Ending the fourth year of digging at a site next to Salonie Creek, community archaeologists found a house at the bottom of the pit, changing how people there are thought to have lived thousands of years ago.
“People were a lot more settled than we thought,” said Alutiiq Museum archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall. “They were building big houses, not living in tents, and that house had walls and a sod roof. It was quite a substantial structure.”
The house, with a lamp inside a hearth, was found at the bottom of the dig. The structure dates to an early Alutiiq period known as the Ocean Bay Tradition.
“We used to think of that time as sort of wandering across the landscape — here today, gone tomorrow,” Saltonstall said. “Now it looks like there was probably a group of people who lived in this bay all the time and used all the resources around there. This would have been one of their camps.”
Saltonstall knows they reached the bottom of the site because they ran into glacial till, a very hard, greenish-grey layer.
“That was from when there was a glacier covering Kodiak,” Saltonstall said. “When you hit that, you can’t dig any farther.”
The annual community archaeology program gives volunteers the chance to get a taste of archaeology by participating in a four-week dig.
Over the last four years, the program has slowly dug down through the layers of earth deposited over thousands of years at the Kashevaroff site on a hill above Salonie Creek in Womens Bay.
In earlier layers of the site, diggers uncovered hunting camp materials.
“We found evidence for catching seals with nets, which was exciting because no one has seen any evidence for that (before),” Saltonstall said. “We found complete tools and no evidence for people living there, just going there to hunt seals and process them.”
Today, the area is relatively far inland for a hunting camp, but Saltonstall believes the flat open area where Salonie Creek flows used to be a lake where seals would chase fish.
Over the winter, the museum has to work on cataloguing all the items turned up.
Saltonstall arrives at theories based on what he sees during the digs, but he then has to look at the hard numbers of artifacts to see if they actually back up the theory.
“Sometimes we’ll dig a site, and we don’t learn anything new,” Saltonstall said. “This year, we learned a lot about a whole different aspect of the early Alutiiq people. We’ve looked at big villages, where people spent most of their time. Now we’ve learned about a special-purpose site; we’ve learned a whole different chapter of Alutiiq history.”
Next year, Community Archaeology will head to a new location, yet to be determined.
Contact staff reporter Julie Herrmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.