All ready

Almost the entire crew has made it out to the site.  Some of them went down in the morning and set up a lot of things.  Half of them came back and took some more people and gear down, and should be heading back soon.

Meanwhile back in town Katrina Watson got the electronics packed up and into the yellow shed, while I got both lab computers back on the network, connected them to the project dropbox and put all the necessary files on them.  I reviewed the workflow with Katrina, who will be cycling in and of town, since she’s from here and her family and kids are here for the summer.  That means she can provide a bit of continuity for the lab.

I’m going down in the morning.  Since the wind is supposed to stay east for a few days, we hope a boat can go down on Monday and bring most of the rest of the heavy stuff (chairs, wood for tables) and more delicate things (cameras, computers, transit) down.

The crew asked for some board games.  I posted on Facebook to see if anyone in town had any they weren’t using anymore, and in about 2 minutes, Doe Doe Edwardsen said she had 5 we could use.  She even had them delivered!  Quyanaqpak Edwardsen family!

One of our international volunteers is coming a bit later.  She is currently working somewhere without internet, so she’s been communicating as she can.  When I got her itinerary, it became clear she’s going to have to overnight in Anchorage both ways.  Back to Facebook, and within a few minutes archaeologist friends Monty Rogers and Katie Meyers had offered to put her up.

Most of the archaeology crew are volunteers, and others are putting in a lot of volunteer time on top of what is paid.  Not everyone can take time and go into the field.  But we can’t do it without help, and the people like Doe Doe and Monte chipping in make this salvage possible.  The true Alaska spirit.  We appreciate every bit of help.


Trying to get into the field

We have been getting gear ready for days.  The next challenge is to get it (and ourselves) to the field.  The weather and equipment have not been cooperating.  The shore fast ice is just really melting this week, so we hadn’t been able to take anything down before.  Then the wind changed to the west, leading to one helicopter-assisted rescue in front of my house and ice against the shore.  We staged gear in the “yellow shed” (a small warehouse shared by archaeology and the ARM program) and we waited.  Yesterday, the wind went east for a bit and pushed the ice off the beach, so we rushed to load the UIC Science boat Crescent Island and sent heavy, durable & waterproof things down to the site.  Four of the crew went along and they and the two UICS logistics staff who were running the boat put the stuff in a secure spot and headed home just as the wind changed back.  They made it before the ice came back in.

Crescent Island loaded up at NARL.  The John Deere is just for moving her and a sister boat, and is the only tractor in town.
Launching the boat.
Crescent Island under way on her first working trip for UIC Science.

Today, the wind wasn’t as strong as predicted, so Kaare and a bunch of the crew were going to head down with a little more gear, set up tents, and Ben Fitzhugh, Garrett Knudsen, Zac Peterson & Katie Daniels were going to stay and start stripping sod.  We packed up after lunch, but various ATVs decided to not behave (one only wanted to run well in reverse) so it took a while.

Kaare loading the trailer while Zac looks on.
Garrett and Katie getting ready to bring up the rear (and pick up anything that falls off).

By the time they got to Nunavak it was pretty late, and the stream was still really deep to cross, but it was draining, so they came home and will try again tomorrow.  We may try to do two trips to get more folks down, but there will be one more boat trip Sunday or Monday, so some folks will go down that way.

Meanwhile, I had discovered that the newly-returned batteries for the transit were really not in as good shape as the tests at the surveying equipment shop indicated.  I spent some time chasing down replacement batteries.  In the end, GPS Alaska had a charger for the new batteries in stock, could order me new batteries, and had two that they use which they are renting to us at a very low price until our come in and get shipped to us.  My boss is in Anchorage and going to fly his plane up, so he was able to pick them up and bring them along.  All the other stuff is in decent shape, so we should be able to work and record what we are doing.

Packing my own gear

Things have been so busy with getting gear for the project ready and a couple of contract projects that I really haven’t had time to get my own stuff packed.  I had ordered everything that I can’t get here it Utqiaġvik, but actual packing, not so much.  The weather had been beautiful.

Umiaq races just after 7PM on July 3.

We went to the parade, which was quite long, with the usual fire apparatus, SAR, and local businesses, as well as a just married couple, and an entire fleet of cabs.

The parade approaches
NSB Search and Rescue
Barrow Volunteer SAR boat
The newlyweds
The local ATV/snowmacine dealer
One of the fleet of cabs
NSB Risk Management’s fancy truck
KBRW truck. They managed to broadcast the parade from the truck while in the parade.

