Play in the dirt with Dig Afognak
Laura Nielsen for FrontierScientists
If uncovering archaeological treasures and exploring local culture appeal to you more than simple sightseeing, you’ll want to check out the Kodiak Archipelago the next time you can make it to Alaska. The Afognak Native Corporation’s program Dig Afognak has visitors, archaeologists, and Native tribal members working side-by-side to find and preserve cultural artifacts and archaeological sites.
Additionally, Dig Afognak offers cultural activities with varying focuses all meant to teach and preserve Native Alutiiq ways. One week-long cultural immersion program was called Lu’machipet, “Our Culture,” with storytelling, singing, dance and performance serving as mediums to explore Alutiiq language and oral tradition.
“Alutiiq” Native people are indigenous to the Kodiak Island Archipelago, the southern coast of the Alaska Peninsula, Prince William Sound, and the lower tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Alutiiq heritage is strong, and people have pride in their traditions. Cultural revitalization movements like the Dig Afognak program and well-preserved practices like Alutiiq basket weaving keep the remembered past alive.
Alutiiq basket weavers were able to share insight with Russian curators; collections held by Russia from the times when the Russian American Company held what is today Alaska contain valuable cultural references.
Meanwhile, the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository, Kodiak AK, curates and exhibits Alutiiq artifacts. The museum’s executive director, Sven Haakanson, has taught at Dig Afognak. He also studies the appearing and disappearing petroglyphs of Cape Alitak.
After the Russian colony ended, area Alutiiq Natives faced disasters: the 1912 Mount Katmai eruption (ashfall can be found in some archaeological sites), the disruptive 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake and tsunami, and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Oil clean-up around the Prince William Sound disrupted archaeological sites. It was clear that steps needed to be taken to preserve the archaeological record. Dig Afognak preserves artifacts, reconstructs past lifestyles and teaches community heritage, and also draws ethno-tourists to the area. The response to these disasters shows the strength of the community.
Check out the Dig Afognak Archaeological Expedition.