Author: Debra G. Corbett | Nanutset Heritage
Environmental changes pose numerous threats to the living and ancient cultural heritage of the Aleutian Islands. Prehistoric sites are vulnerable to erosion caused by increased storminess and rising sea levels. Changing economic conditions may increase the incidence of vandalism and looting, and introduction of grazing animals causes erosion and trampling.
There have been no systematic efforts to document changes in Aleutian sites. Fortunately a regional baseline of site conditions exists. The Aleut Corporation applied for over 300 cemetery and historic sites significant in Aleut history under ANCSA. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) investigated these sites prior to their conveyance to TAC. As a result we have detailed maps and descriptions of these sites conditions at a known point in time. Recently a small number of sites were revisited by archaeologists, making updates possible. Sites on Agattu, Tanaga, Little Kiska and Kanaga were visited.
Sites ATU-00057 and ATU-00230 in Karab Cove on Agattu Island were not part of TAC’s claims but BIA archaeologists described both in 1989. At ATU-00057 they noted a minor amount of erosion along the stream banks. No erosion was reported at ATU-00230. In 2013 archaeologists made a brief visit to both sites. Site vegetation was just sprouting so visibility was excellent. Erosion is continuing at ATU-00057, but the BIA estimate of less than 5% of the site damaged is a reasonable assessment. There were no signs of erosion at ATU-00230.
XGI-00030, a cave, was plundered by T.P. Bank in 1950-51. Bank recovered artifacts of stone, bone and wood. BIA investigators in 2000, described worked wood from scaffolding, and fragments of grass matting, animal bones and shells, and other organic materials left behind by Bank. A visit to the cave in 2013 showed no new disturbance to the cave.
Little Kiska Island, 2014
Little Kiska Site KIS-00002, was excavated by Hrdlicka in 1936. In 1989 BIA noted extensive WWII disturbance but no erosion. No erosion was apparent in 1997, but by 2010 a large exposure had appeared. In 2014 an archaeologist spent a day documenting the erosion. Sixty meters of the 150 meter long midden is actively eroding. The site face has, by best estimates, lost between 1 and 2 meters of midden.
Kanaga Island, 2015
ADK-00059 was investigated by BIA in 1999. FWS and independent archaeologists visited in June 2015. This site is situated well back from the modern shoreline and shows no sign of recent visits or natural erosion.
Five sites were examined for condition between 2013 and 2015. None have been subject to recent vandalism. Two sites, ATU-00057, and KIS-00002, are actively eroding. Erosion at the first is ongoing but minor and poses little threat to the long term integrity of the site. Major erosion is obvious at KIS-00002. Since it is inside well-protected Kiska Harbor increased storminess is unlikely to be the cause. One possibility may be changes in site elevation due to earthquakes.