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Monday, July 31, 2017

Surveying by Kayak

On the recent survey along the south coast of Afognak we used kayaks for transportation, but unlike the past few surveys this time we had a 'hard shell' as well as the usual inflatable kayak.  Jeff brought along his own kayak.  It was fun to see how they compared.  They are actually pretty similar in a lot of way.  I was surprised to find the inflatable was similar in speed to the hard shell.

On this survey all was well on the water until the last day when we entered Afognak Straits between Whale Island and Afognak.  We were on the home stretch to Afognak Village and the tide was just starting to come in.  And suddenly we were paddling upstream in a river.  Stop paddling and you went backwards fast.  The current was easily flowing 4 or 5 miles per hour.

We thought about waiting for high tide and floating the last part on the ebb when the current would be with us - but that meant waiting until evening.  And so we paddled it.  After all it was only a mile or 2. ... ..  My technique was to dart in and out of the eddies along the shore.  I'd go full 'sprint' speed in bursts around the points.  Jeff tried paddling out in the middle were the current was constant but not quite as fast as at the points along shore.  He did not need to sprint but he had to keep up a constant high rate of speed.  Either way it was a slog.

It was a HUGE relief to round the corner to Afognak Village and get out of the current!

The Narrows - Note that the tide is floating the eel grass in the wrong direction

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Climbing Pyramid without Skis

Today for the first time in a month I took the doggies up Pyramid.  It was very weird not to hike up in ski boots and carrying skis.  And no snow anymore - very sad.  But much easier to hike up in xtra tuffs and with nothing to carry over my shoulders.  And the wildflowers were stunning.

I climb Pyramid to go skiing maybe a 100 times a year, but I rarely climb all the way to the actual summit.  I normally stop at the plateau 400 feet below the summit and ski down from there.  So today was also special in that I climbed all the way to the top.  I almost never do that!

Fleabane and Lousewort - sounds like the person naming the plants had some issues with lice!


Fleabane and Arnica

Kamchatka Rhododendrons and Whale Pass in the distance

Monkshood - Alutiiq whalers used the root to make poison for killing whales

Spotted Saxifrage

Impromptu Hike

Yesterday I was at work waiting for a tour to show up, and to kill time I text messaged the kids to see what they were up to.  After the museum tour I had planned on climbing Pyramid with the dogs, but since I was texting the kids I thought I'd ask if they wanted to come along too.  I told Alex who was waiting with me that the reply would be 'nah, not today'.  And initially that was the response.  Then they texted back and said, 'maybe, but how about a different mountain?'

That perked me up!  So we decided on Old Womens and I rushed home to get the dogs.  It's not often that Nora and Stuey volunteer to go on a hike!  Usually these things are more along the lines of 'forced family fun'.  And there was a bit of the 'forced' aspect to get them to go to the top.  They wanted to turn back as soon as we got to the alpine.  But I encouraged them to go a bit further and that we'd get a group photo at the flag.  And so they pushed on to the flag.

On the way down Stuey shot trees with his slingshot.  Nora and I watched the dogs rip this way and that.  Later in the car they both admitted that the final forced part had been the best part, and worth the push.  A good impromptu hike!  Patrick

Summer Landscapes

Lagoon near Muskomee Bay

I've done a lot of kayak surveys this year!  In May I surveyed Whale Island with Philip, and then the South side of Raspberry Straits with Gregg.  Then in June I surveyed the North end of Kodiak from Port Bailey to Anton Larsen Bay with Justin. We found something like 60 new archaeological sites in total.  Looking back at the photos from the earlier surveys I am struck by how brown the landscapes looks.  May was practically winter and things were just getting green in June.  I'd forgotten that Justin and I experienced frost on the tent back in June.

But on this survey things were certainly green!  Green and very, very lush.  I don't think I missed any sites buried under the greenery, but I do know that sketch mapping them, and seeing all of the old house foundations would have been difficult.  So maybe it is a good thing we did not find any old villages on this last survey.  Patrick

Water killed spruce by Yubiik Bay

High tide in Waskanareska Bay

Waskanareska Bay

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Another Afognak Survey

High tide in Waskanareska Bay

Yesterday I got back from another archaeological survey.  This one was from Muskomee Bay to Afognak Village along the shores of Afognak Island.  Like the other surveys earlier this year the survey was for the Afognak Native Corporation.

It was a quick survey and first one where I did not find a single new prehistoric site.  On this survey we only found 3 new historic sites.  And I looked HARD - getting in and out of the kayak at all the likely places and scouring the woods and cliff tops for traces of past cultural activities - and . .. . NOTHING.

