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3,000-Year-Old Ancient Weavings Uncovered in Alaska

3,000-Year-Old Ancient Weavings
A close-up look at the 3,000-year-old ancient weavings uncovered in Alaska. Credit: Patrick Saltonstall, Alutiiq Museum

Archaeologists from the Alutiiq Museum recently made an exciting discovery during their excavation of an ancestral sod house on Kodiak Island, Alaska. They uncovered pieces of ancient weavings, shedding light on a long-standing Alutiiq art.

Weaving has been a significant tradition among the Alutiiq people for generations. However, documenting it through archaeological findings is no easy task. This is because fiber artifacts, like these weavings, are delicate and rarely survive the test of time, according to Heritage Daily.

The sod house was a part of a settlement belonging to the Koniag Alutiiq people. These folks, also known as the Alutiiq or Sugpiaq, have called the coastal regions of south-central Alaska their home for more than 7,500 years. Their ancestral lands include Prince William Sound, the outer Kenai Peninsula, the Kodiak Archipelago, and the Alaska Peninsula.

The Alutiiq people have a lot in common with other coastal groups, especially the Unangan or Aleut from the Aleutian Chain and the Yup’ik from the Bering Sea coast.

Anthropologists believe these shared cultural traditions might be a sign of a common ancient history among these groups.

Sod house burned and collapsed around 3,000 years ago

The sod house after excavation
The sod house after excavation. Credit: Patrick Saltonstall, Alutiiq Museum

The pieces of woven artifacts were found within a sod house located on the shores of Karluk Lake. Patrick Saltonstall, a researcher from the Alutiiq Museum, revealed, “We were excavating a sod house beside Karluk Lake as part of a broader study to understand how Alutiiq people used Kodiak’s interior.”

Carbon dating has provided clues about the fate of this ancient structure. It tells that roughly three thousand years ago, the sod house suffered a fire, causing it to collapse. The walls tumbled inward, covering a part of the floor in the process, wrote Heritage Daily.

Saltonstall further stated, “As we removed the remains of the walls, we were surprised and excited to find fragments of charred weaving. 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.”

Revealing details of the ancient woven fragments

A careful look at the woven fragments reveals how they were made. The skilled creators began by placing long, parallel strands of grass (known as the warp) and then fastened them with rows of twining (called the weft), which ran perpendicular to the warp and were spaced about an inch apart.

This weaving method resulted in an open pattern, similar to what we see in historical examples of Alutiiq grass mats. Additionally, smaller fragments with intricate braiding might indicate the finished edges of these mats, according to Heritage Daily.

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