Low tide reveals Alutiiq fishing method in Kodiak

Rocks alignments representing the remains of an intertidal fish trap, Kodiak Island, Alaska. (Photograph courtesy the Alutiiq Museum)

A Kodiak archaeologist said there may be the remains of a historic Alutiiq fish trap on the north end of Kodiak Island. He said those types of man-made formations are rare to discover in the region.

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The Alutiiq Museum is in its second year of documenting ancestral sites on Afognak Native Corporation lands. While surveying one area, museum Curator of Archaeology Patrick Saltonstall said he noticed something on the shoreline at low tide.

Saltonstall said he identified it as a fish trap, which he calls a corral.

“They’re like stone walls on the inter-tidal zone so when the tide came in, all the fish went to go up stream, would float in over the corrals or the trap, and then when the tide went out, they’d be stranded in the pens, so then you catch a whole lot of fish,” Saltonstall said.

Saltonstall said it can be challenging to determine whether a corral is natural or man-made, but he sees evidence of it being a fish trap.

“I could tell that there were some boulders that they used that there were there already, but almost all of it was bringing boulders in,” Saltonstall said. “It’s like a wall, like five feet across and maybe two feet high now, but it was probably much higher [back] in the day.”

Petroglyphs carved into a shoreline boulder adjacent to the intertidal fish trap. (Photograph courtesy the Alutiiq Museum)

Saltonstall said this is the first time’s he’s ever seen a corral like this one on the island, but they’re common in southeast, which he said could because the people there used them more frequently.

“But another thing is a lot of the places down there are more protected, they aren’t as open to the ocean as Kodiak is, so maybe the lower energy they tend to be preserved better, whereas in Kodiak after a big storm a lot of these things might get demolished,” Saltonstall said.

Saltonstall said they found what looks like petroglyphs nearby – speckled dots and incised lines carved into slate.

“And what the cool pattern is is they all seem to be associated with fishing localities,” Saltonstall said. “You look at the typical petroglyphs, you know with faces, whales, drummer, they’re associated more with whaling or with villages.”

Saltonstall said it’s hard to determine the age of either the corral or the petroglyphs, but based on nearby archaeological sites, the carvings could be dated back to about 500 years ago.