I was going to take the whole day off and go to the games, but it kept raining, they moved the contests to Ipalook, and there weren’t nearly as many food booths as usual.

A bit rainy for outdoor fun.

So I decided to pack.  My husband, who also has a PhD in anthropology and did field archaeology for many years (he now manages the Community Health Aid program for the North Slope Borough) was available to help, so that was a bonus!  We managed to get almost everything, except what I am still using, into two dry bags, a duffle bag and my day pack.  That includes all my personal gear (including tent and a very plush sleeping pad due to my twice-fused spine) plus some personally owned electronics we’ll be using, and a couple of extra things in case someone’s gear isn’t quite up to snuff.

We went from this plus…
…to this…
and this.
Checklists are key.


Sorting things

Two more crew members are here, and we’ve been doing lots of sorting.  Sorting field equipment, sorting some samples from last year, sorting food.  We’ve got one or two more days of sorting and putting away samples, and then we can focus on packing field gear.

Katrina and Heather leaning up after the first round of sorting.
Adriana and Heather getting the fine excavation kits straightened out.
Katie looking for something in the database.
Sorted excavation equipment.

Kaare is shopping for the project in Anchorage, but he can’t make it up until after the 4th of July, which is probably about when the freight will get here, so we may be rushing around cooking after that.

#Arctic #Arctic #climate_heritage

People are arriving!

The first of the crew members have arrived.  The field school starts tomorrow morning.  We’re spending the first week in town so we can go over some things inside where it is warm  not windy, and the students can experience Nalukataq and the 4th of July games.  As it turns out, one of them is from Barrow, so it’s not a new experience, but she’ll get to hang out with her family and do field school, so that’s a good thing.

The other part of this is that I think it is important for students to understand what goes into the logistics of a project, so they will get to help with and learn about that aspect of archaeology.  Better than trying to learn on the fly when they are in charge, like some of my friends have had to do!

I spent the day getting the field forms updated and finalized, so we can start printing them on waterproof paper tomorrow.  Now to update the lab forms and get the workflow established so we can hand off between crew members as they come and go.  Several of them are returners, so they know the routine, but it is always a good thing to have documented.

Level_unit form 2017

I added the bit about not writing on the back of the form after having to flip dozens of forms over to scan both sides.  Not a good use of time.

Checking things off the list

It’s been a busy week getting ready for the field, while still keeping up with the usual flow of work.  Kaare Erickson was up, and went through the field gear.  We went over our lists and are in pretty good shape, although we are going to replace the pump for the water screen since the one we have was anything but trouble free.  Kaare went back to Anchorage with a decent shopping list for food & camp supplies, which he’ll bring/send up next week.

The logistics guys started making sure the tents are all located & in good order.  One of them might try and head down toward Walakpa over the weekend to see how the travel is.  Several days ago someone who travels down that way a lot made it all the way down on an ATV, but the trail wasn’t good and the beach wasn’t clear the whole way.  Plus the streams were hight since there was a west wind.  It changed this afternoon, and the ice has started really breaking out down at Wainwright and maybe in front of town here too, so maybe the beach or even the ocean will be viable soon.  If not, we have requested assistance with transport from NSB Search and Rescue.  I know they get a lot of requests, and of course emergencies take priority, but maybe they’ll be able to help us out.  Fingers crossed we can get down there somehow without a lot of trouble.

I’ve ordered all my personal supplies and am just hoping they get here  before we head to the field.  They are on the way, but the post office is woefully understaffed and seems to be taking days to get non-first class mail and package slips into the boxes.  Not their fault; they work hard, but there aren’t enough workers to get things done in a timely fashion.

Getting ready for Walakpa, round 4

We are getting ready for another season at Walakpa, in which we hope to find out more about the house connected to the tunnel we found, and if it is connected to the two house visible in the erosion face, as well as the house that turned out to be beside the monument that got moved.  I’ve been scanning field notes, writing proposals, coordinating travel schedules, replacing camera lenses, rounding up tents, and trying to get a fund set up to accept donations.

We’ve got a volunteer crew lined up, including several folks from last year, including Ben Fitzhugh, Caelie Butler, Glenys Ong Echavarri and Becky DeAngelo.  We’re going to be joined for a short while by several other archaeologists and students from Barrow, elsewhere in Alaska, the Lower 48, France and possibly Poland.  There is also a small field school run through University of Alaska Fairbanks (which still has room for a couple more people–if you have tried to register & failed, contact me–there was apparently a computer glitch that was blocking people for a while), and some folks who are volunteering in other ways.  One of my co-workers can’t get away to go into the field, since summer is the busy season, but is scanning all of last year’s field notebooks.

