Folks who have been reading this blog are aware that erosion of archaeological sites due to global change effects (warming, sea level rise, etc.) is a huge problem where I live and work. Rapid decay of the exquisitely preserved organic contents of the sites is also a huge problem. But a blog only reaches so many people and actually dealing with the sites and otherwise doing my day job means that I can’t spend endless time on outreach. So when a member of the media is interested, I take the time to talk to them. Sometimes something comes of it, other times not.
Last summer El Kintisch, who writes for a number of scientific publications came up and spent a few days in Barrow. He managed to spend a day at Walakpa, although his schedule meant he couldn’t be there for the whole thing. He’s been working on it since, and I think the result is pretty engaging. The resulting article was just published by Hakai Magazine here and simultaneously by the Smithsonian website here. Hakai focuses on coastal issues and just recently published an article on Tom Dawson and SCAPE’s work in Scotland dealing with similar problems (minus the permafrost thawing and sea ice retreat).
It’s a big problem, and one that will take a considerable input of human and financial resources to deal with. We’ve only got a few decades (less in many cases) before all the cultural heritage and paleoenvironmental information in these sites is gone for good.
I spent most of the week in Seattle at the Arctic Observing Open Science meeting. Ben Fitzhugh and I were the point persons for the broader GHEA/IHOPE Emerging Knowledge Hub on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past. This is a long and fancy way of talking about the threats that sea level rise, ice retreat, and permafrost warming pose for archaeological sites in the North. Since this was not an archaeological meeting, most of the folks were either natural scientists or resource managers. We focused on the kind of data that archaeological sites contain that are more than relevant to answering the kinds of questions they are asking, while pointing out that the data is vanishing quickly. The library is on fire!
Ben and I each were the lead on a talk (both massively multi-authored), and we also did a poster, with a similarly large number of contributors. Ben’s talk was in the Marine Ecosystems session. It seemed like it interested the audience, which was primarily oceanographers, and related agency and funding folks.
Mine was in the Human Dimensions session, since the Coastal Processes session we had aimed for apparently didn’t get enough papers. I followed a paper on frozen heritage (primarily ice patches and the preliminary stages of development of site evaluation schema) by Martin Callanan and Shelby Anderson, so the issues were thoroughly driven home. The audience included a number of natural scientists (!), and the discussions included the relevance of archaeology to both other fields of research and to developing toolkits for sustainability.
Our hope is we woke some of our colleagues up to both the potential of archaeological sites to provide data, and the need to find a way to get that data that doesn’t rely entirely on Arctic Social Science funding.
I’ve spent the last month writing almost non-stop. However, none of it was posts on here. We had done a number of CRM projects this summer, and the results had to be written up. Five reports later, that is more or less done, pending a couple of possible new illustrations.
I’m working on a couple of projects for a client who is in the early stages of planning some big infrastructure projects. Instead of waiting until the design and site selection is nearly complete and then considering cultural resources, which often leads to unfortunate surprises, unnecessary expenses and project delays (which are then blamed on archaeology instead of poor project planning), they are actually trying to get a handle on what cultural resources might be located in the possible Area of Potential Effect (APE) and what dealing with them appropriately might entail. This seems like a way better approach and should be a win-win.
This weekend, I’m working on a paper and a poster for the Arctic Observing Open Science Meeting in Seattle in 2 weeks. I had hoped to give the paper in a proposed Coastal session, but apparently there weren’t that many coastal papers, so it looks like I’ll be in the Human Dimensions session. Sort of ironic, given that I’m talking about the paleoenvironmental data that Arctic sites can contain, and how that data is at imminent risk of being destroyed by global change effects, and pretty much taking the human dimension information potential as a given. That’s pretty much been the basic premise of archaeology since the days of CJ Thomsen & JJA Worsaae. I’m spending a part of next week in Anchorage, so I want to get it more or less done before I go.
From Glasgow, we went on to Vienna and CHAGS (the Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies), by way of Düsseldorf. The Düsseldorf airport is not high on my list of airports in Europe.
In Vienna, we stayed in Hotel-Pension Bleckmann, a nice family-run hotel near the University, where all the conference sessions were being held. The hotel had great breakfasts, and the staff was really nice and very helpful. They recommended a restaurant that had great food and a local clientele, so it was more reasonable than the more touristy places.
The conference was very interesting. Both Glenn & I were giving papers in a session on Aboriginal Whaling in the 21st Century. I talked about the archaeological evidence for whaling in Alaska, and Glenn talked about the late pre-contact/protohistoric whaling-centric system in North Alaska. There were a number of other northern papers in the session, including papers on Central and Eastern Canadian whaling archaeology from Jim Savelle and Peter Whitridge, as well as papers on whaling in places like Korea & Bequia. There were 51 other sessions, all having to do with hunting and gathering groups. Of course there were a lot of northern papers, but some of the other papers were very interesting as well. The organizing committee and the students really made an effort to have a green conference, including the food and drinks served at breaks, and all in all it was quite fun.
