaning up a lot of that, and our survey will help them,” Saltonstall said.
Odell explained that while Leisnoi may want to clean up some contaminated sites that date back to World War II, the corporation is waiting until it receives survey results to decide which sites to preserve.
Anything over 50 years is considered a historic site, “but that’s not the end of the story,” Odell said. “It doesn’t mean that anything 50 years old has to be preserved — it just means we have to consider whether it’s important for our collective history or not.”
World War II remnants found on the survey include bunkers but also landscape features such as ditches, dammed or rerouted rivers, and disappearing roads — all easy to miss.
“The World War II stuff is really interesting because a lot of people don’t think of that as archeology, but it’s important history,” Odell said. “In 100 years, our great-grandchildren are going to be looking back at that important history, and if there’s nothing left for them to see, it’s going to feel really different.”
The survey also revealed a Russian-era brick kiln on Woody Island that dates to the 1830s. Russian documents had indicated there was a kiln on Woody Island, “but nobody had actually found it and knew where it was,” Odell said.
“It was kind of unexpected. We were walking along and then, all of a sudden — what are all these bricks doing here?” Saltonstall said, calling it “an unexpected discovery.”
Saltonstall and Odell reviewed many sites that were found in previous surveys of the area and were pleased to find most of the sites in good shape.
“Part of it is also seeing what condition the sites are in — how are they getting damaged?” Saltonstall said. “In the old days, people were digging in sites a lot. We didn’t see any evidence of recent people digging in sites.”
Up to the 1990s, it was common practice for Kodiak residents to dig through archeological sites off the road system. Now, thanks to education efforts by the Alutiiq Museum, people respect the regulation that prohibits taking artifacts from archeological sites. All artifacts belong to the landowner — in this case, Leisnoi.
The sites are also eroding less than they used to. Following the 1964 9.2-magnitute earthquake that shook the island, some Kodiak beaches sunk 6 feet, revealing many archeological artifacts.
“So in the ’70s and ’80s, all the sites were eroding like crazy. There were artifacts everywhere,” Saltonstall said. “And that’s why people got very interested in collecting artifacts. Even in the ’90s, we looked at a lot of these areas and they were still eroding, but now we found the sites in much better shape than they were in the past.”
Now that erosion has slowed, Saltonstall and Odell had difficulties finding some sites because they were covered in vegetation. But the vegetation can also be the key to identifying sites: archeological sites tend to have lush vegetation because “people pee, throw away food. It’s like they concentrate all the nutrients in a certain area,” Saltonstall said.
The museum has already completed similar projects for Koniag, Inc. and the Afognak Native Corp. Additionally, it continues to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on efforts to record ancestral Alutiiq settlements in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.
“As a person who works in a museum, we’re into history, we’re into the Alutiiq people and how they’ve lived. It’s kind of nice to see land managers that want to know, want to keep it,” Saltonstall said. “We’re in a good community. We value the resources on the landscape.”
Leisnoi president and CEO Jana Turvey said she hopes the survey has been “a win-win” for Leisnoi and the Alutiiq Museum.
“It’s important to the corporation to understand the historical value of all of the ancestral lands that we hold,” said Turvey. “We want to make sure that we understand the historic value and the ancestral value for future opportunities.”
She noted that while Leisnoi is not considering selling any of its land, the corporation is considering partnerships with other parties. Leisnoi has previously sold the land of Cliff Point for housing development.
In addition to submitting recommendations to Leisnoi in the spring, the survey team will also produce a pamphlet for the public, showing the kinds of archeological sites in the area and what the public should do if they encounter archeological artifacts. However, the exact location of archeological sites will not be made available to the public at this time.
Revealing the location of sites is a sensitive decision, Odell explained. On the one hand, it can contribute to educating the public on the history of the island, but on the other hand, it may allow vandalism and looting of the sites. However, she said that vandalism and looting have not been an issue in recent years.
“One of the major things that has the potential to damage archeological sites on the road system is ATVs,” Odell said. “Sites are not being looted by people, but they are still being damaged by motorized vehicles in some places.”
If found, artifacts should not be removed from the land. Members of the public can take photos, record GPS coordinates and send them to Saltonstall at firstname.lastname@example.org. People can learn more about participating in the Alutiiq Museum’s archeological projects by becoming Stewards of Heritage.