UNALASKA - The Museum of the Aleutians summer archaeological dig took an exciting turn last week when a visiting archaeologist unearthed what is believed to be the first effigy of its kind ever found in the Aleutians.
Fewer than 10 effigies have been discovered in the region. This one, a palm-size statue carved from bone, appears to be part of a volute, or ancient hunting hat, said museum director Rick Knecht.
Charles Bellow discovered the artifact last Monday while digging a few feet down at the edge of the 6- by 6-meter site near the Spit Dock. He recognized the cut bone right away and carefully swept away the dirt.
When he saw the design on the chest of the statue, all six people at the site stopped what they were doing.
"It was astounding," said Bellow, who has worked as an archaeologist for more than 20 years. "It was a magic moment. I wish everyone I ever worked with in the Aleutians was here."
"My heart is racing," said Nicole Misarti, a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin. "This site is amazing."
The pair said they planned to go without dinner so they could dig at the site all night.
Knecht, clearly pleased, rushed off to the museum with the artifact, which will remain the property of the Ounalashka Corp., which owns the property on which it was found.
At the museum, Knecht placed the effigy in a container of a substance that will coat the artifact in a wax-like substance, to preserve it.
"It's a wonderful find," Knecht said. Knecht has conducted several digs in Unalaska since he arrived here in 1995, sites which range from about 8,000 years old to about 2,700 years old.
The Spit Dock site, where the effigy was found, is thought to be at least 200 to 300 years old and could be as much as 2,000 years old.
The Spit Dock dig is Knecht's first look at late prehistoric life in Unalaska. Knecht said he believes the effigy to be 200 to 250 years old.
Whatever its age, the discovery affords a better understanding of the Unangan Natives who lived here long ago.
"It shows technology, but it goes beyond subsistence," Bellow said.
It shows they considered such things as magic, symbolism and the supernatural, he explained.
"It gives these people a face," Misarti said.