This was a big change from the last survey where I could not help but stumble upon archaeological sites.  So what is the difference?  I think some of it has to do with erosion.  This area of Afognak sank during the 1964 Earthquake and much of the coastline subsequently was cut back by erosion.  The shoreline was littered by old dead spruce trees killed when they sank into the salt water after the earthquake.

But I also think that erosion does not completely explain the dearth of archaeological sites that we found along coast of the recent survey.  After all, just across Raspeberry Strait we did find plenty of prehistoric sites during our survey back in late May.  So why not on the north side?  I think that most of the coastline on the north side is just unsuitable for village sites.  Cliffy, muddy intertidal zones, and a general lack of concentrated subsistence resources.  There were no places that screamed 'village site'.

And when we got to Afognak Village the dichotomy was clear.  Suddenly we were at a place that screamed 'village site', and there were the villages.  The coastline changed dramatically - from muddy and broad intertidal zones to nice beaches with driftwood along the top.  The aspect also changed and the beaches face the productive open gulf.  There were sites everywhere again.  Patrick

Flat calm and foggy in Afognak Strait

Afognak Strait

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Weekend with Stuey

We recorded this section of the trail as 'muddy and damaged'

This past weekend Nora went out to Long Island for a Girl Scouts camping trip; so it was just Stuey, the dogs and I at the house.  In the evenings I taught Stuey how to play backgammon and during the day we had adventures.

On Saturday we took the iPad and used Gaia to GPS a trail.  The Borough is putting all of the trails data into a data set, and Stuey and I were helping with the project.  Stuey was grumpy at first.  Then he started to carry the iPad and watched as we moved on the map.  He knew exactly how far it was back to the car.

Then on Sunday we went kayaking.  We started at the road and to save carrying the kayak to the water we paddled down the creek to the sea.  It was flat calm and we paddled out along the cliffs to Termination Point.  We named all the points of rock we saw along the way.  A small little spire was 'pinky point', and then a large sea stack with an eagle nest on top and an arch underneath became 'thumb point'.


Paddle to the sea

Despite the calm conditions there was a big suck and surge along the shore

Checking out the cliffs

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cool finds

Bone fishhook barb

Where the last blog post about the Kiliuda Bay archaeological dig was all about the big picture of what was going on at the site - this one is about the details.  What cool things did we find, and what do they tell us about what was going on at the site?

In general my favorite part of an excavation is excavating old houses and other types of features, and figuring out the stratigraphy.  That's where we learn the most.  But I'll admit that during the often boring grind of an excavation that it is the artifacts that provide the excitement.  Uncovering a house is cool, but finding a chipped stone point gets the blood pumping!

The artifacts tell us what people were doing at the site.  They also give an idea of what particular Alutiiq era we are digging in. For instance, large net sinkers and ulus in the black smoke pit feature screamed 'Early Kachemak' (3800 years ago) whereas the ulu with the sloppy drill hole indicated 'Early Koniag' (500 years ago).  These are the types and style of artifacts one expects to find in those particular eras.

Artifacts also help me interpret features.  The thumbnail scrapers used to scrape hides found in the oldest feature at the site indicate that there was a lot of hide processing going on there.  Maybe the inhabitants were smoking the hides as part of the tanning process?

We were surprised by the amount of porpoise bones we found in the late prehistoric midden.  And it got me excited when we then found the distinctive toggling harpoon spur shown below.  Ethnographic accounts written by early Russian visitors indicate that this particular style of harpoon was used to hunt porpoises.  The artifact reinforced that they were hunting a lot of porpoises from the site!   Patrick

Spur of a toggling harpoon ethnographically used to hunt seals and porpoises

Hunting lance used seals and other large marine mammals

Crab part? - if so, it is the first one I have ever seen from a Kodiak shell midden

Early Koniag era ground slate ulu for splitting fish

Small little thumbnail scraper used for cleaning animal skins - we found a number of them in the large feature at the bottom of the site.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Making Sense of Dirt

Smoke processing features from three different eras all stacked up on top of each other

A week ago today I was madly digging at an archaeological site in Kiliuda Bay - desperate to get to the bottom.  I'd just found another layer below what I had thought was the bottom.  I was worried that I would never get to the end of the cultural layers.  Now the dig is over and I have had some time to reflect on what we found.  And thank God last Sunday I did bottom out at 2 meters down!

