Coffman Cove Community Archaeology Project: 2006 Excavations
The Coffman Cove archaeological site (PET-067) has been known to scientists for almost 40 years. PET-067 was identified as a significant archaeological locality in 1970 when human remains were unearthed during excavation of a sand and gravel quarry. In 1976, Dr. Gerald Clark, Regional Archaeologist for the Forest Service in Alaska, visited the site, confirmed its archaeological importance, and located undisturbed archaeological deposits. On April 1st 1981, the Coffman Cove site was formally determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. During the following years several small projects required small shovel tests to facilitate telephone and utility service but no substantial excavations took place. Since obtaining title to the site in 1986, the State of Alaska had continued the management practice began by the Forest Service while requesting funds to actively excavate portions of the site and release them for municipal selection. In 2004, federal funds were awarded to the Tongass National Forest to be used for archaeological mitigation. In 2005, a research proposal for a three phase archaeological excavation was designed by Northern Land Use Research, Inc. (NLUR) of Fairbanks.
In the spring of 2006, NLUR developed the Coffman Cove Community Archaeology Project Phase I Data Recovery (Excavation) Component 2006 Field Plan and Research Design. The Project was established to address on-going impacts to the significant Coffman Cove archaeological site and to disseminate the knowledge contained in this site as widely as possible for the general benefit of the City of Coffman Cove, the Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA), local and regional schools, and the public in general. A major intent of the Forest Service was to carry out archaeological excavations that would accomplish the necessary data recovery, at the same time making the public aware of archaeology, developing educational curriculum and creating interpretive exhibits. In these ways, this successful community archaeology project embodied local involvement on many levels while providing controlled systematic data recovery in the field.
Results from the excavation yielded six archaeological levels (two were previously unknown) representing four different human occupations that span over 3000 years. Shell deposits within the main excavation area preserved fragile bone artifacts and archaeofauna. Analyses revealed the oldest component (I) (5500-4000 cal B.P.) used bone fish hooks, bird darts, and harpoons. Component II (4000-3500 cal B.P.) also contained number bone implements related to offshore fishing. Shell beads and a delicate bone needle were also recovered from this level. Component III (3500-2000 cal B.P.) contained a large proportion of ground slate implements and an adze bit. This diagnostic artifact expands the time-depth of wood-working in Southeast Alaska. Component IV (2000-1000 cal B.P.) exhibited various stages of slate biface manufacture with an economy focused, at least seasonally, on salmon and Pacific cod.