Talking with Teachers

I had a fun morning talking to about 40 elementary school teachers from the North Slope Borough School District.  They were having an in-service.  The original plan was to take them out to Walakpa by boat, but the weather this weekend features snow, a bit of rain and winds up to 30 mph.  So–not boating weather.

Since we knew this a couple of days ago, we were able to get the lab ready for visitors.  We (Ashtyn & I) put out several drawers with some of the more interesting artifacts from Walakpa and Nuvuk.  I put together a slide show to give them an idea about the project, which we showed before they visit d the lab.  I also talked a bit about the history of science in Barrow, and the building of the BARC.

A number of the teachers are interested in bringing their classes out to the lab.  A few of them are also interesting in volunteering, either in the lab or as photographers.  And I think I probably sold a bunch of the Barrow Science hoodies, given how many people asked how they could buy one🙂.

Workshop at the World Conservation Congress

After we got back from Walakpa, we had fieldwork in both Deering and Wainwright, which kept me pretty busy.  After that, I had to head to Honolulu for the World Conservation Congress.  I had organized a workshop on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past.  The timing of the conference was a bit unfortunate, since it overlapped with the World Archaeological Conference in Japan, so the workshop was fairly small.  However, the idea was to get some of the people who are active the conservation field to  look to the paleoecological data from archaeological sites to help build realistic conservation plans.  It was pretty well attended and on top of that, it was live-streamed.  The video is now up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

Honolulu was quite a switch from Alaska, with temperatures in the 80s the whole time.  It was beautiful, of course.

Rainbow on the walk back to the hotel after the workshop.
Another rainbow from the balcony of the hotel room.

On the other hand, it was nice to get home to Alaska.  The sunsets are better.


Back in town

We made it back into town just over two weeks ago.  The field season went well, despite a few challenges from sea ice, snow drifts on the beach and general cold weather.  There was  a huge amount of catching up to do (nearly 4000 emails), three projects which needed various forms filed, an MOA which had to be done for this project, some radiocarbon calibrations to write up for another project, lots of equipment which needed to be cleaned, dried, put away or returned, and many artifacts and samples which needed processing.  Although I had lots of help, I’ve been working 16 hour days since before we went into the field, and something had to give.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have good connectivity in the field, so the only updates I could send were from my deLorme InReach.  At 160 characters per message, it really isn’t up to blog posts.  That means I’m sort of going to have to do some catch-up posts.  I head to Deering for a monitoring project on Saturday, and it’s not clear how good the connectivity will be there either, so there may be another gap.

Looking for scrap lumber

We’re in need of a bit of scrap lumber (1x2s and 2x4s), to complete construction of a water screening device.  Alas, Barrow no longer has a lumberyard, so it is a real problem when it turns out you need a bit more lumber.  If anyone has some excess lumber they would be willing to contribute to the Walakpa salvage effort, please let me know.

Getting closer

Time is flying before the field season.  It has been insanely busy trying to get some projects to a point that they can be left for a few weeks while we’re in the field, while at the same time getting set to actually go to the field.  We have been ordering things, and waiting for them to get here so we can build things, or pack things or prep meals or…   And of course, this being the Arctic, shipping delays abound.  However, we have gotten the replacement cover for a Weatherport, all the recalled transit batteries, extra new batteries for the handheld radios, Rite in the Rain paper for field forms, the refurbished iPads, the nice new big First Aid kits, chaining pins, Sharpies (lots of Sharpies) and a bunch of other goodies.  I got my new tent stuff sack (the original lasted one trip, and all the duct tape in the world isn’t enough to hold what’s left together if I actually put the tent in it) and my InReach.  We are still waiting on the parts for a water screening station, and the dry goods.

The lab looks a mess, because everything is still out from the inventory, and needs to be packed, but some of the things to pack it in are part of the freight.  Not optimal, but it will sort itself out.

The freeze and chill food got in, and Kaare will be working with the volunteers to prep a lot of meals to freeze before we head down.  That is, once there are enough volunteers here.

The first of the volunteers were to get in Tuesday night, but the plane couldn’t land, so they all wound up heading back to Anchorage, getting in quite late.  One got on the early flight today on standby, but the rest are now coming tomorrow morning.  I figured maybe 2 nights in Anchorage would be a student budget-buster (having slept under some stairs once when stranded in England for a week on the way home from the field–Laker had raised ticket prices over the summer and I didn’t have a credit card), so I posted on a couple of northern archaeology Facebook groups, and had 5 offers of places to stay from folks in Anchorage within a couple of hours.  In the end, folks couldn’t get refunds for the nights they paid for (a downside of online booking, I guess), but if anyone else gets stranded overnight on the way in or out, at least I’ve got a bunch of phone numbers and we should be able to help out.  Gotta love Alaskan archaeologists.

