The Amak site is one of three archaeological sites around Womens Bay that the Alutiiq Museum has explored in the last 15 years with summer volunteers.
Excavation leaders Patrick Saltonstall and Molly Odell hope to discover artifacts that will answer questions generated from last year’s excavation at Amak. Odell is a doctoral student, while Saltonstall is lead archaeologist at the Alutiiq Museum.
After discovering a large number of bayonets — the formal term for the sharp stone blades on a spear — and whetstones during the 2011 excavation, the team is hoping to find evidence to support the hypothesis that Alutiiq people used the site as a seal hunting camp.
“We found a lot of ground slate lances,” Odell said. “And seals seem like the number one thing they would’ve hunted.”
Since starting the dig on July 16, the team has found over 20 bayonets that are believed to have been used as spear points. They also found chip stone tools, chert flakes and a pumice abrader.
Another goal is to reach older layers farther below the surface. Last year, the archeological team found a small corner of the site had intact layers of volcanic debris around 7,000 years old. The group is currently at a level around 5,000 years old.
“Last year most of the layers were from the Ocean Bay II level, which was 4,000 to 5,000 years ago,” Odell said. “We’re looking for Ocean Bay I, the first Alutiiq times, and hoping that people made different types of tools then.”
This year, the group found that one of the levels contained a mixed deposit of older volcanic debris, glacial till, gravel and charcoal. The team isn’t sure why long-ago Alutiiq residents dug the dirt up and mixed it, but they hope to figure it out.
“It’s a massive amount of dirt,” Odell said. “We don’t know why people were digging it up.”
The excavation process is simple. The team uses trowels to dig up the dirt and fill buckets while looking for artifacts. After the buckets are filled, Saltonstall and Odell sift the dirt for artifacts that may have gone unnoticed.
The site is divided into a grid; each volunteer has a designated grid square to work on, and all artifacts are documented with the grid location.
“When Molly maps them, we’ll be able to put it in a book,” Saltonstall said.
The museum has a core group of about eight people who are working at the dig site for the next four weeks. Aside from Saltonstall, the team is all women. This has changed since Odell started participating in the dig in 2002.
“It used to be all the high school boys,” Odell said. “I was the first girl to do it.”
Several of the women are earning college credit for the dig.
For Caitlin O’Connell, the experience has affirmed her desire to become an archaeologist.
“I was nervous that it was my first dig and I would hate it, but I really liked it,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell was recruited for the dig by Odell, who was her teaching assistant in an anthropology class at the University of Washington.
For Andrea Gover, another beginner, participating in the dig means fulfilling a childhood dream.
“I always wanted to do this as a kid,” Gover said. “I wanted to do this to get my hands dirty and come full circle. The artifacts here are unique, and I love the people and the experience.”
The dig continues through Aug. 10. Anyone interested in participating can meet the group at 8:15 a.m. at the back of the Alutiiq Museum Monday through Friday. For questions call the Alutiiq Museum at 486-7004.