Old Harbor Archaeological History Project

About the Project

The Old Harbor Archaeological History Project explores the persistence and resilience of Sugpiaq/Alutiiq communities in and around Old Harbor, Alaska as they faced economic, social and environmental challenges brought by the Russian occupation of Kodiak Island (1784-1867 CE).

Location of Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Old Harbor is starred. Map by Hope Loiselle.

This project grew out of an invitation from the Old Harbor community to Dr. Ben Fitzhugh to continue archaeological work in the region. Dr. Fitzhugh had previously conducted fieldwork around Old Harbor and on Sitkalidak Island between 1993 and 2003. During that time, Dr. Fitzhugh mapped over 150 archaeological sites ranging in age from 7,500 years before present (BP) to the Sugpiaq-American period (after 1867, when Alaska was purchased by the United States from Russia). These sites represent thousands of years of residence by Sugpiaq/Alutiiq people on Kodiak and Sitkalidak Islands, and provide evidence of their ways of life.

With the Old Harbor Archaeological History Project, we build upon this strong foundation of research to specifically explore the period of Russian colonialism on Kodiak, which began with Grigorii Shelikhov’s landing at Three Saints Bay in 1784 and ended with the sale of Alaska to the Unites States in 1867. This period of Kodiak and Sugpiaq/Alutiiq history is marked by rapid change as Russian promyshlenniki (fur traders) established permanent settlements, conscripted Sugpiaq men and women to work for them, introduced diseases and brought the Russian Orthodox faith to Alaska. We ask, what can we learn from the archaeological record about how Sugpiaq people responded to these changes in their daily lives?

Map of Old Harbor region. Labeled bays were visited during the 2018 pilot survey. Map by Hope Loiselle.

Here, we focus on the Old Harbor region. Old Harbor is the active, modern village closest to the Three Saints Bay site, where the Russians first settled in 1784 CE. At the time of Russian contact, the Old Harbor region had at least seven large winter villages and hundreds of summer outpost camps (Clark 1987). Just one village remained following 40 years of conscription, exploitation and disease at the hands of the Russian-American Company (Crowell & Luehrmann 2001).

An important part of this work is the opportunity to collaborate with the modern community of Old Harbor, who welcomed Dr. Fitzhugh back, and Hollis for the first time, to the village in August 2017. We were thrilled by the enthusiasm we received for this project and look forward to continued collaboration with the Old Harbor Native Corporation, the City of Old Harbor, the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor and individual community members.

Overall, this project will contribute to the community of Old Harbor, the wider Sugpiaq/Alutiiq community and archaeological scholarship by providing new insights into Native negotiation of the hazards brought by Russian colonization. This research thus has the potential to enhance community resilience by taking a long-term view of issues that continue to affect Sugpiaq people today, such as restricted access to resources, demographic changes and efforts at cultural revitalization.

This project is funded by the University of Washington Department of Anthropology, the Quaternary Research Center and the Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies.


Clark, Donald W. 1987. “On a misty day you can see back to 1805: Ethnohistory and historical archaeology on the southeastern side of Kodiak Island, Alaska.” Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska 21(1-2): 105-132.

Crowell, Aron L., and Sonja Luehrmann. 2001. “Alutiiq Culture: Views from Archaeology, Anthropology, and History.” In Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People, edited by Aron L. Crowell, Amy F. Steffian and Gordon L. Pullar, 21-71. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.

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