Kaare made it to Walakpa, although there is still snow on the beach.  There has been a good bit more slumping, but it looks like the overhanging block that was making access so dangerous has fallen, which is a good thing indeed.  The plan is to try to take some of the heavy stuff down tomorrow, although that may change depending on if the freight makes it in.

We’ve also got a survey to finish before we go (only got the go-ahead a week ago) and maybe a desktop study as well, depending on their timeframe (just got the go-ahead today).  Oh, and a proposal, which was just requested yesterday.

And I need to finish making sense of a bunch of dates which I have calibrated for the WALRUS project.  It looks like we have decent ranges for many of the sites based on the caribou dates.  There are a couple of sites that are confusing (possible reverse stratigraphy in big mounds) and I haven’t been able to get copies of the field notes or talk to the excavators yet.  I’ve calibrated the walrus dates using the marine curve, and it is clear there is not a standard offset from the terrestrial dates.  I’m redoing it using the best available local delta R, but I know the one for Barrow is off by several hundred years (if you use it there are a lot of bones from archaeological sites that it indicates will be dying in a couple of centuries!) and there is one site in the walrus study where one pair of dates on associated caribou and walrus is several hundred years farther apart that the other pair.  Since walrus move around, some probably more than others,  it may not make sense until we figure out where the individuals were feeding.

A hundred and one (roughly) moving pieces

There are a lot of things that go into a successful project.  We’ve been inventorying field gear and project supplies, getting emergency contact forms filled out, finalizing safety protocols and on and on.  Kaare Erickson is up from Anchorage for a week or so to help get the gear organized for the Walakpa season, plus another project we’re doing right after that.  He’s heading back down next weekend and will do some serious shopping (& screen building) before he comes back up for the field season.

Today we decided to try to get down to Walakpa to see how the site was.  Some folks have made it down (including someone in a truck, supposedly.  Sean Gunnells, who worked at Walakpa in 2013 came along, and we headed down on ATVs.  Alas, yesterday’s snow was not helpful, and the Honda kept bogging down, since it had less ground clearance than the Polarises.  We kept having to go up on the tundra, which made for slow riding.  We made it to Hollywood, which was probably about nine miles, or a little over halfway there, before we decided that the game wasn’t worth the candle. It would have taken all day, and we had lots of other things to get done.  It’s supposed to be warm (in the 40s) for several days, so we hope that a lot of the snow will melt and make for easier traveling.

Beach just south of Hollywood.  We got as far as the snow in the distance.

While we were on the beach, we looked for tracks.  We didn’t see any, even near a couple of areas where animals had been butchered.  All we saw was an old walrus carcass that must have been dragged up the beach by a bear, but no tracks around it.

However, we had packed lunches, so we went ahead and ate on the beach.  A little ring seal popped up in the shore lead and looked at us.

Sean looking down the beach.



Starting to Get Ready to Begin… (Live from the Armadillo World Headquarters!)

It’s been a busy week, between preparations for the Walakpa field season, an interesting polar bear that a  local resident found eroded onto the beach, and other projects at work.

Getting ready for the Walakpa project involves a lot of moving parts.  We’ve got to get the lab ready to handle material coming from the field, get the logistics worked out, get field equipment ready to go, get all the permits and paperwork taken care of, and I’ve got to get my own personal gear set as well.

We have been moving Nuvuk shovel test pit materials from the artifact cabinets in the lab to museum storage boxes, to make space in the lab for Walakpa materials.  We will have a small lab crew this summer, and hope to have a conservator come up for a few weeks later in the year (he’s busy during the summer with his job).  One of the lab sinks had no hot water, and it turned out that the valve was in the ceiling and several shelves needed to be moved.  Dakota and Devin asked if they could move some other furniture, I said yes, and they really reorganized the space.  I think it may wind up being more effective, and it let them get the shelves with the electronics set up and further away from the sinks.   Dakota is inventorying our supplies of vials and canisters for storing small delicate artifacts, and in the process he has been able to rationalize their storage a bit.  I’ll be making an order for Ziplock bags large and small, along with a number of other field supplies.   The Sharpies are here already!

While moving the lab around, we were also able to test all of our handheld radios, and figure out which ones need new battery packs.  I’ve ordered them, and hope they make it before the field season starts.  I’ve got the transit batteries tested, and am sending most of them out to Anchorage to be recelled, since they aren’t holding a charge as well as they should, and being outside won’t help.  Hopefully the logistics folks will be able to check the tents and such, and we can repair or replace whatever needs it.

