Pieces of ancient weavings were found during excavations in an ancient house on Alaska’s Kodiak Island.
Weaving is a skill long practiced by the Alutiiq, an Eskimo people from the Yupik branch living in southern Alaska. But it is challenging to record archaeologically because fiber items are delicate and infrequently survived.
Excavated house was part of a Koniag Alutiiq community, a group of Alutiiq / Sugpiaq people that lived on the coast of south-central Alaska for about 7500 years. Their ancestral homelands include Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula’s outer reaches, the Kodiak Archipelago, and the Alaska Peninsula.
The Unangan/Aleut of the Aleutian Chain and the Yup’ik of the Bering Sea coast are two coastal tribes with which the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq people have a great deal of cultural traditions in common. According to anthropologists, these cultural parallels point to a common ancestor from the distant past.
The woven fragments were discovered in a house on the shores of Karluk Lake. The building burned down and collapsed some 3000 years ago, with the walls tumbling into the interior and covering a piece of the floor, according to carbon dating.
Patrick Saltonstall from the Alutiiq Museum said: “As we removed the remains of the walls, we were surprised and excited to find fragments of charred ancient weavings. It looks like the house had grass mats on the floor. The pieces covered about a two-metre area at the back of the house, perhaps in an area for sleeping.”
A close inspection of the woven fragments shows that their makers laid down long parallel strands of grass (the warp) and then secured them with perpendicular rows of twining (the weft) spaced. These rows were spaced approximately an inch apart. This method produced an open weave similar to that of vintage Alutiiq grass matting.
“It is likely that our ancestors worked with plant fibres for millennia, from the time they arrived on Kodiak 7500 years ago, it makes sense. Plants are abundant and easily harvested, and they are excellent materials for making containers, mats, and other useful items. It’s just very hard to document this practice. This wonderful find extends our knowledge of Alutiiq weaving back an additional 2400 years.” said April Laktonen Counceller, the museum’s executive director.