Lecturer Presents on Fats Found in Pottery on Kodiak Island and Alaska Peninsula

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A visiting PHD student will give a lecture about historic pottery and what she’s learned so far about how some Alaska Native communities used it in the past.

Marjolein Admiraal, who’s from the Netherlands, says her PHD focus is on pottery in southwest Alaska, specifically in the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak.

“I think I’ve always had a passion for extreme environments, and so during my bachelor’s in archaeology, I picked the Arctic as a specialization area, and I focused my bachelor’s thesis and my master’s on the peopling of the Americas. So, when people migrated from the old world into the new world basically, that story.”

She says Thursday night she’ll go over some of her studies, where she looks at organic matter still remaining in the vessels from the Alutiiq Museum’s collection and from the Alaska Peninsula.

“I use all sorts of chemicals and methods to extract purely the fats out of the pottery, so at the end my samples are so rich, the samples from Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula that the fat is literally dripping off the vials. It’s amazing.”

Admiraal says the information she’s currently gathering from fat can determine whether the sample is a plant, a land animal or an aquatic animal, and she says looking at proteins could specify the sample to a species.

She says in her preliminary analysis she’s found evidence of what people put inside the pottery, which started popping up on Kodiak Island about 500 years ago.

“There’s some results that have come in. It points to mainly the exploitation of marine aquatic resources. This is basically one of the main results we have till now, but it’s not much more detailed yet than that, because the techniques don’t really make that possible yet.”

She says the bigger question is why people in these regions invented pottery in the first place, especially because they didn’t use it to process milk or grains, as was common in many other locations. She notes some similarities in coastal Japan, where people also used pottery to process marine fats, which researchers believe was done in order to produce oil for fuel.

Admiraal will go over more of her work at the Alutiiq Museum tonight starting at 7 p.m.

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