Late Prehistoric Cultural Dynamics and
the Subsistence Parameters of Whaling at Wales, Alaska (OPP-0080798)
Annual Report, 9/99-9/00

R.K. Harritt
ENRI, University of Alaska Anchorage
October 25, 2000

Introduction
Kurigitavik Mound, TEL-079
Beach Site, TEL-026
Other Activities
Artifact Analysis
Faunal Analysis
Radiocarbon Dating
Project Reporting
Related Projects
Citation

Introduction

(This report is abstracted from a report submitted to the National Science Foundation on October 26, 2000). Work at the two of the three main archaeological sites in the Wales National Register District was begun in 1996, and continued in 1998,1999 and 2000. Work in 2000 is supported by a continuing award from the Arctic Social Sciences Program, OPP-0080798. Work in the summer of 2000 was conducted from July 8-August 5 and was focused at TEL-026 and TEL-079. The testing effort at TEL-025 was temporarily suspended in 2000 in order to accelerate progress in excavating entire features at the other two sites. This is a priority that was defined in the last proposal for the project (submitted in February 2000). This objective was also a part of the 1999 field work, that was pursued to the extent that time and crew size allowed, and to the extent permitted by the complexity of the features that were partially exposed at TEL-026 and TEL-079. Another major objective, excavation of the deepest cultural deposits at the two sites will be carried out at the end of the excavation progression in 2001, when the deepest deposits in the excavations at TEL-026 and TEL-079 are excavated.

The 2000 field party was comprised of Dr. Barbara Crass, an adjunct faculty member at University of Wisconsin-Madison; Julia Zimmer, a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Indiana University (Bloomington); Dan Thompson, a graduate student in Anthropology at University of Alaska Anchorage; Amy Tomson of Anchorage; Wesley Komonoseak, a Wales resident, Ron Ongtowasruk , also a Wales resident, and Roger Harritt, the project Principal Investigator. Herbert Anungazuk, a consultant to the project also joined the field party for portions of the month-long field season at Wales.

 

 

Kurigitavik Mound, TEL-079

Excavations at Kurigitavik Mound from July to August 2000 focused on exposing additional areas of the house entry tunnel and the portion of the room that had been exposed in 1998-1999 in the northern excavation block at depths slightly in excess of 1.0m. An expansion 1m to the north of the 1998-1999 block was initiated but was halted at the point that it became clear that this area lay outside the house. At this point, efforts were focused on exposing the buried portions of the house that lay to the east and south, in 1 m expansions along those sides of the block. In the process of exposing the house members and floor, a distinctive walrus skull ring feature was encountered above the house floor in the southeastern quadrant of the excavation block. This ring appears to be approximately 2.5m in diameter and was comprised of male walrus skulls with the tusks broken out of their sockets. The skulls were placed nose to occiput, and in some segments of the ring they were three skull deep. A second upper level concentration of walrus bones comprised of two walrus skulls, mandibles and several long bones was found in a cluster approximately 80 cm across; this grouping appears to extend into the southern wall of the excavation block and additional elements of this feature may be found in next year’s expanded excavation. A third grouping of walrus skulls was found near the southeastern corner of the excavation block. Although the distribution of these skulls appeared to be unorganized, the overall pattern suggests that it may have been a second skull ring feature. Intact and disturbed rings of walrus skulls such as these have been found at many sites on the Chukotka coast (ref. Orekhov 1987). It is likely that additional walrus skulls will be discovered to the south and east of this grouping in next year’s expanded excavation.

Excavation of the eastern and southern expansions of the northern block were carried out in thicker levels that those used in the initial 1998 excavation and the expansion of 1999, based on enlightened understanding of the deposits provided by two years experience excavating at the site. In this respect, the excavation proceeded in 20cm arbitrary levels and real levels down to contact with the house members; at this point an effort was made to delineate the outline of the house by establishing where floor deposits corresponded with horizontal and upright of the house’s log construction. In many cases the relationships were clear cut, but in some instances, such as in the southern end of the block the edge of the house floor deposit appeared to overlay some of the wall members, rendering the relationships less certain than one would hope. Floor deposits exposed in 2000 were excavated and tools discovered in place were point-provenienced and collected, and the floor matrix was then collected by unit quadrant for screening. Screening of these samples was done by saturating the sample in the screen with water from the nearby lagoon; the fraction of cultural material remaining in the screen was then collected as a unit quadrant collection. Only an estimated 10% of the collected floor samples were screened in during the 2000 field season due to time constraints. The remaining samples were collected in plastic bags along with tags containing provenience information and stored under backfill in the excavation block. These samples will be recovered at the beginning of the 2001 field season and processed along with new samples that will be collected from the unexcavated portion of the house that presently remains. The completed excavation of the mid level house will also clear the way for an in depth examination of the deepest cultural deposits in the northern portion of the Mound.

