Museum Readies for 17th Community Dig

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Brianna Gibbs/KMXT
The Alutiiq Museum is gearing up for another year of its Community Archaeology Project. The annual program began in 1997 and allows community members with little to no archaeology experience a chance to participate in real research at an actual excavation site.
Amy Steffian is the director of research and publications at the Alutiiq Museum and helped start the project almost two decades ago with archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall. She said they have worked at a number of sites over the years and this season they will continue their focus on the Kashevaroff site – one of many the museum has excavated in Womens Bay. Steffian said community members and museum staff began excavating the site last year and believe it is a late prehistoric house – probably 300 or 400 years old.
“Patrick found the Kashevaroff site. We had permission from the borough a couple of years ago to go out to Womens Bay and look for sites as part of our broader research project. And by digging a few holes in likely spots and using a soil probe to look for wood charcoal or disturbed sod earth, Patrick was able to find the site.”   The site is located at the base of Kashevaroff mountain, above Salonie Creek. She said it predates Russian settlers, but also contains evidence of site visitation dating back 3,500 to 7,000 years.
“And around the house we found many large ulus – great big slate cutting knives that are sort of the shape that you would use to split fish. And we’re thinking that a small family of Alutiiq people probably built this house right above Salonie Creek and processed some fish there. But we only excavated half of the house last year and this year Patrick will be opening the rest of it.”
She said they believe there might be a second room behind the first one they excavated, but they don’t know.
“And you never know what you’re going to find. That’s sort of the excitement of archaeology is often times our assumptions aren’t quite right and we have  go dig it up to find the answer.”
She said the digs typically bring forth a slew of historical information, in addition to artifacts.
Kodiak’s Community Archaeology Project is unique in that it is open to anyone over the age of 14, where as Steffian said digs done through universities are only open to undergraduate or graduate students. Steffian said there are few opportunities for teenagers or the general public.
“When we designed this project we realized that the opportunity to have hands on experience with prehistory could be really profound for people and could really help people understand not only how Alutiiq folks lived in the past but also the importance of preserving archaeological sites.”

The dig will last three weeks, starting Monday and wrapping up on August 8. People will be invited to dig Monday through Friday, beginning when the group gathers at the Alutiiq Museum around 8:15 a.m. and heading back to town from the site at 4:30 p.m. each day.
Steffian said rain gear, sack lunches, bug spray, gloves and clothes folks don’t mind getting dirty are encouraged, but other than that everything is provided and anyone can participate. She said there are even opportunities for folks to learn after the dig, once the artifacts are brought back to the museum.
“The artifacts come from the field into our laboratory where they are professional cared for. So volunteers also have the opportunity not only to dig but if they don’t want to get dirty or they’re more interested in what happens once the objects make it to the museum there are opportunities to wash artifacts and to label them and to help with the computer inventory and the storage parts of the project.”

There will be an informational meeting and volunteer orientation on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Alutiiq Museum. It is not required for folks wanting to volunteer at the site, but will be an opportunity to get first pick of dates to participate. Only 20 people, including museum staff, can work at the dig each day, so Thursday’s meeting will be an opportunity to ensure a spot in the dig schedule.

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