National Park & Preserve Alaska
March 10, 2014
“I noticed, rather incidentally, a stick that seemed unusually weathered lying on a ledge. I picked it up and noticed that it was worked. I looked around and after some searching noticed a couple of more similar pieces (shafts) sticking out of a crevice that slanted diagonally back into the bluff. I pulled out the shafts and heard a clink as though I had disturbed something well back in the crevice. Unable to reach in or see into the crevice I fashioned a hooked stick and began to fish in the crevice. I pulled out the nine points and three cases that I have sent to you.”
This was an exciting find—archeologists usually find stone objects like slate points, but rarely do they find wooden objects like the shafts the points were lashed to and the carrying cases that protected the well-sharpened edges of the points. Gryc submitted a section of one of the wood shafts for carbon 14 dating; the results came back that the wood was no older than 200 years old. However, radiocarbon dates of anything under 250 years old are notoriously unreliable due to the somewhat recent industrial uses of coal and oil as fuel that have filled the upper atmosphere with particles of ancient carbon and the radioactive materials that have entered the atmosphere due to atomic testing.
Is this date correct? How can we find out how old these objects are? Research! Gryc consulted with archeologists William Laughlin and Don Dumond, as well as researchers at the Smithsonian. Dr. Laughlin remarked how exquisitely worked the spear points were and how well preserved the shafts and cases were. Dumond, the pioneering archeologist in the Katmai region, concluded these spear points are characteristic of the Naknek area from about 1700-1800AD.
We know similar artifacts from Kodiak and Katmai Village at the Hermitage Museum and the National Museum of Finland collected ethnographically date from the early-mid 1800s. A note in the museum catalog at the National Museum of Finland sated that wooden sheaths similar to the ones found at Grosvenor were no longer in use by 1850. This would make sense, as hunters would have, by that time, replaced slate points with metal ones, and soon would replace spear points all together with guns.
Who was the hunter who used these points? What was he hunting? Did he use these points each time he hunted in this particular area, caching them between hunts? Did he store them away in a crevice above the lakeshore for ceremonial reasons? We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we know that these finely crafted tools were very important to someone in the past, and are a wonder to us in the present!
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