A map of Alaska with the Kodiak region highlighted.
Organization: Alutiiq Heritage Foundation
City: Kodiak
Region: Kodiak
Program Area: Arts, Culture, Humanities \ Museum
Grants Received:
2014: $16,500  2006: $26,000
2013: $127,867  2005: $1,000
2012: $24,279  2004: $17,284
2011: $90,000  2002: $19,341
2010: $29,704  2000: $10,000
2008: $25,000
2007: $22,715

Sharing 7,500 years of Kodiak's cultural heritage

Mission Statement
Alutiiq Museum and
Archaeological Repository

The Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository preserves and shares the cultural traditions of the Alutiiq people through exhibits, educational programs, publications, anthropological research, and the care of traditional objects.
The ancient inhabitants of Kodiak Island came to life for me a decade ago on a late-summer day on a bluff overlooking Karluk Lagoon. Before going there to help out on an archaeology dig I had only a vague understanding of the lives of the Alutiiq people who once were the sole inhabitants of the island. I pictured a brutal place where people lived in earthen huts, wore furs, scrabbled a meager existence from the rainy island and the waters that surrounded it and led, at least in my mind, generally dismal lives.

We'd been unearthing feathers, shells and wood and bone fragments all day, normal fare for an old midden, or prehistoric landfill, as archaeologist Rick Knecht called it. Then one of the diggers gasped as she scraped away a layer of dark loam and saw a
palm-sized wooden face staring up at her.

The tiny sculpture was unusual in its detail. On one side a raised brow arched over an angular eye and grinning lips. But the other side of the face was markedly different, with a drooping eye and down-turned mouth. It was as if the classic Greek masks of comedy and tragedy were merged into one. There was a familiarity to it that I could not pinpoint until Rick spoke. The carving, he speculated, could depict a stroke victim.

The Alutiiq Museum building.Spacer Image

I thought of the man who was the model for that tiny carving. He had lived here, looked at the same vista of sea and sky and had been cared for by family and friends. That ancient, stricken face humanized Kodiak prehistory in a way that no lesson, no book, no picture ever had. And the importance of preserving and displaying prehistoric artifacts like it became clear.

In the past, artifacts like this would have gone off island to be preserved, catalogued and most likely stored away in a museum archive. But these would be going to the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository then under construction in the city of Kodiak. The Karluk site yielded many artifacts some of which are displayed at the museum.

I often wonder if visitors see that old, lopsided face and if it speaks to them now, the same way it spoke to me.

Andy Hall was born and raised in Alaska. He is a graduate of the University of Alaska and currently works as editor of Alaska magazine.