Archaeologists from the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository have unearthed fragments of ancient weavings, during excavations of an ancestral sod house on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Patrick Saltonstall, the Curator of Archaeology at the Alutiiq Museum, explained the circumstances that led to the preservation of the woven fragments. The sod house in question had burned and collapsed approximately 3,000 years ago. As the walls of the structure, lined with wood, collapsed inward, they covered a portion of the floor, effectively sealing and protecting it from further burning.
This led to the remarkable discovery of fragments of charred weaving, believed to be grass mats that once covered the floor of the sod house. These fragments, covering an area of approximately two meters at the back of the house, may have been used for sleeping.
Weaving has been a long-standing Alutiiq art form, but its archaeological documentation is challenging due to the fragility of fiber artifacts.
Prior to this discovery, the Alutiiq Museum’s extensive collections contained grass and spruce root baskets dating back as far as 600 years. However, there were no known examples of weaving older than this.
Carbon dating confirmed that the sod house, which produced these weavings, is approximately 3,000 years old, a determination supported by the architectural style of the structure and the artifacts found nearby.
April Laktonen Counceller, the Executive Director of the Alutiiq Museum, expressed the significance of this find, stating that it extends their knowledge of Alutiiq weaving back an additional 2,400 years.
The examination of the woven fragments revealed a weaving technique in which long parallel strands of grass, known as the warp, were laid down first. They were then secured with perpendicular rows of twining, referred to as the weft, with approximately one-inch spacing. This technique created an open weave pattern, similar to historical Alutiiq grass matting. Some fragments even exhibit more intricate braiding, possibly representing the finished edge of a mat.
To ensure the preservation and further study of these fragile woven remnants, the field crew meticulously removed them from the sod house floor and placed them in a specially designed box for transport to Kodiak.
In Kodiak, these artifacts will be documented, preserved, and made available for study, thanks to the generous support of Koniag, the regional Alaska Native Corporation for Kodiak Alutiiq people, which also sponsored the research and owns the land where the excavation occurred.
Shauna Hegna, President of Koniag, expressed appreciation for partnering with the Alutiiq Museum on critical projects like this, acknowledging the significance of discoveries that highlight the innovation and resilience of the Alutiiq people.
The Alutiiq Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and culture of the Alutiiq people, an Alaska Native tribal group. The museum is governed by representatives of Kodiak Alutiiq organizations and is funded through charitable contributions, memberships, grants, contracts, and sales.