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.

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).

Vienna & CHAGS

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.

Glenn having dinner at D'Landsknect, Porzellengasse.
Glenn having dinner at D’Landsknect, Porzellengasse.

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.

Hooded crow.
Hooded crows.

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.


Seriously large (and very carefully arranged) caprese salad).
Seriously large (and very carefully arranged) caprese salad).
Claire Alix about to enjoy that salad.
Claire Alix about to enjoy that salad.

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!

Conference banquet in Wiener Rathauskeller.
Conference banquet in Wiener Rathauskeller.

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.

Archaeological site in Michaelerplatz. There are portions of a Roman road, Roman fortifications, and even 18th century apartments and drains exposed.
Archaeological site in Michaelerplatz.  There are portions of a Roman road, Roman fortifications, and even 18th century apartments and drains exposed.  The entrance to the Winter Riding School is in the background.

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.

Entrance to the Hofburg from Michaelerplatz. The Riding School is on the left of the main archway.
Entrance to the Hofburg from Michaelerplatz. The Riding School is on the left of the main archway.
Largest walker in the world.
Largest walker in the world.
Saddles in the tack room at the Winter Riding School.
Saddles in the tack room at the Spanish Riding School.
The Winter Riding School.
The Winter Riding School.


Chandelier at the Winter Riding School.
Chandelier at the Winter Riding School.

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.

Gardens in Vienna.
Gardens in Vienna.
Display rose garden. It seemed to have one bush of each variety of rose, clearly labeled.
Display rose garden. It seemed to have one bush of each variety of rose, clearly labeled.


Another garden.
Another garden.

I couldn’t resist adding this.  The German for ice cream is “eis” and this is an ice cream shop.

An ice cream shop in Vienna.
An ice cream shop in Vienna.

DNA results from the North Slope published!

When we first started archaeological work at Nuvuk, it took a while to find a physical anthropologist who was willing to work with the human remains here in Barrow.  Dennis O’ Rourke and his team were willing to do that.  Dennis came up to Barrow to speak to the community and the Elders to get their permission.  His lab works with genetic studies as well as skeletal material, and he asked if they would be interested in allowing ancient DNA studies on the remains from Nuvuk.  The Elders were not only interested in those studies, they suggested that the group undertake a program of modern DNA studies across the North Slope as well.   They developed a proposal to do just that, and once it was funded, research got underway, with resident of all seven North Slope communities contributing samples.

The analysis took a while.  The team traveled to all the villages to collect the data and returned to present the results to North Slope residents before they were published.  Finally, the first paper based on the project is published!  It is based on looking at mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from your mother.  It is present in many more copies than the more familiar (to most people) nuclear DNA, and therefore is often studied in archaeological situations, since all the extra copies make it more likely that some of it will survive.

The short version is that the modern DNA results support the North Slope as the source for the populations that migrated to the eastern Arctic, both the Neoeskimo (ancestors of today’s Inuit/Inupiat people) and the earlier Paleoeskimo.  This fits well with the picture from the archaeological data.

Jennifer Raff is senior author, with Margarita RzhetskayaJustin Tackney and Geoff Hayes as co-authors.

This paper has gotten picked up by a number of science news sources.


Edit:  4/30/15  Fixed a link that WP had put an ellipsis in the middle of the link.  It should work now.

A trip to the nation’s capitol

Last week I went to Washington, DC.  I went for the 18th Inuit Studies Conference.  The Inuit Studies Conference happens somewhere every two years, and this year it was hosted by the Smithsonian.  I was a co-author on a paper on aDNA from the North Slope (I provided the archaeological background), and I wanted to hear it, as well as a couple of other Arctic genetics papers.  I also wanted to get together with several folks I collaborate with who were going to be there.  Sometimes face-to-face is better than Skype between Europe & Alaska.