The site today is a remnant of what it once was.  Even 20 years ago there were house depressions where there is now just beach.  For our excavation we dug two 2 by 2 meters blocks into the last remaining remnants of the site on either side of a small pond.  In one of these blocks (locus A) we found a late prehistoric faunal midden with excellent preservation.  In the other block (locus B) we found much deeper deposits and the remains of smoke processing features from three different eras (circa 500, 4000, and 5,000 years ago).

It is interesting that we found only late prehistoric deposits in one area and much older and deeper deposits in another area.  It indicates that the site has almost entirely eroded away in the past.  The current decimation by erosion is not the first time this has happened.  Changing sea levels, and land level changes due to earthquakes and other processes have had their way with the site at various moments of time in the past.  At other times the coastline has also clearly built outwards and site has been 'created' so to speak.

The late prehistoric shell midden bottomed out on an old beach - so at some time prior to 500 years ago that portion of the site was completely eroded away.  In the deeper block I was able to tease out when the site eroded and was cut back in the past.  Last Saturday I was so shocked to find deeply buried cultural deposits because on the current erosion face these deposits were not present.  There I only saw 4000 year old material directly on top of beach gravels.  The old stuff had been eroded away by a past erosional episode, and yet, a meter further inland these deposits were still there.

Anyway, it all makes for a nice story, but I better stop expounding on it before I put all my blog readers to sleep.  If you are still interested the erosional history of the site, it is all there in the 'stratigraphy' drawing from my notes below (3rd picture).

Profile from my notes explaining the different layers

Site stratigraphy - it seems the site has almost been wiped out by erosion a few times in the past

A well-preserved shell midden  - this is what people ate at the site

The midden had excellent preservation and in it we found the remains of the animals eaten at the site.  Lots of blue mussels, chitons, and periwinkles, but also seals, birds, whales and porpoise.  The most common fish remains were cod, but we also saw salmon and halibut bones.

We even possibly found the remains of a crab.  This is exciting because crab remains are never found in sites on Kodiak, but no one knows if that is because Alutiiq people did not eat them because of a food taboo or because they are too fragile to last long in the middens.  The fact that we found one crab bone would indicate that they SHOULD be preserved in middens and lends credence to the fact that Alutiiq people probably did not eat crabs.  The 1 crab bone may have been in the stomach of a seal or halibut butchered on the site.

The fauna from the midden will be analyzed this fall, and we will also find out if we really got a crab part.  I got my fingers crossed!

3800 year old net weight found in the 'black Kachemak' layer

The most exciting discovery for me was the evidence for 3 different episodes of smoke-processing at the site.  The site is situated right next to a deep and biologically productive portion of Kiliuda Bay, and Alutiiq people have clearly been going to the same place to fish and hunt for at least 5000 years.  And they chose the exact same spot to smoke process their catch.

At the top of the site we found relatively small, late prehistoric pits filled with rocks and charcoal, and capped with blocks of sods.  The sod was probably used to 'slow down' the fires.  These pits were associated with cod bones - so they were probably used to smoke process cod.

Funnily enough the older smoke processing features were much more elaborate.  The oldest feature was probably up to 15 feet across and had a roof covered with dirt and sod. This structure appears to have burned down and collapsed.  The 3800 year old features were extensive but seem to have lacked roofs.

Anyway, all this is pretty preliminary and a tad bit speculative. But it is good to have some initial impressions.  Now comes the analysis in the lab - will my initial impressions hold up under analysis? I'm also sure that some exciting discoveries will come out of the lab analysis itself!


The burned roof of a 5000? year-old structure

Cod bones associated with a 500 year old smoke processing pit

The site today - 500 years ago it was much larger and extended out where there is beach today

Nice view from the screen - Alex hard at work

Blueberries and Fireweed

On Thursday Stuey and I found the first ripe blueberries of the year - at least the first I've seen. This is 3 weeks later than the first blueberry of last year. I also noticed that the fireweed is starting to bloom.  So summer is peaking and the end is nigh.

It is a horrible berry year.  There are very few salmonberries or blueberries to be found.  Funnily enough but there are decent numbers of blueberries and salmonberries up in the alpine.  I think this is because they were protected from the cold winds of winter under a blanket of snow.  But down low the pickings are pretty bad.  Stuey and I could not find any blueberries at all under the trees in Abercrombie.  And yet the red currants in my yard have a bumper crop of berries this year.  So not all berries are doing badly - just blueberries and salmonberries.

I guess we'll be climbing the mountains for our blueberries this year!  Patrick