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Follow the Finds - Kashevarof Site 2016

Alutiiq Museum archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall is blogging about the 2016 excavations at the Kashevaroff site.  Follow the work at the site as we post observations and finds.

August 13 & 14 - Closing the hole:

BackfillingAnd after we finishing taking the dirt out of the hole. . . we put it all back in!  This is what we started with!




August 12 - Day 20:

HouseWe are all done with the digging at the Kashevaroff Site. As usual it all ended with a rush and we made our biggest discovery on the final day of the excavation, one or two substantial structures at the very bottom of the site that appear to represent houses.

During the final week as we dug down into the oldest layers of the site we encountered two large pit features that caused a great deal of confusion. Initially I thought they represented one large feature, but when we excavated the units in between them they did not connect up.

The pits appear to represent smoke-processing features and were full of inter bedded layers of gravel, sods, and charcoal. In one of the pits we even found some fish bone. So there was some fish processing going on at the site. But most of the tools we found were sideblades for cutting up meat, and 'bone wedges' for splitting sea mammal bone to get at the marrow, and lances for killing sea mammals. So  a lot of sea mammal hunting and processing was going on at the site.

Under the pits we found a continuous living surface and 2 large features. One of the features was circled by large postholes, had a circular trench inside the outer postholes, and a hearth. It looks like it was covered by a substantial roof of dirt and sods. Beside the hearth we found numerous sideblades and a small lamp.

Unlike in the upper and more recent layers at the site (where there seems to have been a focus of hunting and processing sea mammals), in the older layers at the bottom of the site we found a much more diverse inventory of tool types and a great deal of tool manufacturing debris. Clearly the inhabitants were spending more time at the site - and not just visiting for the day.

August 5 - Day 15:

NotchedSinkerLast week we excavated down into the oldest layers of the Kashevaroff site, where we found numerous, red ochre-stained, living surfaces.  Each surface probably represents the floor of a tent or a temporary shelter. The surfaces were littered with red chert flakes.  It seems people did spent more time at the site during the earliest occupation than they did in later times.

Our biggest discoveries came near the end of the week when we recognized two large features.  A possible house and another large smoke processing pit, like the one we excavated last year.

The 'house' has a thin, ochre-stained, gravel floor and alls made out of stacks blocks of sod.  It looks very much like a feature we excavated  in 2014.

The large smoke processing pit is full of large rocks, charcoal, and flecks of burned sea mammal bone.  It is basically underneath the one we excavated last year, and in places they intersected. The find of the week was a large notched cobble associated with the older smoke pit.  It also looks like the large notched cobble might have been a net anchor.  It is too big for anything else.  This may well be the earliest evidence for the use of nets ever found in the Kodiak Archipelago.

July 29 - Day 10:

BottomAThe second week of Community Archaeology is complete.  Last week we had some rain, but managed to still dig every day.  Our major accomplishment was finishing the main block.  We finally got to the bottom.  By the end of the week we had transitioned over to Block B where we uncovered the huge smoke processing feature last year. 

At the very bottom of the main block we discovered a structure of some sort at the edge of the excavation. The feature extended into area  partially excavated during the first two years of the dig, and I was able to go back to my 2013 and 2014 notes and piece the whole feature together.  It was not dug into the ground but rested on sterile and culturall mixed deposits at the very bottom of the site.  It was circular, ringed with numerous posts and measured about 3 meters across.  The floor was very thin and mostly gravel, but thick with charcoal in places.  It did not have built up walls or a sod roof. I believe it represents a temporary shelter.

In Block B we are getting into the older deposits.  The big find so far is a small hearth.  It contained burned bone and some fired sods.

 July 27 - Day 7:

JustinDigsLong time Kodiak archaeology stalwart Justin Hays is back. He first dug with us up at the Outlet Site by Buskin Lake in 2000, and helped run the Community Archaeology dig in 2004 and 2005 at Zaimka Mound, Bruhn Point and Salonie Mound. He also helped out at excavations in the Olga Lakes and Uganik Bay.

For the last few years he has been working in Interior Alaska where the archaeological sites may be older, but the artifacts and features are less plentiful and more ephemeral. He seems happy to be back on the coast. And we are certainly happy to have him back - Welcome Back Justin!


July 22 - Day 5:

GiantKnifeSmWe have completed the first week of Community Archaeology, digging into the oldest layers of the site (ca. 6,000 - 7,000 years old). INterestingly, we are finding many complete tools, and very little manufacturing debris. Normally you find maybe 50 or 60 piece of worked stone debris before you find a tool. But practically every artifact we find is a finished tool, and a great many of them are unbroken.

Why? Perhaps this level represents a hunting camp where Alutiiq hunters brought their completed tools. I suspect the manufacturing debris is back at a home base, where people made the tools. We are finding the flake knives, skin-scrapers, knives, and hunting lances that they lost or left behind while they were hunting and butchering.

Yesterday I found two complete tools made of basalt - a scraper and HUGE chipped stone knife made of basalt. Basalt is not found on Kodiak and must be imported from the Alaska Peninsula. So far we have only found 1 flake of this material,  yet we have two finished tools. Clearly, the tools were not made on site.

Like last year, we also continue to find  miniature bayonets. They are small replicas of bayonets, and would not have been functional. We think they represent the work of young hunters emulating their elders.

July 19 - Day 2:

Artifacts are appearing. Hear are some of our interesting finds.


July 18 - Day 1:

OpeningUpWe began where we left off last summer, deep into the oldest layers of the Kashevaroff site.  Usually the first day of the dig is filled with sod busting and shoveling over burden.  Then it takes a couple of weeks to dig though the top of the site.  Not so this year.

Last year we did all the hard work studying the top layers.  Then we tarped the excavation for the winter.  So this year,  we simply removed the tarps and began to excavate the old stuff.  Right away Gisele found a complete ground slate lance.  It's a beauty.

Our goal this year is simple.  Finish the excavation.  We have two large areas open, both exposing ancient deposits - at least 5,000 years old.  Our task s to get to the bottom.  After three years of study, we understand the site's layers.  This year I hope to confirm what we found during and learn more about Kashevaroff's earliest inhabitants.  But I'm sure there will be some surprises.