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Filming at Cape Alitak.
Photo Courtesy Liz O'Connell

For thousands of years, Alutiiq people lived in sod houses and hunted sea mammals, relying on special technologies, ancestral knowledge, and spiritual assistance to care for their families.  The Cape Alitak petroglyphs are one of the few written records of their way of life. Pecked into Kodiak’s granite bedrock, images of people and animals preserve customs from the Alutiiq past.  Museum scientists reveal this history in seven video podcasts, films of 3 to 11 minutes each.

Created by the video production company WonderVisions with assistance from the Alutiiq Museum, the films document recent archaeological research on Kodiak rock art. Viewers learn about the Alutiiq traditions while watching a field crew at work in Kodiak’s dynamic natural environment. 

 

 

CLICK ON EACH TAB TO SEE A DIFFERENT VIDEO

 

Petroglyphs

The Appearing and Disappearing Petroglyphs of Cape Alitak (6:47)

Sven Haakanson explores the prehistoric petroglyphs of Cape Alitak, illustrating the images and patterns in their distribution.

 

 

Supported by the National Park Service Shared Beringian Heritage and Tribal Preservation programs.

Jewelry

Jewelry Alutiiq Style (4:41)

Alutiiq people have been wearing jewelry for thousands of years. Marnie Leist and Patrick Saltonstall discuss how labrets - lip plugs of stone, wood, or bone - helped people share their personal identity.

 


 

Supported by the National Park Service Shared Beringian Heritage and Tribal Preservation programs.

Hunting Whales

They Hunt Whales with Poison Spears (9:32)

The Alutiiq hunters who pursued whales carried special knowledge and spiritual power. Sven Haakanson and Patrick Saltonstall discuss the art of Alutiiq whaling and archaeological evidence of this activity.

 


 

Supported by the National Park Service Shared Beringian Heritage and Tribal Preservation programs.

Sod Houses

This Sod House (11:20)

How do archaeologists know where to dig? Follow Patrick Saltonstall, Sven Haakanson, and Mark Rusk around one of Cape Alitak's ancient villages as they identify and describe the depressions made by collapsed houses.

 


 

Supported by the National Park Service Shared Beringian Heritage and Tribal Preservation programs.

Charcoal

Going For Charcoal (4:55)

Wood charcoal helps archaeologists date village sites. Watch Mark Rusk and Patrick Saltonstall uncover an ancient hearth and sample the charcoal it contains.

 


 

Supported by the National Park Service Shared Beringian Heritage and Tribal Preservation programs.

Midden

What's in this Midden? Or Trash Identification. (3:14)

Midden is the word archaeologists use to describe ancient garbage. Patrick Saltonstall examines the contents of a Cape Alitak midden and reveals its story.


 

Supported by the National Park Service Shared Beringian Heritage and Tribal Preservation programs.

 

Storms

Storms at Cape Alitak - Stakes for Storms (3:30)

Kodiak is known for its blustery weather, but what is it like to camp in the wind? Sven Haakanson and Jill Lipka share their experiences.

 

 

Supported by the National Park Service Shared Beringian Heritage and Tribal Preservation programs.

 
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Archaeologists have a way of focusing on the glamorous – temples, tombs, and shipwrecks for example.  Kodiak may not have pyramids, but over the past century archaeologists have been drawn to its most alluring sites; large coastal villages filled with midden.  We have learned a lot from these sites, but they provide just one picture of the past.  You can’t understand a society by studying only its cities or monuments.  You need a broader view.
 
Over the last decade, museum archaeologists have been investigating the history of Womens Bay.  This protected finger of water just beyond the City of Kodiak is a microcosm of local history.  Sites of all eras and types occupy its shores.  Years of research have helped curator Patrick Saltonstall to understand the environment, and to look beyond the noticeable settlements to find the smaller, less obvious places people lived and worked.

“Campsites, fish processing areas, quarries, and even hunting blinds are a part of Kodiak’s archaeological record,” said Saltonstall.  “Scientists often talk about these sites, but few people have ever studied one.”

With characteristic aplomb, Saltonstall and his crews of community volunteers have been investigating a string of small sites at the head of the bay.  Saltonstall, who spent a lot of time in geology classes, recognized that Womens Bay was once much longer.  Today Salonie Creek meanders across a broad meadow at the head of bay, but thousands of years ago this expanse of tangled brush was ocean water, and people settled along its shore.

At the Amak site last August, museum crews excavated in a series of small mounds tucked up against the ancient coast.  Here they found a unique and focused set of materials.  The site contained long slate lances and sharpening tools, but little else.  It also featured the tumbled remains of a rock ring, a roughly circular pile of water-rounded boulders (see photo).  Saltonstall had never encountered a similar structure, but he interprets it as a hunting blind.  Here, perhaps 5000 years ago, seal hunters scanned the water, took shelter from the wind, and worked on tools.

The Amak site, and others along the Womens Bay coast are painting a new picture of Alutiiq history.  Archaeologists have long assumed that Kodiak’s first societies were highly mobile, that they lived in small groups, had portable shelters, and moved frequently.  While their sites are small, home to perhaps several families, some contain more permanent structures.  Carefully built earthen houses are older than previously recognized and suggest that families invested substantial amounts of labor and resources into creating dwellings.  In turn, this suggests that residents intended to stay.  Kodiak’s early families may not have moved as frequently as predicted.
 
The museum has also discovered a greater diversity of sites than expected.  Saltonstall explains.  “I really thought the Amak site would hold another fish processing area.  We almost didn’t work here.  The deposit’s locale and size suggested that it would be similar to other sites we’ve studied nearby.  However, we took a chance, and found an entirely different type of site.  So far, the data suggest that hunters stopped here to watch for seals.  We’ll see if this idea holds up.  We plan to excavate more next year, and to look for sites on the opposite side of the meadow.  I think there is more to be learned from the archaeology of Womens Bay.”

 

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