We ran into a couple of hooded crows in one of the courtyards on campus. Oddly, we’d seen one at the University of Glasgow as well.
The campus has all sort of restaurants and beer gardens more or less on or next to it. It was very convenient after sessions. Several times we wound up at Steigel-Ambulanz. This was a restaurant/beer garden right across a walkway from the area where the sessions were concentrated. It featured seriously large portions, but the food was very good. We also had a dinner at Universitätsbräuhaus, which was more or less across the quad.
The conference banquet was held in a banquet hall in the Wiener Rathauskeller. That literally means the cellar of the city hall, and that’s exactly where it is, in the basement of Vienna City Hall. It is set up for banquets (and also as a restaurant). The food was great, and Richard Lee (of Man the Hunter fame) was honored for his contributions. He was just back from something like his 50th field season!
Vienna had more places that only took cash than do most cities these days. We wound up having to wake quite a way to find a bank that exchanged money, since we needed more Euros than we had exchanged in the first place. On the way, we stopped by the Spanish Riding School (home of the Lipizzaner stallions), and booked a stable tour for the next afternoon, when there weren’t any sessions we simply needed to hear. The building the Riding School is in had a stratified archaeological site under the plaza in front of it, and portions had been preserved with a wall around it.
The next day we went for the stable tour. It was pretty interesting, and the stables were very nice, although we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the actual stables. Much like the Royal Stables in Denmark, the horses were all in box stalls, but you could see they had been converted from tie stalls at some point in the past.
Believe it or not, when it was built, the Winter Riding School hall was considered very simple in design, the better to show off the horses!
We walked back to our hotel through the Hofburg grounds. Being in Vienna really brings home that until pretty recently, it was the seat of a major empire.
I couldn’t resist adding this. The German for ice cream is “eis” and this is an ice cream shop.
We went to Glasgow where the 2014 European Archaeology Association was held, by way of Anchorage and Reykjavik. Because flights from Barrow are disrupted fairly frequently, we went down a bit early, and had a chance to visit with our daughter. There was a pretty amazing double rainbow and a nice lenticular cloud.
We flew Icelandair to Reykjavik and then from there to Glasgow. Glasgow was great. The people who live there seem really proud of their city. The cab driver on the way in from the airport was recommending museums, and in particular Christ of Saint John on the Cross by Dali at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Musuem. Glasgow was once the second most prosperous city in the UK, and the residents seem to have been very civic-minded. The Kelvingrove was built to house the collections that were donated by prominent Glaswegians, using funds from an international exposition and public subscriptions. It houses a fair bit of Charles Rennie Mackintosh material. We got in a good visit our last day there. Unfortunately, some of the other Mackintosh venues were under renovation.
The meetings were held in various venues at the University, including some very old lecture halls and more modern buildings.
We spent most of our time around the University. There were a number of good restaurants & pubs, particularly along Ashton Lane. We tried a bunch of them. We never made it to this one,which was apparently an isolated inn before Glasgow got so big, near a pond where local curlers used to throw rocks. This is apparently where they went afterwards back then, as curlers are wont to do :-).
Our session (Archaeology and Climate Change) was heavily advertised. Tom Dawson, the organizer, had managed to get leaflets put up all around campus before the session, so it was very well attended. As you can see, there were participants from all over. I talked about the threats to frozen coastal sites from climate change, with an emphasis on the Barrow area. I was able to incorporate images from the storm that had happened the week before. There were some other pretty bad situations, but none that were worse. On the other hand, some people are making strides in dealing with these issues with public help, which is good given the turn-around time for even successful funding applications.
The conference featured a very nice party, spread across two venues, both within a block of our hotel! One was Òran Mór, a converted church which now houses performance space and a bar. The upstairs had been rented for the party. It had obviously been redone from its days as a church. The other was the glass house at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, just across the way.
The conference banquet was held in the main hall at the Kelvingrove. It was sponsored by Glenmorangie (the distillery near Glasgow) so there were samples of a couple of their special products. After the speeches and dinner, there was a fine band and dancing.
When I last posted I had just left for a trip to two conferences in Europe. Since then, I’ve been in 4 countries, given two papers (at EAA 2015 in Glasgow and CHAGS 11 in Vienna), submitted an organized SAA session for next spring, come home, gone to Fairbanks for shotgun qualification, come back home, had two of the WALRUS project participants up here to cut samples from the bones that the interns have been finding in the collections, written part of two reports, drafted two abstracts for a meeting in November, and started on a proposal for an edited volume dealing with climate change & archaeology. I haven’t managed to post at all.