A new trench was also begun at TEL-079 on the southern side of the mound in the area where Collins discovered a Birnirk harpoon head in 1936 at a depth of approximately 2.10m below the surface. The new trench is oriented north-south, and was mapped in as a 1x12 m trench. The trench area includes two substantial surface depressions that presumably are products of the artifact mining done at the site prior to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, around 1980. As with the tests that have been excavated at the Hillside site (TEL-025) during the project, the new trench actually takes advantage of the mining pits, as a means of reaching deep, intact desposits without spending the substantial amounts of time that would be required to excavate the upper level deposits down to the deepest cultural deposits at the mound. Excavations in the southern trench in 2000 were focused on exposing an intact deposit or stratum that could be traced across the upper (northern) five 1x1m units. An important part of this process is distinguishing between deposits that had been disturbed and redeposited, and those that are intact and undisturbed. By the end of the 2000 field season, intact strata had been exposed and documented in the two northernmost units, but the adjacent three units to the south remained problematic. That is it is uncertain if intact deposits were exposed in those areas, and how they relate to those that are intact in the upper two units. A major objective for work in the southern trench in 2001 will be to find a common stratum across the upper five units, and then to excavate the whole 1 x 5m area down to the deepest levels. In this approach, the deep level where Collins recovered a Birnirk harpoon head should be exposed and new samples for radiocarbon dating will be obtained, to be used in obtaining new more accurate dates for the deposits. In addition, the stratigraphy for this portion of the mound will be fully documented, faunal collections will be obtained, and if time permits, deeper deposits than those excavated by Collins will be exposed.

Beach Site, TEL-026

The excavation block was expanded 1m to the north and 1m to the west at TEL-026 in 2000. Excavation of the expansion area at the Beach Site surprisingly revealed the presence of an undisturbed upper level bone scatter and a hearth. Both of the upper level features lay above the structural members that were encountered in the 1998-1999 excavations. Although the faunal collection from the scatter is not yet analyzed, seal, walrus and caribou bone and antler were observed during the excavation process. In addition, a large, toggling whaling harpoon head was found in association with the bone scatter. The upper level hearth lay beneath most of the bone scatter near the southwest corner of the excavation block. The hearth proper was approximately 50cm in diameter, delineated by a lens of wood ash and oxidized deposits. A considerable number of small ground slate chips and powder was found in the vicinity of the hearth as well as a relatively large number of implements of various types, including many well-preserved types made of bone, antler, ivory and wood. Neither of the upper level features contained historic materials or objects, therefore it is clear that they are precontact remains; conversely, based on their relative stratigraphic position, above the mid-level structural remains of 1998 which are radiocarbon dated to 400-500 years in age, it is likely that both features are 400-150 years in age. Additional dates will be obtained from samples collected in 2000 which should refine this age range to some extent.

Mid level cultural remains were sufficiently exposed in the excavation block in 2000 to demonstrate that the wood uprights and horizontal timbers, wood sections and whale rib sections exposed in 1998 and 1998 are in fact not members of a house. Instead, the elements of the feature which been excavated over three field seasons can now collectively be regarded as a cache, on a provisional basis and pending final analysis. In this regard the arrangement of the structural members were distributed across an area of approximately 2x4m and the arrangement appears to have been for the purpose of supporting cached material.

Excavation below the cache remains revealed a lower level feature stratigraphically separated from the cache. The 2000 excavation was halted because of the planned end date for the field season, at a point where the lower feature was only partially exposed. The exposed portion of the linear feature is approximately 1.6m x 0.60m in dimension. The exposed elements include two timbers roughly parallel to each other, each placed parallel with the long sides of the feature; the western end contained a single more or less upright post with a large seal or small walrus scapula placed on each side of the post within the sides of the feature. One of these scapulae showed clear modification for use as a shovel.

