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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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Garlic Scape Pesto

Lately the garlic in my garden has been putting up scapes.  Basically the garlic is trying to flower and reproduce.  I pick the 'flowers' (scapes) so that the garlic's energy goes towards its bulb rather than towards reproduction (mean me).  I do have a lot of garlic and that means a lot of scapes, and in years past I had a hard time eating all of them.  My philosophy is that if I grow it - I better not waste it!

But no problems with the consumption this year!  I found a garlic scape pesto recipe from the NY Times (click here for recipe), and have modified it for my own use.  It tastes oh so fresh and makes my pasta bright green.  A member of our archaeology crew was severely allergic to wheat, and I first made the meal when he was still around.  So my version is gluten free!

My version is as follows:

10 or so garlic scapes
Baby kale or nettle greens (This is optional but I did not have any of the basil called for in the original recipe and so substituted with the kale of which I have PLENTY - I bet nettles would work the best though.  I have also made it with no extra green and it was fine)
1/4 cup of sunflower seeds (I used 'Go Raw' sprouted seeds with 'Celtic sea salt' because they were the only seeds I could find at Safeway that were gluten free)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
lemon juice (1 lemon - I used the stuff from a bottle and did it to taste)

The recipe is pretty simple.  But I gather the process order is critical. Basically I grind up the scapes for about 30 seconds in the little obsolete food processor that I have.  Then add the sunflower seeds and continue to grind away for another 30 seconds or so.  Then I add the oil and grind away some more.  Finally I add the cheese and kale/nettles and pulse until it is all combined.  Then I add lemon juice and salt to taste and grind until the pesto is smooth.

I added my pesto to some corn and rice penne pasta made by 'eating right for gluten free'.  I think it is as good or better than normal flour pasta.  It seems to be less filling however - so think bigger serving sizes than is your usual want.



Kiliuda Bay Serenity

I've been back from Kiliuda Bay for 4 days now, and am already completely re-engrained into the world of Wifi, stores and motorized transportation.  I am in the process of writing up a couple of blog posts about our archaeological discoveries.  In the meanwhile I keep looking at the trip photos, and wondering how the time out there went by so quickly.  Such a simple life - food, staying dry, archaeology, and sleep.  Patrick

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Kiliuda Bay Fieldcamp

Libby's iPhone tent pan - those iPhones are getting pretty darn good!

My recent trip to Kiliuda Bay lasted 12 days an 11 nights.  It was a pretty long trip.  I'll post more about the archaeology and what we found in future posts.  This post will focus on camp life.  And we had it pretty good.

We camped in the grass behind a beach berm and it was a very comfortable camp.  I loved sprawling out in the grass inside the teepee, and in my sleeping tent I had the most perfect 'body groove'.   After we took down the tents we inspected each other's sleeping spot and tried to decide who had had the best spot.  I felt mine was best!

With the wood stove to keep us warm and for cooking it was 'glamping' at its best.


Another iPhone photo of the evening Manchego cheese and hard sausage ritual -  hors d'oeuvres

Libby and Alex

Teepee time on a rainy day - too rainy to dig

Carrying driftwood back to camp from the site where we excavated every day

Breakfast on the wood stove

Monday, July 17, 2017

Back from Kiliuda Bay

Up early to cook breakfast for the crew

I literally just got back from a remote, 11 day archaeological excavation in Kiliuda Bay.  Five hours ago and I was sitting in the cook teepee, rain pitter-pattering on the fly, waiting for the float plane to arrive and take us home.  And then the plane arrives, the teepee comes down super quick, and suddenly we are back in the land of cars and wifi. Wow, culture shock.

I got back to the house and found the note shown below from Nora.  It seems she found the first ripe salmonberries of the year!  I certainly did not see any ripe ones in Kiliuda Bay.

It is good to be home.  The kids came over and joined Justin and I while we ate our Cost Saver enchiladas.  Both Nora and Stuey were super impressed with my scruffy appearance - 'dad is that dirt on your face?'  And, 'dad you need to shave'.

I'm Home.


I walk in the door and find this note and surprise - the first salmonberries of the year!

The 2 by 2 meter pit got 2 meters deep - a perfect cube!

Our crop circle camp

My last big dig off of the road system was just over the mountain on the left center - and I climbed that mountain!

Camp food!  Oh doesn't SPAM taste good in the field!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Smoke on the Water

Every 4rth of July Mill Bay ends up like something out of Apocalypse Now.  A constant stream of Bangs, fizzles and 'boom' boom' 'booms'.  The air is filled with smoke and there is a haze of smoke on the water of the Bay.  This year we lit the fire pit and joined in.  We shot off fireworks from our perch on the cliff above Mill Bay.  Study REALLY likes fireworks and wants me to buy more.  He wants to try them when it is dark outside.

Nora just saw this picture and commented, 'it's Harry Potter - it looks like we're holding wands!'



I'm in the kayak and it really bothers Brewster
Some final pictures from our 4rth of July weekend trip to Afognak.  Today I am off to a remote archaeological excavation, and so I will not be posting anything for a while.  I wanted to post these pictures before they became lost in my 'iPhoto' archives never to be seen again.


Chilli Cheese Fritos at Lost and Found Beach

The wading game

Study kayaking with 'drama' (the camera setting)

Hey how'd they get out there?

Stuey's fort in progress

Whittling and wood stoves

At times during our weekend trip to Afognak it was pretty rainy and we spent more time than usual sitting by the wood stove in the teepee.  It kept us warm and dry.

Nora would read her book while Study and I did ColorKu, or Study whittled and I read my book.  We'd drink tea, cocoa and cook quesadillas on the wood stove.  It was a relaxed time.  I think the kids enjoyed having 100% daddy time.

Stuey and I did something like 35 of the ColorKu puzzles - we got up into the 'Challenging' 60's - way beyond where we ever got last year.  Stuey's whittling also improved a lot.  Rather than hacking away - what I called 'splitting' - he started to carve.  I taught him to push with his thumb and create 'Curley cues'.  On this trip he made quite a few knives - 'letter openers'.

NOT in the teepee - seaweed taken with the camera's auto drama setting