Rock Carvings Identified on Afognak Island

Petroglyphs on Afognak Island. Photo courtesy of Alutiiq Museum
Petroglyphs on Afognak Island. Photo courtesy of Alutiiq Museum

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The Alutiiq Museum’s curator of archaeology, Patrick Saltonstall, recently identified a cluster of petroglyphs carved into a rock on Afognak Island. He says they’d been aware of possible petroglyphs in the site for years, and this month he visited the area with an Afognak Native Corporation senior land patrol officer who had long been searching the area.

Saltonstall says, during the survey, he thought he spotted carvings, but couldn’t be sure.

“I saw some pecked circles and I was like, maybe it’s natural, and l looked at other rocks and I wasn’t finding anything at all like that, and then it started to rain really hard, and I walked back and then all of a sudden you could see them very clearly, because the rain made the rock that wasn’t pecked glint sort of, so you could sort of see the designs very clearly in the rock when you looked at in an oblique angle.”

Saltonstall says the carvings are circles, pits, and lines, and would have been created with stone tools. He said petroglyphs appeared when Alutiiq tribes became a hierarchical society and began having chiefs, and the drawings may have acted as territorial markers.

“You’ll have them in front of your village and they’ll kind of say, you know, this is our village. But I also think they sort of say who you are and sometimes I think they have references to the supreme being, the llamsua, and I think they’re sort of saying we’re more important, because kind of we’re related to the supreme being in some way.”

He says most petroglyphs probably date from 600 to 1,200 years ago, and archaeologists can come to that conclusion based on the age of sites nearby. He says evidence at those sites can also indicate the existence of petroglyphs.

“For part of the time the sites are associated with these incised pebbles, these little pebbles you find with drawings on them. And we know that the site near the one where we found the petroglyphs is kind of well-known for turning up these little incised pebbles, and so if you find a site with incised pebbles, you should probably look around because you might find petroglyphs.”

Those clues will be helpful in Saltonstall’s exploration of other Afognak properties. He says these surveys are funded through a Tribal Enhancement Preservation Grant the Afognak Native Corporation won from the National Park Service.

It’ll allow Saltonstall and other team members to examine all of the Afognak Native Corporation’s lands for new sites and petroglyphs, as well as check on the conditions of known sites. That in turn will help the native corporation manage its land and protect sites.

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