On the way to Aukureyri

I’m heading to Akureyri, Iceland, to take part in a workshop and a NABO Open Meeting.  It’s a fairly long trip from Barrow to anywhere, but Icelandair is now flying direct Anchorage-Reykjavik, so that’s a help.  Not surprisingly, seats on the July 4th departure were very, very cheap, so it was more cost effective to fly me to Iceland then, and put me up in Reykjavik for a couple of days before I head to Akureyri.

When I left Barrow, the ice had come back in.  I got a good shot of the only operational heavy icebreaker in the US fleet, USCG Polar Star lying off Barrow.  You can see masts belonging to much smaller vessels off her bow.  They are a French group who are trying to take a catamaran to the North Pole (it apparently can move over ice as well as water, or they hope so).  They beat  Polar Star to Barrow by a couple days.

USCG Polar Star off Barrow in the ice.
USCG Polar Star off Barrow in the ice.

The flight from Anchorage leaves at 3:15 PM AKDT, and gets in at 6AM local (GMT) which is before bedtime in Alaska, so I didn’t get much sleep.  I was wiped, so I took a nap, planning to get up and go wandering about Reykjavik.  Alas, the weather didn’t cooperate.  When I got up, it was raining & blowing 25+.

View out the livingroom window of the B&B
View out the living room window of the B&B

So I confined my walking to a trip to the grocery store and bakery.  Lots of nice local vegetables for good prices–geothermal greenhouses can do wonders.

This morning the weather had improved, so I headed out to see some sights.  I had intended to check out a Danish restaurant, but wound up doing something else entirely.  I found a food truck selling grass-fed beef hamburgers, which smelled wonderful.  So that’s what I had.  Then I wound up heading down to the harbor.

Reykjavik harbor
Reykjavik harbor

The green buildings on the left are former (mostly) fishmongers’ stalls that have been converted to shops & restaurants.  I wound up getting a bracelet made of wolfish leather.  There are still the old ladders, presumably for self-rescue by unfortunate fishermen who fell in on the way back to the ship.

Ladder in the old harbor
Ladder in the old harbor
Trawler in Reykjavik harbor.
Trawler in Reykjavik harbor.

There were the expected Icelandic coast guard ships.  There were also a Danish naval ship and a German Fisheries Protection ship tied up.

Icelandic Coast Guard ships.
Icelandic Coast Guard ships.
Danish ship.
Danish naval fisheries inspection ship, probably HDMS Triton.
German Fisheries Protection ship.
German Fisheries Protection ship.

And there were several large fishing vessels out of the water.

Fishing vessel in the yard.
Fishing vessel in the yard, being scraped & painted.


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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.

So today is my birthday…

And it’s been great so far!  The weather has been gorgeous, not too cold or windy.  The light this morning was amazing, golden reflecting off the clouds & snow.  Unfortunately no pictures from when it was best because I was trying to get stuff done before I start a series of back-to-back trips, although I did look out the window a lot when I was making phone calls.  I did get some a bit later, and it is still pretty great.

View out my office window
Looking south around 3 PM (local noon).
Clouds over Barrow & the Chukchi

Last year I got to finish unwrapping the child on my birthday.  This year was not nearly as exciting, but then archaeology really isn’t like Indiana Jones… much.  I finished and sent the quarterly report to the client on our activities supporting the ARM site.  It is good to look back and see what has been done, and I’m using a format that asks for lessons learned, so it forces one to think and track, which is not a bad thing and easy to skip when things get busy.

I made the final corrections on the encyclopedia entry on frozen sites, and am just waiting for one image to upload it to the publisher.  The Point Hope chapter is being read (quickly, I hope) by a couple of friends, and then will get sent to the editors for review.  I still need to recalibrate C14 dates for Northern Archaic and Palearctic, but that can get added to the final.