Because of the Smithsonian hosting, it was a bit of an odd conference.  There was no main conference hotel.  Events & sessions took place at three different venues distributed around the mall, which in many cases made it logistically impossible to catch a paper in one session and hop over to another session.  The program didn’t have times set for papers, so it was tough to know when folks were talking even if the sessions were next door to one another.  And of course there was the usual problem of all the papers on a topic being scheduled in sessions which were opposite each other!  Despite the challenges, there was a very interesting Paleoeskimo session, which I was able to go to 2/3rds of.  I had to miss the end to go over the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to hear the paper on Nuvuk (given by Justin Tackney) and one on the North Slope modern genetics given by Jenny Raff.  They were in a session with papers on 1) Unangan myth and magic, 2) theriomorphic imagery in the Liangzhu culture of China and Old Bering Sea, and 3) the Sealstone (a large petroglyph which was probably from Shemya in the Aleutian Islands, although it had been removed to a garden in California and the folks who were trying to return it to its home weren’t quite sure.  It was a bit incoherent.

All this happened opposite what looked like a very interesting session on ethnology and one on education with a number of my friends from the North Slope in it.  The next day I went to a session to hear a couple of archaeology papers, which were in a session with a paper on Greenlandic theater and a paper about a novel about Greenland.

I arrived to find my registration had gotten scrambled, so that there was no banquet ticket (and they were sold out).  A 1-day registration was $100, and the full conference was $325.  Even though I was only able to stay for 2 days, I had to pay the full conference fee!  It didn’t seem quite right, but there was supposed to be a free book included.  Unfortunately, they were out of all the books that I didn’t already own, and even though they kept saying more copies would come, they never did…  Hauling an extra copy of a book back to Alaska in my carry-on didn’t seem that attractive.

While I was there, it became clear that Sandy was going to play havoc with my planned return to Alaska (by way of my Mom’s in upstate NY).  That in turn would mess up plans for a trip to Valdez for an Arctic Visiting Scholars speaking tour and Seattle for a workshop.  I had to spend some time on the phone moving the travel up a day, and changing the routing out of Albany to head Alaska by going west to Minneapolis instead of south to Atlanta.

One of the pluses of the various venues was getting to see a special exhibition at NMAI of the sculpture of Abraham Anghik Reuben.  His work was using aspects of the lives of the ancient Norse and the Thule whalers.  There is a Flickr photo stream with professional pictures here, but I took some too.  My favorite of all was Silent Drum: Death of the Shaman.

This piece is so powerful.
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The artist captured the way it would look in amazing fashion, given that he is working in stone, not with soft material.
This blind shaman’s eyes are astounding. You can see the cataracts (at least in person).
Odin, his ravens, & other Norse being.

BASC talk tonight with Dennis O’Rourke & Geoff Hayes–GeANS project results

Dennis O’Rourke and Geoff Hayes are scheduled to give a talk at the Iñupiat Heritage Center tonight as part of the BASC Saturday Schoolyard series.  They are giving a report to the community on the results of the GeANS (Genetics of the Alaskan North Slope) project, involving both modern and ancient (mostly from Nuvuk) DNA.  It should be really interesting.

Dennis is scheduled to arrive on the evening Alaska Airlines flight, and then head over to the IHC to start the talk at 8PM.  I think Geoff may either be here or is coming in from a village.  I  just hope the AK Airlines flight isn’t as late as the one I was on yesterday; I didn’t get here until almost 9PM.

Visits to zoological collections

I am in Seattle for the Alaska Anthropological Association meetings.  Today was spent primarily in tours of the Burke Museum’s zoological collections (in the morning) and the marine mammal collections at NMML (in the afternoon).  The Burke has pretty impressive collections, especially when you add in the off-site material, and NMML has a good range as well.  After the tours, Jeff Bradley of the Burke took me to their off-site storage to look at whale mandibles.

I’ve been trying to track down whale mandibles ever since I was sent a picture of one from Cape Krusenstern and I saw one at Cape Espenberg that didn’t look like bowheads.  I didn’t think they were grey whales either, but I’m not as familiar with their skeletons.  There are bowhead skulls in front of every school in Barrow (& my daughter attended all three), the college, the library/heritage center, the city hall and the North Slope Borough building, as well as miscellaneous other sites around town, so I know bowhead jaws when I see them.

