Volunteers help preserve Kodiak archaeological sites

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2008

KODIAK - Vandalism to many of the more than 1,000 archaeological sites in the Kodiak Archipelago has decreased over the years, though many still face damage by animals, erosion and other natural causes.

Thanks to the efforts of volunteers, the changing conditions of many sites have been documented and given to the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Depository.

The volunteers are part of the Site Stewardship Program, begun in 1998 through a partnership between the museum and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to document sites in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. On April 17, Patrick Saltonstall, curator at the museum, presented information on the program and its progress during the past decade.

Volunteers in the program are often setnetters, pilots, guides and others who have access to the more remote areas of the archipelago. In 2007, volunteers helped study 72 archaeological sites. Since 1998, stewards have helped evaluate and describe 332 sites in six regions of the archipelago, nearly a quarter of all known sites, Saltonstall said. Through stewards, 224 new sites have been identified.

About 40 volunteer families are involved with the program, Saltonstall said in his presentation.

The program has discouraged vandalism. Saltonstall said people are less likely to disturb an archaeological site they know is monitored.

Also, the program allows the study of long-term trends of different parts of the archipelago and a better understanding of regional archaeology, Saltonstall said.

Saltonstall explained stewards are told of sites near the areas they visit. They take notes and photograph the area and any visible damage.

"The biggest complaint I get is that nothing's changed," Saltonstall said. "That's really good information."

However, all it takes is one huge storm in the winter, Saltonstall said, and every steward comes back with tales of damage.

Artifacts found at the sites should be left at the sites, Saltonstall said, unless it is something unusual. Then, before taking the artifact from the site, the steward should call first so that Saltonstall can get permission from Fish and Wildlife to collect it.

"The artifacts can tell us a lot about how old the site is," Saltonstall said. "Don't take them away."

Saltonstall said stewards can and should photograph the artifacts and if they are afraid they might be lost, hide them behind something in the area for safe keeping.

Stewards should examine the site to determine its size, the number of house pits, what kinds of plants are growing and how deep the site is. Saltonstall said many who visit the area may know stories of the people who lived there, so any information like that should be included in notes, too.

Saltonstall said archaeology can tell a story, but it's a destructive science. When a person digs, a site is destroyed.

"Having you visit these sites, we get the chance to learn what is there," Saltonstall said at the presentation. "And most importantly, I think you guys get to visit some cool sites."

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