Getting to the field may be a challenge.  The ocean is still ice-covered, and there is still snow and ice on the beach.  We just had a pouring rainstorm, with thunder & lightning, so the land trail is probably now really awful.

Got some new C14 dates in

We were able to run a pair of C14 dates on materials from Deering as part of the WALRUS project.  I just got the results back today.  I have to share the calibrated dates with the folks in Deering first.  They were kind enough to let me include the samples, which were found during the monitoring work we did there late last summer, in the WALRUS studies.

They were found together in a fairly thin organic layer (likely midden) in the wall of one of the trenches.  Very little walrus has been found there, so we were lucky.

Samples were from the upper dark layer visible in the trench wall.

Getting a bit cross-eyed…

I’ve been working on dating the various samples from the WALRUS project.  Since walruses are marine mammals, direct C14 dating is problematic.  In fact, that is one of the things we are looking at with the project.  We ran a number of sample pairs of walrus  and terrestrial material and compared the offsets.  The bad news, there is not just one offset.

That meant that we couldn’t just use that to correct walrus dates.  So, we are reliant on construction of chronologies using the caribou dates we have run, as well as other available dates, to figure out how old the walrus samples are.  This is simple when we have a terrestrial sample from the same context.  When we don’t we need to see if we have dates from earlier and/or later levels (both is better) which gives us boundaries for the context we are trying to date.  To do that, we need to understand how the layers were arranged.  I’ve been using

For some sites, we have very little information beyond the mound or midden square from which the samples came, or the depth of the arbitrary level they were excavated from.  For others, we have more detailed stratigraphic information.  I’ve been developing schematic descriptions of stratigraphy for the sites from which we have samples , using the Harris Matrix as a means of representation.  Some of these are relatively easy to do and others are more complex.  For simplicity’s sake I have only been including sampled contexts in the Harris matrices, although someday I can add other excavated units.  The  one on the left below is from a site where we have little information on most mounds (we have samples from six), and those we do have info on were apparently dug in arbitrary levels, as far as can be told from the field notes.  The one on the right shows the two sampled  mounds from a site where I have extremely detailed provenience information.


These help me check that the dates we have are consistent with the stratigraphy, and are helpful in construction of more complex dating models in OxCal.   The process helps me think about how the models should be built, and also serves as a bit of a check, since having a crude model with some dates makes it easier to spot cases where a complex model may have been specified incorrectly (and therefore is giving incorrect results).

Trying to catch up

The trip to the conferences went well.  I really didn’t have much time at SAAs to even see friends, if they weren’t in one of the sessions I was involved in.  Then it was off to Prague for a session at Arctic Science Summit Week.  It was a great session, although we were put into a tiny room, which the participants in the session nearly filled, so a lot of non-archaeologists wound up peeking in and moving on.  Peter Jordan  who got me involved in the session, and Sean Desjardins, are guest editors for a special issue of Quaternary International which will publish papers from this and a previous session.  I seem to have promised them two!

I didn’t have very long in Prague, but did get a chance to catch up with Vica Lozinschi, a former BASC intern who helped with some salvage at Nuvuk.  She is married and living in Prague now.  We only had a morning, but she took me to see some of the sights (some literally “see” from afar since I had a lunch meeting afterwards!).

One of Prague’s many bridges
Street performer in Prague
Street food in Prague
Vica sampling an adult beverage which the Czech people claim to have invented.
Me also sampling said adult beverage.  My grandfather owned a brewery, so it is of more than passing interest.

Once I got back from Prague I have been writing proposal language, and papers almost non-stop.  For some reason, most of the handbook/encyclopedia type volumes I have contributions in are doing new editions this year, which means the articles have to be revised and updated.  Several other articles have reached the proofs stage and need to be gone through.

Then there is a dissertation committee I am on.  That meant I spent last weekend reading the dissertation, and am now trying to find a time when the entire committee can meet (several of us on Skype) to discuss.  I am also working on final radiocarbon calibration and modeling for the WALRUS project, with a deadline due to one of the students having a presentation at the end of the month in which he wants to use my results.  There were a few problems with the master database, now resolved.  I’ve got all the dates calibrated, haveHarris Matrices built for all but two of the sites, and am using them to check my  radiocarbon modeling against.  I’ve spent all day today and will spend part of tomorrow on a site with a big wiggle in the calibration curve that pretty much seems to fall right at the period of occupation, so that’s annoying.