During the 2000 field season, Harritt attempted to make arrangements with owners of properties at two locations on the northern end of TEL-026 to conduct testing in areas with good potential for producing important information on the ages and nature of cultural remains that are present on the sea-ward side of the beach ridge on which the site is located. Such a sample would provide data that would be useful for comparison with data collected from the 1998-2001 TEL-026 excavation block, and it would provide a clearer picture of the prehistoric human use of the land form through time. Unfortunately, Harritt was unable to obtain permission in 2000 from the owners of property where the areas with good potential were located. It is possible this situation may change in 2001, or that a new location with equally good potential may be found, where the owner is willing to allow testing to be carried out.

Excavation at the Beach site in 2001 will concentrate on completing excavation of the lower, mid level feature discovered at the end of the 2000 field season, and excavation of the deeper levels of the TEL-026 block.

Other Activities

Artifact Analysis

Analysis of the 1998-2000 artifact collections from the Wales sites is currently underway by Harritt with assistance from two University of Alaska Anchorage students. The current level of support will support two students’ time through the end of November, 2000. Student support for the artifact analysis is from the OPP-0080798 award for 2000. An effort will be made to find support for a student for a part of the spring, 2001 school term. Funds for student laboratory assistants are included in the project budget for 2001 and 2002.

Faunal Analysis

A contract was established with Osteolabs Consultants (Eugene, Oregon) for the analysis, and the faunal collections from TEL-025, TEL-026 and TEL-079 were shipped to Eugene in the fall of 1999. Support for the faunal analysis is from the archaeology portion of the OPP-9806516 award, and from the subsequent award for the Wales archaeology project, OPP-994472. At the time this report was prepared, analysis of the collections from TEL-025 and TEL-079 was completed and electronic data base files and a hard copy of the data were provided to Harritt by Osteolabs. It is anticipated that data from TEL-026 will be completed by late fall 2000. Under the present circumstances, plans for the analysis of the 2000 faunal collections are to do the work under a contract with a competent consultant, or as a temporary employment arrangement with a qualified faunal analyst. This approach will produce the best result and within a reasonable time frame, and is in the best interest of the project. Support for analysis of the 2000 faunal collection is included in the year 2000 budget for OPP-0080798.

Radiocarbon Dating

A total of three new standard radiocarbon dates were obtained on samples from the Wales sites in 1999. Two seal bones were also provided to Don Dumond of the University of Oregon for developing a marine correction for radiocarbon dating samples from the Bering Strait area. The seal bones were selected on the basis of their close associations organic samples assayed with standard radiocarbon techniques. The samples assayed with standard techniques included a.) a grass sample from the house floor in the northern excavation block at TEL-079 and b.) a sample of peat from the TEL-026 excavation. Dumond’s AMS assays of the seal bones are listed below as B139113 and B134829. Dumond (personal communication March, 2000) intends to publish his new corrections for marine samples in the near future. Radiocarbon samples obtained from the Wales sites in 2000 have not yet been dated.

 

 

Table 1. Radiocarbon Dates for the Wales Locality, up to 10/2000.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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Lab No. Rainey and Ralph 1 Collins2 Current Project Dumond Calibs.5

1996, 1998, 19993 510yrs 720yrs

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Kurigitavik Mound

P-65 1,320+230 AD637

P-67 1,230+240 AD727

P-69 1,350+360 AD607

B123364 640+60 (AD1,310)

B123365 580+60 (AD1,370)

B138746 680+60 (AD1,270)

B138747 500+60 (AD1,450)

B1391134 1,020+40 (AD 730) AD 1240 AD1450

 

Hillside Site

P-63 1480+240 AD477

B098939 840 +60(AD1220)

B098938 1,270+70 (AD 770)

B123366 950+60 (AD1170)

Beach Site

B 129590 460+50 (AD1405)

B1348294 1030+50;(AD 1170) AD 1430 AD 1640

B138745 410+60 (AD1,540)

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1 Rainey and Ralph (1959:368) note that Collin’s radiometric dates "... were among the last ones dated by the solid carbon method. (and)...The runs were made during a period of fall-out and were not as reliable as desired." 2 Collins (1964:99) refers only to calendar dates for his Wales dates. An offset of 7 years is included in the dates in the 1964 article, making each 7 years younger than the value resulting from simply subtracting the age assay from AD 1950; prior to 1960, radiometric values were subtracted from the current year, which in the case of Collins’ 1964 article, was 1957.... 3Ages for the present project 1996-1999 are conventional radiocarbon ages, adjusted for carbon 13c/12c isotope fractionation. 4AMS determinations provided by D.E. Dumond; B139113 is from a seal bone associated with a grass sample, B138747, and B134829 is from a seal bone from the same stratum as the B129590 date from a peat sample; calendar dates are provided by BETA. 6Values developed by Dumond (1998:114-118) for marine reservoir effect corrections for samples with marine origins. The ages shown for B139113 and B134829 are values based on subtracting each of Dumond’s corrections from the assayed age, the resulting calendar ages are simple subtractions of the resulting, corrected ages from 1950.

