Alutiiq Museum Releases a Series of Short Films on Archaeological Sites and Protecting Artifacts

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

You may be familiar with the way security guards in museums eye you if you get too close to a painting or sculpture. There aren’t any security guards for archaeological sites on Kodiak, but artifacts deserve the same reverence.

Patrick Saltonstall, Curator of Archaeology at the Alutiiq Museum, says the museum has produced a series of three five-minute videos called “Stewards of Heritage” that will explain the value of archaeological sites as a resource, what happens to sites and how they can be protected, and laws related to them.

“What laws protect graves? What laws protect sites? What can you do when you see these things? For the most part, sites are protected and I’m very happy about that, but that still doesn’t mean you can’t look at sites, and we try to hopefully in these videos teach people what they can do legally and how these sites can tell them something.”

Satonstall says in the videos he speaks about what these sites mean to him as an archaeologist, but the short films include a lot of different voices. The Alutiiq Museum collaborates with people throughout the island in its stewardship program, which works with volunteers who look at sites in a noninvasive way and report their observations.

“We interview various people who are involved with site stewardship or the whole process. We talk to Alutiiq elders, Alutiiq people who no longer even live in the state, but they’ve come back, and how these sites have helped them learn about themselves.”

Saltonstall says they also talk about the ways that sites can be destroyed.

“One of the biggest ones is probably erosion, especially with rising sea levels, with global warming. Another way the sites are damaged is animals digging ‘em. Bears dig for roots or dig beds for when they watch fish. We have puffins burrowing into sites, deers making trails. And the one we try to prevent is humans digging in sites.”

He says people may be interested in taking home souvenirs, for example. Amy Steffian, Director of Research & Publication, was involved in the films’ development and says that’s something they talk about in the third video in the series.

“What are artifacts, what do you do when you find an artifact? Why is it important to leave them where you find them? What happens to artifacts when they enter a museum versus what happens if someone takes them home? And Natalie Wadley and Marnie Leist, our collection people, talk about artifacts, and how we treat them and why they’re important.”

She says the videos, which the US Fish & Wildlife Service funded, will be distributed across the state. You can pick up a free DVD at the Alutiiq Museum’s upcoming screening tonight at 7 p.m.  

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