Community Archaeology Brings Another Year of Kodiak Discovery

Patrick Saltonstall stands in front of site. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
Patrick Saltonstall stands in front of site. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository is in the midst of Community Archaeology, a program which reaches out residents to help dig archaeological sites in the Womens Bay region.

The volunteers have the option to meet at the museum in the morning and head out there with staff for the entire day, or to drive out to the site and spend an hour or two.

Community Archaeology has been digging in the Kashevaroff Site, at the head of Womens Bay. Thursday, they switched to a different section, just a short distance away from the area they’d been digging the day before.


It’d been pouring for the last few days, and Thursday morning hadn’t tempted many volunteers to show up, so the trek to the site included several members of the staff and one returning volunteer.

Once we arrive at the site, the volunteers climb down into a rectangular hole. At one end is a gigantic pile of dirt, all of which used to be in that hole.

Curator of Archaeology, Patrick Saltonstall, says the cavity is split up into squares and volunteers dig away one layer at a time.

Alutiiq Museum Gallery Manager Dana Haynes is one of the workers today. She’s scraping away at the dense, dark dirt with a trowel, shoveling it into what looks like a dust pan, and dumping it into a bucket.

She uncovers an object soon after she begins digging and Saltonstall examines it to confirm it’s an artifact.

“Dana found a piece of red chert, good job. And this is what a lot of tools are made out of, especially earlier in the site. And this is a rock that you find on the west coast of Kodiak.

Saltonstall says the site was probably a hunting camp.

“Last year we found a huge smoke processing feature here. There was like big piles of rock that had been heated, and we found lots of bits of roasted sea mammal bone in here, and what we think was happening was people were taking the seals they were hunting, and they were smoke processing them here. They were heating up the rocks so it would hold heat so they didn’t have to use as much wood, and they were drying and smoking meat right here. And we radiocarbon dated it to about 4200 years ago.

He explains each layer of dirt dates the artifacts found in it.

“This white ash here, see this stuff that’s very coarse? This is the 1912 Katmai ash. It’s a good marker. You find it everywhere on the road system. And if it’s undisturbed, then you know everything under it’s undisturbed. And everything under it’s older than 1912. And this soil surface is the stuff that’s formed since 1912, and we go down here – see this orange stuff? That’s a 4,000 year-old volcanic ash, and on this site we call that a level two.”

After volunteers dig up enough of those layers to fill their buckets, Saltonstall carries them up onto the giant mound of dirt, where the team has perched a device called a screen. Salstontall filters the buckets of soil through the mesh to find any artifacts the archaeologists might have missed.

And if he finds something and it’s coated with mud, he applies the Saltsontall method by giving it a quick lick.

“It’s so I can see if there’s any scratches or if it’s worked. I can usually tell if it’s something when I clean it off a little bit.”

Community Archaeology will continue for a couple of more weeks. According to the Alutiiq Museum, digging and lab work is set to wrap up by August 12.

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