IHLC is going to contribute to the effort by letting us use field equipment that they bought a few years ago with ECHO grant money.  That will help a lot with sleeping tents &sleeping bags for those who don’t have them, as well as with kitchen gear for a sizable group.

I went over a draft safety plan with UIC Science’s HSET person, and she sent me a fairly generic draft which I commented on.  It will get revised, this week I hope.  We’ve also had discussions about bear safety/ firearms safety (sort of related topics).   We are also trying to see if anyone in town is selling bear spray (AC doesn’t) or if we can ship it in.  I’ve sent around a draft emergency contact form and asked the folks who bring students to the field if they had any additions.  So far, Ben Fitzhugh has had some suggestions.  I’ll give folks a couple of days, and then send around the revised version.

Meanwhile, I’ve been ordering stuff I need, like waterproofer for down gear, and a new Helly Hansen Jarvik jacket (I finally blew the cuff tighteners out of my old one last year).  I’ve got to put up my tent and check the waterproofing, etc., although it was fine the last time I used it.  I also sprang for an InReach.  We should have one from UIC Science as well, but redundancy in emergency communication devices is a very good thing, and it will let me post short updates.

And of course, I’ve got to get ready in other ways.  I’m scheduled to renew my First Aid/CPR (for something like the 45th time) later this week.  And I am working out, since a winter of lots of writing is not conducive to staying in the best of shape, particularly when fighting off bronchitis for a month.  As our HSET Director said in a memo this week, when talking about his commitment to using handrails all the time, “my mind keeps writing checks that my body can’t cash,” and I’m trying to change that equation.



Gear list posted

I just put up a new page with the gear list that I’m sending to the folks who are volunteering to help with the archaeological salvage at Walakpa this summer.  I thought it might be interesting to people.

If you have experience camping up here and notice anything you think is missing, please drop me a line🙂.

UPDATE 5/29/16:  I added something to the list, thanks to a good suggestion from Randall O.

Boxes and Boxes

Tony and I spent the day going through boxes containing animal bones from the 1990s excavations at Pingusugruk.  Tony made a list of boxes that contained the sample bags we wanted, which we then had to find in the warehouse.


There were over 300 boxes from that site, so it was a long day.  We didn’t have to open all the boxes, thank goodness, but we had to move most of them.  I suspect I’ll be sore tomorrow.  Not really in full fieldwork shape yet, unfortunately.

Tomorrow, we’ll do a bit of modeling, before Tony leaves on the evening plane.

Lab work

So far it has been pretty busy with Tony here.  He’d picked out a number of possible samples in advance, and we’ve been finding them.  I’ve also been going through the column samples we took last year at Walakpa, and finding contexts that have 2-3 datable samples of both land and marine animal bone.  That way, there will be multiple terrestrial dates to give us both a date on the level and information to use to develop correction factors for marine mammal bones.  Marine mammal bones tend to give radiocarbon dates that are too old, but sometimes they are the only thing available to date.  People generally don’t run dates in those circumstances, but if there were decent correction factors available it would be possible.

We went over to the Inupiat Heritage Center this morning to look at the material they have from Utkiagvik.  It looks like there is enough for a whole project there, although the location of the 1981 field notes was unknown for the moment.  Some of the staff came out to the lab later and looked at a couple of sewn objects.  The mystery one is made out of gut which has been stitched to form a sort of pointed tube, although it is pretty crumpled up.  If we get a conservator to visit, it would be great if they were able to rehydrate it a bit and straighten it out.

Tomorrow we are going to be going through boxes of faunal material from Pingusugruk to find suitable samples.  There are hundreds of boxes, so Tony is trying to select some contexts to pull, and then I have to ID appropriate bones.  I am really hoping that the intern  shows up for work.

On the Walakpa front, I’ve been talking with the UIC Science logistics folks, working on how to handle temporary housing for those transiting in and out of the field, and starting to work on travel arrangements.

Radiocarbon dates

I have been really busy the last month, trying to finish several reports and papers, plan for the summer, and get ready for a research visit from Tony Krus of SUERC, who was a member of the 2008 Nuvuk field crew before he headed off to grad school.  He is now Dr. Krus, and was able to get a grant to come over and work on Bayesian modeling for Barrow area dates, as well as attempting to improve the value for DeltaR (a correction factor used with radiocarbon dates on marine organisms to compensate for the excess older carbon found in the oceans).  Between the massive amount of writing I was doing and smashing a finger getting luggage out of the overhead coming back from a trip, I’ve not been blogging.

I hope to catch up with things a bit; there’s been considerable activity on the DONOP/global change threats to cultural and natural heritage front, as well as planning for Walakpa.

