The Bear Island Project, led by Sébastien Perrot-Minnot (Eveha International), is a continuation of the Sadie Cove Project (2017-2018). It relates to the rock painting site of Bear Island, which is located on Alaska’s south-central coast (Kachemak Bay). This project comprising two field seasons (2019-2020) is aimed at documenting, analyzing and contextualizing the rich rock art manifestations of Bear Island. It could make it possible to define a rock art of the Kachemak Tradition (circa 1500 BC-600 to 1000 AD), a cultural entity attributed to the Alutiiq or “Pacific Eskimo”.
Sébastien Perrot-Minnot (Eveha International)
General presentation of the site and the project
The rock painting site of Bear Island (SEL-00036 in the official inventory of archaeological sites of the State of Alaska) is in Southcentral Alaska. It is located on a small island in Kachemak Bay, which enters the southern Kenai Peninsula and opens onto Cook Inlet, a subdivision of the Gulf of Alaska; the nearest urban area is that of Homer, which is situated 24 km southwest of SEL-00036, at the entrance to Kachemak Bay.
The site started to generate research in the 1930’s. At that time, a Dena’ina (an Athabascan, therefore an American Indian), whose name is not known to us, reported the existence of the Bear Island paintings to Ethnologist Cornelius Osgood. Osgood showed an interest in the place, where he removed three decorated rock fragments, which are now preserved at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He made the Bear Island decorated rock wall known to Anthropologist and Archaeologist Frederica de Laguna, who was working then on the “Eskimo civilization”. De Laguna carried out a recording, drawings and an iconographic analysis of the pictographs, and excavated two test pits at the site. More recently, the study of the rock art manifestations has been enriched by the work of Archaeologists Janet (since the 1990’s), Melissa Baird (in the 2000’s) and Sébastien Perrot-Minnot (since 2017), but no other excavation has been done.
The Bear Island paintings decorate an overhanging rock wall situated behind a creek. Among them, we currently recognize 60 pictographs, distributed over an area of 1.80 x 4.10 m. They form small mainly zoomorphic, but also anthropomorphic, geometric and abstract representations (the biggest motif of our corpus is 14 cm long). The pictographs are monochrome, reddish-colored, except for a polychrome motif showing also orange and black pigments. Groups of pictographs seem to compose small scenes, and in a general manner, the distribution of the paintings gives an impression of organization.
In Alaska, rock art has been mainly reported along the coasts of the Gulf of Alaska and its subdivisions. In Kachemak Bay, all its known and located manifestations are paintings; apart from Bear Island, we find them in Sadie Cove (SEL-00005), Peterson Bay (SEL-00252) and Indian Island (or Seal Beach, SEL-00079). Furthermore, two rock painting sites border on Cook Inlet: Tuxedni Bay (KEN-00229) and Clam Cove (SEL-00006).
To this day, the archaeological context of Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet rock art has remained problematic. In the case of Bear Island, de Laguna uncovered a pre-European level of occupation containing faunal remains at the foot of the decorated rock wall, and stone artifacts of Native tradition were found elsewhere on the island, but this material could not be linked to any particular phase.
Under these circumstances, in the continuity of the project which he devoted to the decorated rock shelter of Sadie Cove (2017-2018), Sébastien Perrot-Minnot started developing a research program focused on the rock art site of Bear Island, in order to deepen the reflections on rock painting’s style and chrono-cultural context. The Bear Island Project (2019-2020) includes a survey, new recording and drawings of the paintings, topographic and photogrammetric surveys of the site, the excavation of a test pit and a study of the archaeological material which would be uncovered. It is benefiting from the participation of Janet Klein, an independent archaeologist from Homer, and the collaboration of the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology (State of Alaska), the Pratt Museum (Homer) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
How Eveha International Participates
Janet Klein, freelance archaeologist from Homer
Office of History and Archeology, State of Alaska
Pratt Museum, Homer
United States Geological Survey (USGS)