Last week was a tough week for Barrow in many ways, with the deaths of several community members, including long-time mayor Nate Olemaun Jr.. On a brighter note, Barrow took three whales on Friday, and another three today.
I managed to get a couple of videos of the evaluation of things exposed by erosion at Ukkuqsi on Thursday uploaded to YouTube. You can see them here, and here.
Unfortunately, the erosion continued, and additional items were exposed after I left for a trip to two conferences in Europe, possibly including human remains (this is the site where the little frozen girl was found in 1994). The North Slope Borough is taking care of the situation at the moment.
Things have eroded out elsewhere in the Barrow area as well. At one point I was on the phone with someone from the North Slope Borough about one site, when someone else called about something found at another location entirely. And I now have a voicemail about yet another location!
There is a very large storm, with winds up to 50 mph and big waves from the west battering the Chukchi coastline from Barrow south. It has created a major storm surge, with big waves and coastal erosion. An emergency has been declared in Barrow due to flooding and road damage.
I flew back from Wainwright yesterday evening, and even through the storm was just building, the waves were already hitting Walakpa. I couldn’t get pictures but it did not look good.
Today was much worse. Late this afternoon, I got a series of calls about something washing out at Ukkuqsi, where the little frozen girl Aġnaiyaaq was found. Aqamak Okpik from IHLC got things organized, with Morrie Lemen coming out to NARL in a bigger truck than mine to take me in to take a look. The North Slope Borough Fire Department came over, and two firefighters suited up and tied a rope onto me so I could go down and take a look.
The big concern was that a burial was eroding out, since there have been several in that area. In the end, it looked like part of a house (maybe two superimposed) with a whalebone and a baleen toboggan. We retrieved a few bones and a piece of structural wood that were going to fall in any minute, and hope to be able to get a radiocarbon date or two. I only got hit by one big wave.
Hope to get some video or at least frame grabs available soon.
We got up with the goal of getting packed up. It wasn’t clear if the UICS logistics staff would be able to come and get us today, but we decided to finish all the field work, and pack up as much as possible. We got right on the screening, and recording of the edges of the midden and the units on the Pipe Monument mound. Owen went to work on a detailed profile of CS 2.
Once that was well in hand, it still wasn’t clear if we would be able to get home. I needed to go in to Barrow to make sure everything was progressing with the other project, so we decided I could take trailer load of field gear, samples and some of my gear back to town. That way, we would need less help getting back, and if the pickup wasn’t going to happen until tomorrow, I could bring back my sleeping bag and sleep in the mess tent.
Once I got to town, I unloaded and did some more work on the other project. It turned out that some logistics folks were available, so I went back down with them, and we managed to get everything back to town, and into the UICS yellow building. Everybody got to sleep in a real bed.
Last night was not particularly restful. The collapse had complicated matters quite a bit. However, after breakfast, we went back to work.
The old location was not viable, so I picked a new spot about a meter south, which became Column Sample 2 (CS 2). There was a bit of an overhang, and a very deep crack behind the bluff face. We needed to get all that material out of there. It took a bit of thought to figure out how to do it (not a usual archaeological operation, fortunately). Finally, we put a blue tarp down on the bottom of the main cleft so we could drag fill without anyone having to be under any overhangs or unstable areas, everybody got out of the way, and I cut the overhang back while standing as far back from it as possible. We then took the material out with a bucket brigade. Once that was done, I levered all the cracked material off, and we took it out the same way.
Once that was done, I decided that we would excavate in levels labeled with letters, so we could proceed quickly, rather than wait for Owen to try to match levels in the detailed CS1 profile, which could have been a slow process. It seemed like the fairly warm, dry weather was letting the face dry out while detailed profiling was happening, and the longer it was exposed the more chance of another collapse. Owen would do another detailed profile after we got the column sample.
I also decided to make the sample a bit smaller in volume. CS 1 we had been trying for 75 cm x 75 cm (mostly because that size fit between some prior disturbances), but 50 cm x 50 cm seemed more manageable in the time we had left. One gallon from each sub level was retained as a bulk sample, and the remainder of sediment from the sub level was screened through 1/8″ and 1/4″ mesh.
We were just getting started when someone arrived to do a coastal DGPS survey that is part of the coastal mapping aspect of the Barrow Area Information Database project. He passed on a message that said my boss needed me to come back into town. (There is no effective connectivity at Walakpa, which is why this is being posted after the fact). I reviewed recording stratigraphy (or artifacts if any showed up) with Laura Crawford, made sure everyone knew how to use the InReach is needed, and headed back to Barrow by ATV around 1PM.
Something had come up with one of the compliance projects we are working on, and I needed to talk to people and draft some documents. I made it back to Walakpa around 10PM.
On the way, I met some folks out for an evening ride, and they stopped over to visit. One of them had spent a lot of time at Walakpa when she was younger, and had some great stories. I hope we can get them recorded for future generations.
