A routine assessment of historical sites on Afognak Island by air turned into a day full of surprises.
Local researcher Patrick Saltonstall usually kayaks when he goes out to find and study archaeological sites around the Kodiak Archipelago.
Paddling can be a pretty slow way to travel. Recently Saltonstall got the chance to take to the air in a helicopter for a change.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so ecstatic after a survey, and it was really quick! You know, it was like one day and we found all this stuff that usually takes weeks.”
Alutiiq Museum archaeology curator Saltonstall made new discoveries on the trip.
One of them being a special Alutiiq fish trap, structures constructed along shorelines to corral fish.
The structure is only the second of its kind to be found in the region. The first was only discovered last year.
“It’s another one of these traps, we found one last summer, where when the fish come in, get over these walls and then when the tide goes out there are trapped.”
The traps are an estimated 500 years old.
Saltonstall said these types of devices can found all over Southeast Alaska. He suspects more and more will be found around Kodiak.
The only reason Saltonstall was able to find the second fish trap was the high vantage point from flying in the helicopter.
“I’d actually been there on survey and had found a village there and hadn’t seen the fish trap,” he said. “When we’re in the air you look down and I was like ‘ oh my god, it’s so obvious.”
The fish trap wasn’t the only big find of the day.
Saltonstall thinks some 100-foot-tall rock spires inhabited by puffins could have been defensive sites where hundreds of years ago people would wait and watch for enemies.
It’s impressive to think about someone going out to these rock formations and climbing up so high, Saltonstall said.
“They must’ve had a rope ladder they built to get up and down and, probably, they were hoisting baskets of food up. It was kinda amazing.”
More research will have to be done on these new sites to learn more about them, but Saltonstall knows a lot more discoveries to be made around Kodiak.
He’d like to use helicopters more in the future to find them.