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10 October 2011
Alaskan archaeology project raises prehistoric questions

While the ocean is about 1600 metres away from the site today, 3000 years ago Womens Bay (Alaska, USA) extended farther inland. The Amak site would have been overlooking a beach area at the head of the bay, and what Alutiiq Museum curator Patrick Saltonstall and a team of volunteers unearthed there this year offers a glimpse into an aspect of the seasonal life of the people who lived on Kodiak Island thousands of years ago that has not been well understood or documented.
     Instead of encountering a fishing camp or a winter site as Saltonstall expected, the artifacts gathered at the site suggest a temporary hunting camp. Rather than flakes created in the production of hunting tools, the assemblage contained just completed blades - both broken and whole - so while not as many artifacts were uncovered this year as at previous excavations, the site yielded more hunting bayonets than all other excavations combined, in Saltonstall's estimation.
     Yet, with the excavation season over and lab work in progress, some large questions remain. The excavation uncovered a huge pile of rocks, and noted that a large amount of dirt had been moved from part of the site to another. Near the last day, the team discovered a structure that didn't match the rest of the hunting camp. Without time to do a thorough excavation of that structure, it was reburied. There are signs that the site is associated with settlements from thousands of years earlier, but those have been obscured by later activity.
     The Amak site will likely be the subject of a community archaeology program again next year, to answer the remaining questions. Geological clues at the site suggest a tsunami 4000 years ago may have washed away structures. A large fall of volcanic ash some 3800 years ago contributed to the bay receding toward its current location. By 3000 years ago, Saltonstall estimates, the Amak site was no longer in use.

Edited from Daily News-Miner, Anchorage Daily News (17 September 2011)

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