Six days ago I opened my computer to be greeted by news of Dennis Stanford’s passing. Dennis was a giant in North American archaeology. Before he went to the Smithsonian and became famous, he was a graduate student. His dissertation was based on his excavations at none other than Walakpa, covered in one of his books.
I can’t remember when I first met Dennis, but it was in the late 1970s or early 1980s. I remember hearing about the elephant butchery experiment from folks who had been lucky enough to play a small part. As someone who was involved in Arctic archaeology, I was aware of his work at Walakpa, but never really thought about working there. When I first started working in North Alaska, I bought a copy of the Walakpa monograph, which turned out have once belonged to Chief Justice Warren Burger, of all people. It was for reference when I was writing about other sites.
Then in 2013 the Walakpa site started eroding. We started salvage work there. Based on the Walakpa volume, I was able to tie our site grid into the grid Dennis had established in the 1960s. I contacted Dennis, and he was kind enough to share copies of the field notes (still sorted by which chapter of his dissertation they related to), and was always willing to answer any questions I had that weren’t covered in the notes. We planned on getting him to come to Walakpa when we had an excavation open, but we didn’t manage that before his health problems started. We talked about it the last time I saw him in person. I’m sorry that will never happen now. I think he would have enjoyed it.