People often ask how many archaeological sites there are on Kodiak. The answer, we don’t know. While the archipelago has an incredibly rich archaeological record, with about 1,000 recorded prehistoric sites, it also has a lot of uninvestigated territory.
“Past research has focused on specific areas of the islands,” said Alutiiq Museum archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall. “Until recently, most surveys were on the coast, and focused on specific bays. This means that there are big gaps in our knowledge.”
For land managers, like Koniag, Inc. this uneven coverage can make it difficult to care for ancestral settlements, the deposits of animals remains, artifacts, and ancient houses that preserve information on the history of Kodiak Alutiiq people. Managers need to know where these sensitive deposits lie in order to protect them from everything from development to digging bears. This summer the Alutiiq Museum hopes to fill some of those gaps for Koniag, Inc. by surveying areas of corporation lands that have not been fully investigated.
Saltonstall explained. “We have a grant from the National Park Service to look at three areas of Koniag lands. Last fall we investigated corporation holdings on the coast of northern Afognak Island and found 11 previously unrecorded sites. This summer we will be visiting the Sturgeon River valley and Uyak Bay to find and evaluate sites.”
Saltonstall’s research involves walking over areas likely to hold sites and documenting finds with notes, photos, and video. “Our methods are low tech,” said Saltonstall, “but the resulting data are enormously valuable to preserving Alutiiq heritage. We learn how people used the landscape, and at the same time, we understand how modern forces like erosion, are eating away this irreplaceable record.”
Following the survey, the museum will combine information from their surveys with data from previous research on Koniag lands in the Karluk River valley. This will create a comprehensive site inventory for Koniag, along with recommendations for site management. Already, the archaeologists are seeing patterns in site destruction. “On Afognak Island many of the early sites seem to have been washed away. We are finding mostly small, late prehistoric settlements, villages from the past 500 years.”
Photo: Patrick Saltonstall and Mark Rusk survey Koniag, Inc. lands at Karluk Lake.