Community Archaeology 2011-August 6th | Alaska Native News

Community Archaeology 2011-August 6th

WOMANS BAY-Archaeology is about creating stories and then testing them to see if they are true. And if you have ever been a part of any of the excavations I've led you will know that I am constantly coming up with scenarios to account for what we have found.

I rarely get the story right the first time, and it changes and evolves as we find new evidence that either supports or contradicts my thoughts. This is sometimes confusing to people who think I am being wishy washy. They assume that archaeologists always get it right the first time. However, archaeology, just like any science, creates an explanation that changes and evolves with the evidence – slowly getting closer and closer to the truth as competing explanations are crossed out one by one.

But this year at the Amak Site everything we have found continues to support the picture I envisioned on day one of the dig – a temporary camp where Alutiiq people hunted seals. In the last 2 weeks we have come up with plenty of evidence to support this story and nothing to contradict it. This never happens, and I am a little worried that it is too good be true. I keep on waiting for the other shoe to drop and for us to find something that totally contradicts my assumptions.

On Friday we found a flensing knife and 5 finished bayonets – including 2 that had not been broken – and practically nothing else. I made a joke with Jill, the museum’s exhibits coordinator, that we could create an exhibit of the dig and have the space to include every single artifact found so far. On the one hand would be a small pile of flakes and on the other there would be a bunch of bayonets for spearing seals and a couple of whetstones and abraders for sharpening the blades and straightening the shafts of the spears. It really does look like Alutiiq men brought tools to the site and worked on their gear while they waited for seals to show, and then successful, butchered the seals and took them back to another camp for further processing.

Still, How do we know they were hunting seals, and are we really sure it was men who were doing it? My point being there are still parts of my story that are based on assumptions and are most definitely subject to change. Also, there are two major finds that I still cannot fit into my site story. What is the HUGE pile of rocks and why have we found that most of the dirt was removed and then piled up on another part of the site?

The pile of rocks is not a structure (there is no living surface associated with it), and a cache still just does not seem right. April (the museum’s language coordinator) mentioned that the Elders she works with often talk about building rock blinds to hide behind while duck hunting, and I kind of like this new explanation for the rock pile. Only perhaps it was a blind to hide behind while an Alutiiq hunter tried to lure the seals closer to the beach.

The redeposited dirt and sod is more difficult to explain. Without shovels it represents an enormous amount of labor, and it does not appear to be associated with a house or structure. Perhaps it represents Alutiiq punishment and a bunch of teenagers were instructed to make a pile of dirt? (this is a joke). Anyway, I have a feeling we will figure it out, and I am pretty sure that the explanation will add to and amend the site story we have so far.