I found a couple that looked like possible matches, or at least members of the same family, so that is progress.  The Burke has pretty restrictive photo policies (they hold a lot of art, so the policies are based on that), which means I can’t put any photos up here without permission.  It would take days  & several person-hours of work at both ends, so I’m not going to try for a blog post.

Now off to bed so I can be bright-eyed & bushy-tailed (or at least halfway coherent) for our session tomorrow.  I don’t have to give any papers until afternoon, but still…  The other organizers have papers in the morning, so I’m guessing I’ll be moderating….  We’re only winging it a little 🙂

Last Call for Papers: The Connected Arctic–An Alaska Anthropological Association symposium sponsored by the Arctic Conference

I wound up agreeing to help organize a session at the upcoming Alaska Anthropological Association meeting in Seattle.  Long story about Seattle, but we have gone to Whitehorse, YT once or twice, so leaving Alaska is not a first.

Anyway, the deadline to submit sessions (including paper lists) is this Friday, so I though I’d put a description up here, since the AnthroAlaska list seems to be a bit slow showing up (although it might be my email).  We have room for a few more papers and are being fairly expansive in our interpretation of the topic.  If you are interested, the description and directions for how to participate follow:

Although the Arctic tends to be viewed as a place apart, both in the sociocultural sense and as a research area, the first has never been true, and the second is becoming less so.  This symposium will look at the Connected Arctic from both perspectives.

Papers on any aspect of trade and/or travel (pre-or post-contact) from one or more disciplinary perspectives are welcome, as long as they involve the Arctic.  We are interested in both specific case studies and methodological works.

We also welcome in papers dealing with aspects of connected Arctic research, including virtual repositories which can be used from multiple locations, shared databases, digital teaching and outreach tools, and social media.

N.B.  People wishing to submit papers are asked submit the paper abstract directly to the meeting organizers by the deadline of February 3, using the Alaska Anthropological Association meeting website form: .  Note you will need to register for the meeting first.  Please put “The Connected Arctic” in the space on the form.  The symposium is not on the website list of symposia yet, but we have been assured that does not matter, since sessions are due the same day.  Please also send your name and at least a paper title (preferably with the abstract) directly to one of the organizers:  Anne Jensen (, Herbert Maschner ( ) or Owen Mason ( ).

Physical anthroplogy underway

Shawn Miller, the physical anthropology PhD student (and University of Utah anatomy instructor) who examines and records the data on the human remains from Nuvuk prior to their reburial, is here.  He has been working on the multiple burial with an intact box that we excavated in early July.  It is looking like there were two primary individuals, probably both men.  The juvenile elements could all have come from the same individual, Shawn thinks, so there may have only been three people in this burial.

It is looking like one of the adults has signs of porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia.  These have generally been considered as signs of iron-deficiency anemia and a diet lacking in animal food-sources, but recently it has been suggested that this may be incorrect (Walker et al. 2009).  Certainly that would seem unlikely for someone living at Nuvuk, as there really was almost nothing available there but animal food.  It will be interesting to get the dates for the individual, who was apparently more recent, since there was reportedly considerable starvation after Yankee whalers decimated the bowhead stocks.

I went to get the coffins that we had in stock.  UIC RE Maintenance folks had made us a bunch, since it is easiest to cut a whole lot of standard size pieces at once.  Unfortunately, things seem to have been moved around in the warehouse where they were stored, and we seem to be short a few boxes and quite a few lids.  The ones I found were scattered in several locations.  I was able to find enough for the individuals in the burial, and will see about getting some new lids made later this week.

Education, Culture & the Past

I just got back from the local library, where I went for a talk by Aviâja Egede Lynge on Mental Decolonization in Greenland.  Aviâja is a really great speaker, with a graduate degree in social anthropology, who is working on the process of changing the school system to be truly Greenlandic in nature.  If you ever get a chance to hear her talk, take it.

The talk was about the lingering effects of the Danish colonization of Greenland.  A benign colonization, perhaps, but that brings its own issues.  A very complex problem.  Much of it is probably the same in any area that has been colonized, other aspects are perhaps specific to this particular case.

