Exploring Barling Bay, part 2 of 2

Read part 1 here.

At the end of our first day in Barling Bay, we re-located KOD-551, a known archaeological site with a historic component. We found the site to be much more extensive than previously thought, extending up the hill from the coast, rather than just occupying the low bluffs. The upland portion of the site was really awesome! There were at least 4 large houses, each with several side rooms. Despite heavy overgrowth of ferns, salmonberries and pushki, the sod walls were still quite visible on the surface, such that we could walk from main rooms into the side rooms easily. Jennifer Alexanderoff also located a slate-lined hearth box in the middle of one of the houses. The fact that all these features were right below the surface indicates that this is a relatively recent settlement, which may have both historic and Koniag pre-contact period deposits. It was too late to dig more on that first day, but the team was heartened by the day’s finds as we boated back to Old Harbor in the Kodiak rain and spotted some whales in the distance.

JJA-hearthbox
Jennifer Alexanderoff with the hearth box she located at KOD-551. (PC: Ben Fitzhugh)

On our second day in Barling Bay, we focused on sites more towards the head of the bay, where there is a productive salmon stream. The most promising of these sites was located on a low bluff about half a kilometer south of the stream, named KOD-092. There were numerous house pits, some of which had hearth boxes and a dense midden (or trash) deposit with charcoal, fire cracked rock, mammal and fish bones. We had not been able to find a midden in any of the other sites so far, so we were happy to locate this one. Middens are valuable because they form a microcosm of life through food scraps, broken tools and charcoal that people threw away. We can learn so much from trash! We also had a surprise bear visitor at the site. He was walking towards us along the beach, showing no sign of fear until he got downwind of us and bolted. It was a tense moment, but everyone was safe.

Bear-visitor
Bear visitor at KOD-092. (PC: Ben Fitzhugh)

Bears also dissuaded us from going to the next site, a fishing camp near the salmon stream at the head of the bay. There were at least two bears in that area, so we opted to walk the other direction towards the mouth of the bay and check out a small site named KOD-548. This entire site was a thick salmonberry patch, but we bushwhacked through it to take a couple auger and soil probe tests, which yielded little cultural material despite the presence of house pits on the surface. We let the salmonberries win that round and headed home.

551-hearthhouse
Hearth box house at KOD-551. Sod walls are outlined by flagging tape. Photo taken from one of the side rooms, looking towards the front door. (PC: Ben Fitzhugh)

On our third and final day in Barling, we revisited KOD-551 to do some more testing. That is the site in the middle of the bay that had large well-defined houses and box hearths on the surface, that we found on the first day in Barling Bay. We split into two teams and completed four test pits, both inside and outside of houses. We found a lot of charcoal, but little in the way of other cultural material. The deposits in the house with the hearth box were particularly shallow, perhaps indicating both a recent and brief occupation. Ben extensively documented that house and took both ground and aerial photographs. Its front door opens towards the shore and has two side rooms. We also noted four small holes set at relatively even intervals around the hearth – it is possible that these are post holes from the roof support. If this is true, then the structure for this house is quite similar to other historic houses that were photographed on Kodiak during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Of all the sites we visited in Barling Bay, KOD-551 looks the most promising for future excavations – especially given its proximity to Old Harbor!

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