I’m also trying to pull the Walakpa salvage project together.  This is a site with a deep history that was used up until very recently, and is still visited regularly by folks from Utqiaġvik.  It would be a real shame if the structures we found last year just eroded, and at the rate things are going, normal funding channels simply are not fast enough.

This has all kept me pretty busy, and last week I had dental surgery.  I was supposed to get an implanted post that a crown would go on after it healed, but apparently my bone hadn’t grown into the socket in a way to suit the dentist.  So he routed a bunch of it out (hate that crunching sound in your head) and did a bone graft, so now I have to wait four months and maybe then get the implant.  Sigh.

Vancouver for the SAA meetings

I’m in Vancouver for the Society for American Archaeology’s 82nd Annual Meeting.  I’ve got a schedule that is looking pretty insane.  I’m giving a paper (tomorrow morning at 8:15 in a session on When Disaster Strike, organized by Heather Thakar), co-chairing a session on Arctic and Subarctic Coasts that Chris Wolff & I put together (tomorrow night at 6PM) and being a discussant along with Alice Kelley in the Burning Libraries session that Tom McGovern organized on Friday afternoon.  I’ve also got a committee meeting (CCSAR) after that.  Yikes!

I’m also supposed to meet up with several different folks to discuss things we are writing or planning to write, and have a few papers in other sessions that I hope to get to listen to as well.  Not to mention, I’ve got friends here that I need to catch up with!


Last call for AJA RECENT RESEARCH NOTES for the next volume

I have to finalize the RRN in the next couple of days.  If you have something you’d like in there, pleas get it to me properly formatted (including C14 dates, tables, etc.).  We want to include δ13C for radiocarbon dates if it’s available.  More information is here.

Alaska Anthropological Association–Day 1

I’m in Fairbanks on a combined trip to do some work on the WALRUS project and to give a couple of papers at the Alaska Anthropological Association’s 44th Annual Meeting.  I was supposed to come down on Sunday and got to a zooarchaeological workshop on teeth, but alas there was a blizzard in Utqiaġvik, and that didn’t happen.

Last night, there was the opening reception.  Jenny Blanchard had organized 2-minute talks, which went well.  I did 2 minutes on Walakpa 2016, with a plug for Walakpa 2017.  We didn’t get quite as many people as we’d hoped, since we were in a room at the end of the main entry hall, and people had to pass the bar with free beer to get there, so some folks got sidetracked.

The day started early with a paper on Arctic genetics by Jennifer Raff, Justin Tackney, Margarita Rzhetskaya, Geoff Hayes and Dennis O’Rourke, in a session on the Seward Peninsula.   All of them except for Margarita had worked on the Nuvuk people as part of a big project, also involving modern that was at least in part done at the request of Utqiaġvik Elders (although they didn’t have to twist Dennis & Geoff’s arms too hard).  That project contributed to this paper, and as results continue to come out, it is only getting more interesting.  Now that the North Slope is somewhat understood, the Seward Peninsula is the next gap.

The rest of the session focussed largely on the first field season of a project at Cape Espenberg spearheaded by Claire Alix and Owen Mason.  They are working on a couple of Birnirk houses, one of which was started by an earlier project there that I spent a couple of weeks on.  Very interesting material coming out, and very interesting geomorphological and paleoenvironmental work in progress.  Their dates for Birnirk seem to be running a bit later than what we are seeing at Walakpa, up into the range I would call Early Thule at Nuvuk.  Of course, we aren’t really talking about two different groups of people here, bur rather a change through time, but it is still interesting.  They aren’t nearly done with one of the houses, so it will be interesting to see if they get some earlier dates.

Spent the afternoon polishing my PowerPoints for tomorrow, and now I’m going to try to catch up on sleep.

Walakpa Zooarchaeology

Last week I went to the Alaska Marine Science Symposium 2017 meetings in Anchorage.  I’ve never gone to those meetings before, but we were presenting two posters on finds from Walakpa.

At the poster session.  Photo courtesy Raphaela Stimmelmayr.

One was on the results of the necropsy of a mummified seal found in a 1944 ice cellar.  I was excited about it because it was pre-bomb with a pretty tight date and therefore helpful for refining radiocarbon correction factors.  It turns out to be the first mummified seal reported from anywhere outside the Dry Valleys of Antarctica!  Who knew?


The second was presenting some preliminary results of investigations on a polar bear skull which eroded from Walakpa, and was recovered and turned in by Kenneth Brower.  It turned out to be somewhat unusual in shape, as well as being really big (maybe the 4th largest ever measured).  That bear must have been HUGE!



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 :-).