KODIAK, Alaska — A recently completed survey of an island in the Kodiak archipelago uncovered 14 new cultural sites, including five dating to prehistoric times.
Discoveries made during a survey of Whale Island, located between Kodiak and Afognak islands, included fox farms, a failed gold mine and an old homestead, according to Patrick Saltonstall, curator of archaeology for the Alutiiq Museum.
The five prehistoric sites had shell middens, also known as refuse heaps, giving insight into the diet of those who lived or worked there.
Three sites appeared to be seasonal camps from the late-prehistoric period.
“We found a little house pit with each one and not much else,” Saltonstall said.
The shell middens contained periwinkles, which are small sea snails, and cod.
“We didn’t find much evidence for eating salmon on Whale Island,” he said.
The other two sites “were really old, probably about 3,000 years old. One was a little village, and the other looked like it was for smoke-processing cod,” he said.
“It’s kind of nice to look at these places and you can kind of see what people are doing in these various places. You don’t really think of fox farming anymore, but we found a lot of evidence of that,” Saltonstall said.
Saltonstall believes the farmers allowed the foxes to run wild on the island, baiting them with food in wooden boxes.
“The animals would get used to coming back to the box and then when they wanted to harvest them, they’d make it so that when they went in to get their food, they couldn’t get out,” Saltonstall said. “You’d have various little container areas around the island. You’d feed foxes in various places around the island.”
The fox farming would have occurred in the early 1900s and the depression era, Saltonstall said.
The gold mine, also from the early 1900s, “took a long time to find” and was “very unspectacular,” he said. “It was abandoned because I don’t think there was enough gold and I don’t think they worked it very long, but it was kind of nice to find it. It was pretty much as described. We knew it was going to be there and then we found it.”
Saltonstall is working to find out who lived in the homestead that was found with cabins from the early 1900s and what appeared to be a cattle corral. The survey of Whale Island was part of a larger survey encompassing coastal areas of Afognak Native Corp.’s 248,000 acres of land. The survey, funded by a U.S. National Park Service Tribal Heritage Grant, is in its second and final year.
Last year, surveyors covered the eastern and northern side of Afognak Island, finding 19 new cultural sites and visiting 20 to 25 known sites, Saltonstall said.
According to Saltonstall, the survey team is working with Afognak Native Corp. to map the important cultural sites and enable land management practices that protect the archaeological sites located on the property.
“It’s very valuable because Alutiiq people have lived here 7,500 years, and the first 7,300 years of that, there’s really no written records about,” he said. “You can’t go into a book and find out what people are doing. The only way to really learn about it is doing archaeology or looking at the archaeological sites on the landscape,” he said.
“It’s useful stuff for writing history.”