 

Project Reporting

A draft article reporting preliminary results from the 1996-1999 field seasons at Wales was prepared by Harritt as a contribution to a new volume containing a collection of papers on the various aspects of whaling in northern region. An arrangement has been made with the Canadian Circumpolar Institute (CCI) to publish the volume, and Allen McCartney, University of Arkansas will serve as the editor for the papers. Although progress on the preparation of the volume for publication has been limited, there have been three developments: a. A subvention for publication by CCI has been provided by NSF as a part of supplemental funding to support follow up activities related to the ‘Western Whaling Societies’ workshop held at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in March, 2000. b. CCI has agreed to seek publication of the volume as a joint publication with the University of Washington Pres. UW Press will ensure a broader distribution of the volume than could be provided by CCI alone. c. Harritt’s contribution to the volume, based on the Wales archaeology project, will be revised to include the results of the 2000 field season.

Harritt presented a paper at the March, 2000 workshop on ‘Native Whaling in the Western Arctic: Development, Spread and Responses to Changing Environments’ held at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. This presentation was entitled’Re-examining Wales’ Role in Bering Strait Prehistory: Some Preliminary Results of Recent Work’ and provided a progress report on the project to the workshop attendees.

Articles on the Wales Archaeology Project also appeared in the Nome Nugget (August 17, 2000 issue) and in the Kaniqsirugut News (The Newsletter of Norton Sound Health Corporation, August 2000 issue).

Harritt is presently preparing a manuscript on a history of the contact period at Wales for submission to the journal E’tude Innuit Studies (EIS). EIS has expressed interest in the manuscript as a contribution to a future volume. Harritt will also present a paper in a session at the 99th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association on November 15, 2000, based on the material contained in the EIS manuscript. The title of this presentation is ‘When Bigger Was Better: The Unusual Persistence of Traditional Culture at Wales, Alaska, in Early Historic Times.’

Related Projects

Harritt was also engaged in organizing the ‘Native Whaling in the Western Arctic: Development, Spread and Responses to Changing Environments’ workshop with Allen McCartney, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. The workshop was held on March 20-21 at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. Funding, as a supplement to OPP-9807051 to the University of Arkansas, was provided by NSF’s Office of Polar Programs. This support offset participants’ travel expenses from Russia, Switzerland, Canada, and the United Kingdom; travel support for whalers from four Alaskan whaling villages was also provided. The workshop was co-hosted by the University of Arkansas, ENRI-University of Alaska Anchorage, the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. Articles on the workshop appeared in the Anchorage Daily News newspaper and in Witness the Arctic (Chronicles of the NSF Arctic Sciences Program, Spring 2000, V 8(1)).

The Arctic Social Sciences Program has provided funding for follow-up activities based on results from the March workshop, as a supplement to OPP-9806516 to the University of Alaska Anchorage. A parallel supplemental award was made to the University of Arkansas for supporting a separate but related set of activities, also based on the results of the March workshop. A portion of the University of Alaska supplemental funds will also be used to disseminate some of the sociocultural information obtained by Herbert Anungazuk, Carol Jolles and Barbara Bodenhorn during their project related work at Wales and Little Diomeded Island from 1996-1999. The University of Alaska Anchorage workshop follow up activities will be carried out primarily by the core group of investigators that have been connected to the multi disciplinary ‘Western Whaling Societies’ project since 1995, but investigators new to the project will participate as well. The newcomers include anthropologists, biologists and researchers engaged in sea ice studies and climate change in areas that relate closely to the subjects studied by the core investigators in the multi disciplinary project.

Citation


Orekhov, Aleksandr A.

1987 An Early Culture of the Northwest Bering Sea. Translated by Richard Bland. National Park Service Shared Beringian Heritage Program, Anchorage.