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.

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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!).

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One of Prague’s many bridges
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Street performer in Prague
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Street food in Prague
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Vica sampling an adult beverage which the Czech people claim to have invented.
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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!

#SAA2017

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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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Rainbow on the walk back to the hotel after the workshop.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.