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Museum writes book on archaeological dig

Posted: October 13, 2013 - 12:10am

KODIAK — The Alutiiq Museum is has almost finished a book that documents more than 30 years of research and collections from the Karluk One archaeological site.

“Kal’unek — From Karluk” explores the museum’s largest collection, which taken from the ancient Alutiiq settlement built at the mouth of the Karluk River.

The collection contains more than 26,000 objects, most of which are made of organic materials such as horns, antler, bone and wood.

The Karluk One collection is the reason Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository was created. The excavation of the site came at a time when there was a resurgence in the Alutiiq heritage movement.

“This is the museum’s largest collection,” said Amy Steffian, director of research and publication for the Alutiiq Museum. “This is our keystone collection, that foundational collection.”

A small archaeological team first explored the site in 1984. The Kodiak Area Native Association funded the excavation and sent a team of students, scientists and community members to unearth objects over a seven-week period. The damp soil near the Karluk River preserved artifacts that otherwise would have decayed.

Findings included antler harps, wooden toys, spruce root basketry and other items that hadn’t been seen for years. The team returned for six seasons of research before the Karluk River eroded the site.

“Why this collect is important is not only its size, but that it preserves objects that aren’t typically preserved,” Steffian said.

Steffian said there was interest in writing the book because people often want to study the collection, but they can’t always travel to Kodiak.

“People visit that collection frequently,” she said. “It is the most used collection. It’s the one that informs many of our exhibits. If you walk into the museum and you see wooden artifacts, they’re from Karluk.”

Staff members are currently in the process of writing the book, and they hope to have a full draft by November.

“It’s not just a catalogue,” Steffian said. “It’s an ethnography, an accounting of a people or culture. We take the objects and tell the story of the site from several perspectives.”

The book will be broken up into seven chapters: an introduction, the settlement of the Karluk River, the Karluk One village site, the collection, economic life, household life and social and spiritual life.

Each chapter contains supporting essays from three to four community members, researchers or museum staff members, as well as a description of the site and the collection.

“The collection represents this lovely combination of academic research, community involvement and avocational collections, people who saved objects as they washed out of the site,” Steffian said.

The book will include hundreds of photos. Former museum director Sven Haakanson and current curator of collections Marnie Leist worked to photograph items from the collection, which will be used in the book.

“I’m going to guess around 400 (photos),” Steffian said. “We’re also going to use a number of historic photos from the museum’s collection, so we have a lot of pictures of Karluk. Plus we have pictures of the dig that show the context, like where they came from in the site.”

The total cost of the book is estimated to be more than $100,000. The museum received two $50,000 grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which funded the startup costs for the project and continued supporting it through the process.

Publication is expected to cost an additional $40,000. The Alaska State Museum donated $10,000 to support the publication costs, and the Alutiiq Museum is working to raise money through donations and grants for the remainder of the cost.

The book is planned for release in the fall of 2014, and will be published by the University of Alaska Press.

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