alignments representing the remains of an intertidal fish
trap, Kodiak Island, Alaska. Photograph courtesy the Alutiiq
Alutiiq Museum archaeologists have located the remains of a
stone fish trap and an associated set of petroglyphs on northern
Kodiak Island. The features are believed to be prehistoric and reflect
Alutiiq salmon fishing traditions. While petroglyphs are a well-known
feature of Kodiaks cultural landscape, the fish trap is a
rare find. It is the first intertidal fishing structure identified
in the Kodiak region.
The trap lies in the lower intertidal zone, a muddy area below
the mouth of a productive salmon stream. At high tide, salmon headed
up the stream could swim over the stone-walled feature, but as the
tide dropped, fish were stranded in one of two corrals. The walls
of the corrals are incomplete today. However, the alignment of the
remaining stones illustrates the shape and size of the ancient structure.
One of the corrals is a semi-rectangular arrangement of stones,
the other is u-shaped, and there is a gap between the two. Together
the stone features stretch an estimated 150 meters.
This method of fishing is well known along the North Pacific
coast, said Patrick Saltonstall, the archaeologist who identified
the trap. Researchers have found stone traps and wooden weirs
from southeast Alaska to the coast of Oregon. This recent find illustrates
that people used this technology as far north as Kodiak.
carved into a shoreline boulder adjacent to the intertidal
fish trap. Photograph courtesy the Alutiiq Museum
On the shore adjacent to the trap, Saltonstall also recorded
a set of previously undocumented petroglyphs. A slate slab, about
a meter across, features a series of pecked, circular holes and
faintly incised lines. These petroglyphs are different than the
human faces and animals carved on boulders at Cape Alitak or along
the shore of Afognak Bay, but they closely resemble petroglyphs
found beside other salmon streams in the archipelago. These carvings
may be a territorial marker, but their meaning is unknown.
The trap and the petroglyphs are part of a set of sites that
include four, ancient, sod house villages. Saltonstall estimates
that small communities date within the past 2,000 years and reflect
efforts to harvest large quantities of fish to feed a growing Native
The fish trap took a lot of work to build and maintain.
I imagine that it was reused year after year and that it was owned
by a community or an extended family. Its not surprising that
Alutiiq families used this technology. Many lines of archaeological
evidence indicate that Alutiiq ancestors developed tools to efficiently
harvest large quantities of fish. A fish trap is another great example.
The museums archaeological research is part of a multi-year
project with the Afognak Native Corporation to document ancestral
sites on the corporations lands. Grant funds from the National
Park Service Tribal Preservation Program are allowing museum researchers
to study shoreline areas. The petroglyphs fall on Afognak Native
Corporation lands. The fish trap remains are below the mean high
tide line and thus fall on adjacent State of Alaska lands.
The Alutiiq Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to
preserving and sharing the history and culture of the Alutiiq, an
Alaska Native tribal people. Representatives of Kodiak Alutiiq organizations
govern the museum with funding from charitable contributions, memberships,
grants, contracts, and sales.
The Alutiiq Museums work spans the globe, but we have a deep
commitment to the Kodiak Archipelago the museums home
and the geographic center of the Alutiiq world. We work diligently
to involve people of all heritages in educational programming and
original research archaeological studies, language documentation,
and collections investigations. By engaging everyone in the celebration
of Alutiiq heritage, we reduce cultural isolation, reawaken cultural
traditions, build intergenerational ties that broaden cultural understanding,
and create a welcoming environment for discovery.