Talking about Climate Change and Threats to Heritage

I spent most of the day talking about climate change threats to cultural heritage and archaeological resources.  I started off at a fairly conventional session about archaeology at various sites in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, which had a number of interesting papers, many based on analysis of well-preserved faunal remains.

I then went on to the first formal meeting of the newest SAA committee, on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Response (CCSAR).  Dan Sandweiss, who is the SAA board liaison, as well as being one of the earlier people to call attention to the importance of archaeological sites as archives of paleoenvironmental data, as well as the obvious archaeological data.  It seems to be a really great group of people,working in a lot of different places, all of which are having some climate issues.  Most of them are interested not only in saving data, but in what that data can tell us about past climates, and about how people adapted to changes in them.  As one person said, “We really don’t have much data about the Archaic, the last time people lived sustainably in North America.”  This may be a bit of an exaggeration, especially for Alaska, but basically the idea is correct.

After that, I had to go to an appointment in the book room.  We will see what comes of that in due time.

Then there was another interesting session on Heritage Tools for Tackling Climate Change.  This included a variety of talks on ways people are dealing with the effects of climate change.  One had to do with melting ice patches in Glacier National Park, and how the Park Service had dealt with material coming out, in consultation with the local Native American community, as well as studies they were doing so they could be proactive.  Another paper included information on the California Cultural Resource Management (CRM) community’s efforts to get public lands on the coast surveyed completely.

There was some discussion about whether the US ban on revealing any site location data helps or hurts.  Most other countries will reveal that data, although they may wait until very valuable materials have been properly excavated in some cases.  They have found that it decreases looting, if anything.  It also helps people avoid inadvertent damage that happens when people don’t know a site is there, and lets them report on changes in site conditions. So instead of a few archaeologists, lots of people can keep an eye on the sites.  Here they can’t do that.  I suspect, as do many others, that the people who are serious looters already know where the sites are, and have a pretty good idea where to prospect for more.  On the other hand, when the US government shut down for a couple of weeks in 2013, looting exploded in the National Parks.

Tomorrow morning the session I organized on Global Change Threats to the Archaeological and Paleoecological Record (not snappy, but lots of buzzwords for search engines) happens.

Archaeology at Disney World. Seriously.

I am writing this from Disney World, where I have gone to talk about archaeology, particularly global change threats to the archaeological and paleoecological records.  The Society for American Archaeology is having its 81st Annual Meeting here, so I am sitting on the 11th floor of a hotel with a view across a lot of fairly low lying land.  It might be high enough to survive several meters of sea level rise, but by 20m, the Orlando airport looks like it gets iffy.

I organized a session on, surprise, global change threats to the archaeological and paleoecological records.  It should be good, with people presenting on various aspects of the problem in various part of the world (mostly the North), and some possible solutions being tried as well.  The session is Saturday morning, and we’ve got Ben Fitzhugh from UW as discussant, as well as a 15 minute discussion slot.  I hope we get good attendance, because this is a critical issue for the future of the discipline (and maybe of people in general).  Of course, in their infinite wisdom, the schedulers put us directly opposite the session in honor of Lou Giddings, which deals with coastal Alaska.  I actually have to read a paper for someone because the primary author couldn’t travel and the second author is giving a paper in the Giddings session at the same time!  Meanwhile, I’d already gone to most of the papers I want to see today by 10:30 AM.

Last night I went to the President’s Forum, which was on Climate Change and Archaeology.  Dan Sandweiss had organized a nice set of speakers.  One of them was Paul Mayewski,who specializes in ice cores and their analysis. He talked about some new software they have, and then he described a new instrument they have which can sample cores in tiny increments, so they can actually see individual storms thousands of years ago in the right type of core!  I introduced myself afterwards, and asked if it might work on ice wedges, following up on a suggestion Vlad Romanovsky had made during ASSW.  He thought so, and offered to pay to ship a trial wedge sample to his lab so they could try it.  Now I just have to get a good sample.  Hopefully it works, but either way it will be interesting.


I’ve got a meeting later today (and another on Saturday for those who can’t make today’s) for folks who want to help with 2016 Walakpa Archaeological Salvage (WASP 2016).  Today we meet at 5PM at registration, and anyone who is interested is free to come along.  Now I have to run off and find the meeting of the newest SAA committee, Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR).

Getting the word out–or the library is on fire!

Ukkuqsi eroding in a late summer storm.

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 Eli 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.

2015-07-28 16.42.32-3
Tests in a midden at Walakpa.  A new date shows it is Late Western Thule, between 300-500 years old.
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Column sample at Walakpa, Summer 2015.