Sometimes science produces unexpected results…

Much of today went trying to find freezer space for the person in the parka.  We were able to get X-rays done by the North Slope Borough vet clinic (they needed a bit of practice with a new machine anyway), and there are skeletal elements in the parka.  I talked to a conservator and it seems possible that the garments might be able to be preserved if the community chooses. We need to have a discussion with the Elders about that.

At least we need to document them really well, as they are being removed so the person can be examined and reburied.  To do that we need not only a good videographer, but also a group of experience skin sewers, since the sinew has decayed, and it may only be possible to figure out what stitch was use by skilled sewers looking at the ghosts they left.  We need to get the funds for that work, which probably won’t be available until October or so.  That means that we need a freezer to keep the person in a stable environment until the examination can happen.

CPS/UMIAQ couldn’t really offer anything right now, except to note that it hadn’t been requested in the program plan last year (sadly, I’m not clairvoyant–if I were, we could skip all the pesky shovel testing).  Fortunately, North Slope Borough Wildlife Management also has a freezer, and they were kind enough to step up and help out in this urgent situation.  Many thanks to DWM!  One UMIAQ fellow later thought of a freezer that might be a possible fallback, although it’s got stuff in it at the moment.

Next step, grant applications for that work and for the Ipiutak structure that remains at the bluff in the DWF, waiting for the next big storm to take it out.

Sunshine & blue skies…

…and a full crew.  We started work on the burial under the plank.  It took quite a while, as the plank was complex to define.  It was all one piece, in some places up to 9 cm thick, and had obviously required a great deal of work and skill to make.  The top surface looked like the outer surface of the tree.  The bottom surface showed evidence of burning, in some areas completely charcoal.  It should be good for C14 dating.

The remains are those of a large male.  Preservation is a bit variable, but it looks like there might be some ribs that could yield aDNA.  In any event, he will be safely out of the trail.

Many on the crew did STPs.  So far nothing has shown up.  It is beginning to look as if there is a gap in the burials (or at least a much thinner distribution).  I’ve begun to wonder if this could be the result of a village move due to erosion, which brought the village close to the cemetery and made them skip a bit of ground to put the new cemetery at a proper distance from their residences.

At least it was a beautiful day.

Barrow–Anthro 101 comes to life

For a community of 4400 or so souls, perched on the edge of the Arctic Ocean at the very “top of the world” as we like to say (or at least the top of the US), Barrow is astoundingly multi-cultural.  Iñupiaq, as you might expect, and various strands of Euro-American culture, but there are also many residents who originally came from the Philippines, and other Pacific islands.  Then there are members of other Native American groups who often got here by meeting a Barrow person at one of the boarding schools to which the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) used to ship students off for high school (in places like Chemawa, Oregon, or Kansas), marrying them and moving to Barrow.  We not only have four Iñupiat dance groups, but also a Polynesian one.  Pancit shows up at many gatherings.  We have a Mexican restaurant, a Thai restaurant, a sushi bar, two Chinese restaurants (both run by Korean families) and two pizza places, plus Brower’s Cafe, which has a fairly eclectic menu including burgers and Korean food..

In recent weeks, that multicultural aspect of Barrow has meant that one could get more exposure to a variety of cultures than one would in an Anthropology 101 class.  Aside from the Sweden/Denmark/Bavaria travelogue I did as part of the BASC Schoolyard Saturday, there was a presentation on Aspects of Krishna in four styles of four styles of Indian (subcontinental, not American) art given by a whale biologist from the NSB) North Slope Borough) DWM (Department of Wildlife Management), a talk on Papua New Guinea and various tribes given by a pilot for NSB SAR (Search and Rescue) who had spent two years there flying for a missionary group when he was younger, and a talk on the Netherlands, given by a Dutch social anthropology grad student who is in Barrow doing field research.

Yesterday, ConocoPhillips Alaska and Statoil were holding a public meeting in the conference room of the BARC, where my office is.  The folks holding the meeting help with a few things, and came by my office.  Two of the Statoil people were Norwegian, and when they introduced themselves, I automatically introduced myself using the Danish pronunciation of my name.  We chatted a bit with me speaking Danish and them speaking Norwegian.  One of the Barrow people at the meeting had a Norwegian grandfather (I think) and so that was fun.