The rest of the folks had managed to complete the column sample, so we talked about closing up shop tomorrow. We just need to finish screening, record the Test Units on the Pipe Monument midden, and backfill the TUs.
Owen and Laura got up early and screened what we had dug last night. Owen worked to finish the profile. There is an apparent marine level at Level 13.
We had problems with both transit and radio batteries. Despite that, I showed Laura how to run the transit, so I don’t have to be awake all the time. We shot in the remaining levels of CS 1, as well as the new test units on the mound.
Laura and Owen continued taking CS 1 down. Unfortunately, after the dinner break, they returned to find that the bottom of the profile had collapsed.
It was a pretty depressing situation. It left an overhang, so there was no way to just continue safely. It mean that we would have to start over again in the morning.
We went to work in earnest today. Owen went to work on recording the stratigraphy of the profile we had chosen for the column sample (CS 1). I had him marking the bottom of each level so we could continue excavation even after he went to sleep. Anne Garland and Laura kept working on the tests on the mound with the monument. The SW quad of the 1×1 came down on a cryoturbated sterile layer. There was metal throughout the cultural levels. We expanded northward to examine some wood in that wall.
Meanwhile, I set up the transit and began shooting in the CS 1 profile, as well as the bluff edge. The NW quad of TU 1 had similar results, so we put some 50x50s closer to the bluff edge to see if we could find datable material and the edge of the feature.
Mary Beth Timm and I took naps, so we could stay up late and work on the CS 1 profile. After dinner, we shot in the upper levels of the CS 1 profile, as well as a polar bear jaw that was exposed in Level 12, so that it would not get stepped on. Mary Beth & I started excavating CS 1. We are excavating in natural stratigraphic levels, with any level that is more than 5 cm in depth broken into 5 cm sub-levels. One gallon from each 5 cm is being kept as a bulk sample, and we are screening the remainder.
We kept going until it go so dark that we really couldn’t see the soil colors, which was around 2 AM. We had accomplished a fair bit, so we headed off to bed.
The weather is often best at night. It was really beautiful. A pair of loons was swimming on the lagoon.
Jeff Rasic from the National Park Service, along with Rebekah DeAngelo from Yale and her grad student Brooke Luokkala are in town to do some work, along with Laura Crawford, at the Birnirk National Historic Landmark site, which is on UIC lands (and yes, the actual name of the place is Piġniq, but the site has been written about as Birnirk, so I’m using that name for the site). Becky and Brooke got in Sunday, after travel from the east coast, and Jeff got in yesterday. However, the weather was pretty bad, so we postponed real fieldwork until today.
I did see them in the field briefly yesterday. I had to take a quick trip to the point to check on something for UIC Lands. On the way back, I met them near the Birnirk site, unfortunately a bit stuck in gravel. They were successfully extracted and continued their tour of Barrow.
Today we went out to Birnirk. We looked at all the mounds, Jeff got GPS points on mounds and other reference points, and Laura did quite a bit of coring. I flagged the perimeter of a “box” that we hope to have some of Craig Tweedie’s crew do detailed DGPS measurements on. That data can be used to make a contour map of the site, which can then be compared to the map James Ford made in the early 1950s, when he was there with Carter. It should be interesting to see how much sea level has changed. It clearly has risen since the earliest houses were occupied, and even since the early aerial photos, but the question is, how much?
The crew (Owen Mason, Anne Garland, Mary Beth Timm, Laura Crawford and myself) gathered out at NARL, at a small yellow warehouse. We were using UIC Science archaeological gear. IHLC & Ilisagvik College let us use some tents, sleeping pads & kitchen gear. We managed to get everything packed into side-by-sides and trailers and headed off to Walakpa with Sean Gunnells, Oona Edwardsen and Ray Kious of the UICS logistics staff who weren’t otherwise occupied.
We got to Walakpa around 2PM. We got camp set up, with a slight hitch because some of the tents had not been repacked properly when last used. However, the logistics staff dealt with it, and headed back to town.
We uncovered portions of the bluff so that we could examine the profiles and decide where we want to take the column sample. While walking the beach examining the bluff profiles, we noticed that there was a cultural layer exposed in the mound with one of the two monuments on it. Anne Garland laid out a 1×1 meter test, well back from the edge of the bluff, to see if it continued across the mound.
It was clear that we couldn’t safely do a profile in the central area where the meat cache had been, since there was still an overhang. In addition, some of the geotextile fabric protecting the site was pinned by collapse of bluffs, preventing its removal. Eventually, after cleaning profiles on either side of the overhang, we picked a spot and Owen went to work on a detailed drawing.
We had visitors in the early morning, a young couple whose ATV had a flat, and were hoping that we had a tire pump. Unfortunately, we didn’t, so they headed on up the coast with both of them on one side of the ATV.