Archaeologists discover ancient Kuskokwim home
By Kelsey Gobroski
Sun Star Contributor
A team of archaeologists surveying a the area near a possible mine site in southwest Alaska has found a 2,000-year-old home on the banks of the Kuskokwim River that could provide a glimpse into the home life and culture of the past.
Joshua Reuther, Justin Hays, and Jason Rogers presented their findings April 15 at the Museum of the North for Alaska Archaeology Month. The team works for Northern Land Use Research. The company studies the historic importance of sites being proposed for development.
This site, known traditionally as Annjurak, is located on the Kuskokwim River between two other culturally important sites, UAF anthropology professor Reuther said. He said locals knew about the site, but not that it was once a settlement.
All that is left of the home is a fire pit, bones, and some broken tools. Reuther said they don’t know what the house looked like yet. But they have been able to guess at the activities within the home, which included a lot of sitting around and making tools. The ancient people chiseled stone tools with antler handles. Some tools were made from obsidian originating 300 miles to the north, Reuther said. Either the Annjurak people traveled to the distant site or they traded with others who lived there. He said the area they studied had four cultural groups present at the time.
In the valleys around the site, they found disposable crude tools, which they called “expedient technology.”
“We never would have realized some of the uses of these things, some of the ways the people used the land,” Reuther said.
The archaeologists looked to the nearby Crooked Creek community for cultural context. They learned about the traditional timing of various activities, to provide a window into what life would have been like 2,000 years ago. “We’re all archaeologists, but we come from different sub-disciplines and that’s why we approach these sorts of projects: so we can learn from each other,” Reuther said.
For environmental context, the team studied the local ecosystem and its fauna, as well as the topography of the area.”It’s very important for us to know the environmental setting so we can interpret the data,” Reuther said.
The environment around the site has not changed much in the last 2,000 years. Hays, the team’s ecologist, said spring and fall brought seasonal harvests in the uplands, while wetlands provided resources throughout the year. He said they found relatively few bones describing the wildlife of the area. They found evidence of larger mammals, such as caribou, bear, and moose. But all fauna they discovered had been cooked or burned. Hays said it was interesting that they didn’t see many fish remains in the riverine habitat. “It’s possible fish carcasses were discarded at the river’s edge,” he said. They also found a mature tooth from a canine. The tooth was too small to be from a wolf, but coyotes have only been known to be in the area for the last 100 years. Hays said either the people had domesticated dogs, or coyotes also lived in the area a couple of thousand years ago.
Rogers mapped the site, creating detailed topographic maps that were fine-tuned to be within a couple centimeters. “On a larger scale, what I really wanted to do was understand the topography and landscape around the site … I really wanted to see the bigger picture,” Rogers said.
According to the firm’s website, Northern Land Use Research is doing historical survey work for the proposed Donlin Creek mine project. The firm surveyed the “mine site, airstrips, campsites, dock site, wind farms, and along proposed roads”. The website does not mention what impact these findings will have on the project, but the talk focused on the cultural implications of the study.
“This is a very relevant thing to us as archaeologists, to provide those tangible links [to the past] to people,” Reuther said.