Although Shuyak’s wooded shores are quiet today, with no modern communities, the island was once an integral part of the Alutiiq nation. The Alutiiq people are the original residents of the Kodiak archipelago. Anthropologists believe they settled here more than 7,500 years ago, traveling by boat from the Alaskan mainland.
At least 30 archaeological sites record the prehistoric cultures of Shuyak. Like other regions of the archipelago, Shuyak sites date to three major cultural periods, each representing a unique way of living. Early sites in protected places like the shores of Big Bay date to the Ocean Bay tradition (ca. 7500 – 4000 years old) and likely represent the camps of families pursuing sea mammals and marine fish. By about 4,000 years ago, Native people began living in sod house villages and storing quantities of fish. Sites of this era, belong to the Kachemak tradition (ca. 4000 – 900 years old) on Shuyak. They have small single-roomed houses surrounded by deposits of ancient garbage. By 900 Alutiiqs lived in larger villages with multi-roomed houses. Koniag sites are the most common on Shuyak, reflecting growth of the regions population.
Historical records indicate that Shuyak was home to at least two Alutiiq communities when Russian traders arrived in the late eighteenth century. Russian entrepreneur Gregorii Shelikov established trading relations with the chief of one of these villages, although the Alutiiq settlements were soon destroyed or abandoned following conflicts with the traders.
In the twentieth century, Alutiiq families salted salmon on Shuyak for both human consumption and to produce animal food for the fox farming industry. In the 1930, fish processing expanded with the development of a cannery in Port William. Other enterprises, including mining, logging, and bear hunting are also part of Shuyak’s more recent history. Cabin foundations, mineshafts, historic garbage, a shipwreck, and the remains of a World War II era air navigation facility are some of the historic features that document the island’s recent past.
Visitors to Shuyak Island State Park should remember that state laws protect archaeological sites. Enjoy viewing the evidence of past settlers as you explore the island, but do not disturb or collect anything. For more information on Alaskan archaeology the laws that protect archaeological sites, please visit the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology’s web site at:
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