I am back from a successful field season in the Aleutian Islands. We discovered new sites, collected charcoal and faunal samples, and found a few interesting artifacts. We initially focused our efforts on Rat Island’s western half. The sites we discovered included large villages, small villages, isolated housepits, and lithic scatters. The lithic scatters were found in upland settings in naturally deflated ‘blowouts’. We looked for inland housepits – particularly around lakes, but found none. One large village we found was on top a terrace some 80 meters above the current beach. These villagers would have had great ocean views, but a steep climb when bringing food and fuel to their homes.
We were joined on the island by a crew of biologists from Island Conservation a nonprofit organization working on the rat eradication projection. The biologists set up their camp a short distance from our camp – out of view, but close enough to be neighbors. Their job is to look for evidence of rats, collect dead birds to assess the collateral damage from the poison, and count live birds to monitor the changes since the rats were removed.
I don’t know what the biologists found, but we saw one dead rat and no sign of live ones. We saw quite a few live birds – including two rock sandpipers on nests with eggs. The eggs in particular are a good sign of the missing rats. Still, the biologists will need to return next year (assuming they find no rats this year) for another field season before they can be convinced that the rats are truly gone. A few hundred survivors would be hard to detect, even with all the biologists’s efforts, yet those few hundred would rapidly repopulate the island.
We’re also hoping to return to Rat Island next year. If we do, there will be an opportunity for a couple of Hamline students to join us. Working in the Aleutian Islands, traveling on the Tiglax, and living in such a remote wilderness is an incredible experience. It’s the opportunity of a life time for the people lucky enough to work here. Anyone interested in being a part of our crew better get in my lab right away and start making themselves really useful.
We finished our work on Rat with time to spare so we joined Debbie Corbett and a crew of historians and preservationists on Kiska Island. They went to Kiska to map World War II features. We went to Kiska to add to our data on Unangan settlements in the Rat Islands. Both groups were successful. I’ll write about our Kiska work in a later post. Anyone interested can also check out my Flickr account to see some more Rat/Kiska photographs.
Update 2: More on our 2009 field season is found in my post on Kiska.