Portage Bay House Pit Site - Passport in Time

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Test Excavations at the Portage Bay House Pit Site

Tongass National Forest, Alaska, 2000
by Jane L. Smith, FS Archaeologist

Last summer, archaeologists from the Petersburg Office, Tongass National Forest, and volunteers from as far away as England investigated a prehistoric Native village on Kupreanof Island. Archaeologists first discovered the site in the late 1970s and have since made periodic visits to determine and map its extent. In June 2000, we selected areas to excavate where debris from daily living activities had accumulated over the centuries. These deposits, called middens, often hold clues that help us to recreate the prehistoric past. Using shovels and trowels, we carefully peeled back layers of earth, each representing different periods of habitation, to help reveal the secrets of successful adaptation to a sometimes harsh environment. By sifting all the sediments, we recovered examples of the foods eaten and tools used. We found numerous discarded bivalve shells, fish and mammal bones, a few tools, and a lot of charcoal. The tools included a bird bone awl, a bone fish hook, a shell bead, and a stone scraper. From the charcoal we were able to obtain radiocarbon dates. The dates suggest that people first came to the site around 850 years ago and lived there until at least 530 years ago. According to Tlingit legend, Native people occupied a village in the area after arriving from the interior by way of the Stikine River. Thanks to all those who participated in this successful PIT program!
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