Cod Fishing in Russian America: The Archaeology of a 19th-Century Alutiiq Work Camp on Alaska’s Kodiak Island

Amy V. Margaris, Mark A. Rusk, Patrick G. Saltonstall and Molly Odell

Abstract

The site of Mikt’sqaq Angayuk (KOD-014) on eastern Kodiak Island provides an intimate view of Native Alutiiq responses to the colonial labor regime imposed by 19th-century Russians in Alaska. Recent excavation of Mikt’sqaq Angayuk through the Alutiiq Museum’s Community Archaeology program revealed a well-preserved Alutiiq-style sod house and associated faunal midden dating to the 1830s. The midden was rich in cod remains, and mostly colonially introduced products, including metal hunting and trapping gear and European ceramics, comprised the artifacts. These finds dovetail with Russian historical evidence to suggest the site’s use as an odinochka: a small seasonal encampment where Alutiiq workers were conscripted to fish, hunt, and trap on behalf of the Russian-American Company. Yet the workers’ economic strategies likewise involved a measure of individual autonomy, as revealed in the distinctly Alutiiq ways some imported products were used and evidence that residents also pursued subsistence aims of their own.

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