One of the things I’m involved in as part of the GHEA/Long-Term Sustainability RCN is a workshop on the Kurils & Aleutian Islands.  I’m a participant, not a discussant, which is a bit odd since I’ve never stepped foot in either one of them, or even worked on a collection from either area.  The workshop involves putting up some articles and a conference paper ahead of time, and some on-line discussion, in hopes that we will all be up to speed by the time we get to Seattle, and can hit the ground running.  I got put in a group looking at Ecological Dynamics and Paleoecological Histories, which is very cool.  I definitely have some catching up in the literature to do here, so I spent a chunk of the afternoon downloading the various papers & such folks in my group (and others) had put up.  I have put them into my Dropbox and synced my iPad, so I can read them while traveling.  It turns out I am not the only one who doesn’t have a conference paper done, and some of those that are there are not that formal :-).

I also need to find a way to get a paper I wrote on bearded seals in Greenland up.  I don’t have an electronic copy, but it seems pertinent.  One topic that seems to be coming up is possible sea ice extension into the region and folks seem to be making a few unwarranted assumptions about how species that are not now present in the area behave.  That would of course skew any climatic interpretations one might be trying to derive from faunal data.  I think the bearded seal paper covers that and provides a good example of some issues that are counter-intuitive.
And Barrow caught their final whale of the 2012 season!  Hey hey hey Anagi Crew!

View leaving the office.

Shortly after I got home there was a know at the door & flowers & balloons arrived! That was quite the surprise, since Glenn had already bought me a huge arrangement of flowers (and a Kindle Paperwhite, which is supposedly in transit).  I unwrapped them, and they turned out to be from the entire staff at UICS (arranged in secret by Tammy).  The flower arrangement is gargantuan!

Flowers & Balloons, with me for scale.
The flowers in close-up.

Now I am going to have cake.

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Fall storms

I got back to Barrow to find snow on the ground.  It hasn’t been that stormy here, but we  had a coastal flood warning over the weekend, with part of the road to Nuvuk getting washed out, and waves getting over many of the berms.  I am afraid that there may have been significant damage to the site beyond the 20 m we already lost in September.  I would like to get out and take a look, maybe even shoot in the bluff, before I go to Valdez & Seattle, but that is not looking too likely.

Apparently, there is a likelihood of a storm surge from the Chukchi and flooding over the next few days, maybe until the 22nd or so.  The North Slope Borough is quite worried, and sending out info on emergency kits & so forth.  Not a great situation.  The house I live in floated in the last really big storm surge event in 1963, and if it does it again, it could wind up in the NARL sewage lagoon.  Yuck.

We’ll be prepared, but I don’t think it is that likely to get that bad.  However, it most certainly is already damaging Nuvuk more.  It has been blowing from the north and winds are picking up.  It is a bit depressing given that erosion must nearly have reached the GPR returns that we think are Ipiutak features.

Not much to be done about it, so I just push on with writing proposals & papers.  I’m going to a workshop on the Kurils & Aleutians, and am slightly belated working on the conference paper.  Just as I got ready to really check out the other papers prior to doing the serious writing (the outline is done), it was discovered the website had lost the last 3 weeks of updates (explains where my stuff went–I thought they were just being slow getting it up), so I couldn’t get into it.  I hope we don’t lose Internet later this week, and that I have decent connectivity in Valdez.

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Sustainability, Ipiutak and Graceland!

I’ve been in Memphis for the 77th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.  It’s been pretty busy, so I’m having to do a couple of recap posts.  WordPress just dumped a post of over 1000 words with no trace, despite lots of prior saving, so this is going to be a 2-parter.

I left Barrow on Monday night, PowerPoints mostly done, and arrived in Memphis early the next evening.  I spent the morning putting the final touches on the presentations, and after grabbing a bite to eat, I headed over to the Comfort Inn to the steering committee meeting for the new Long-term Human Ecodynamics RCN of which I am part. Since a number of us haven’t worked together before (RCNs are for building networks, in part), along with the updates on how sessions which had gotten RCN support had gone, the status of some upcoming meetings and budget situation that are usual for such things, a number of us did presentations on what we did/are doing to wind up as participants.  The RCN is working on 3 fronts: systematic comparisons of archaeological cases which can be considered as completed “experiments” in long-term human ecodynamics, development of cyberinfrastructure to make such comparisons more feasible, and sustainability education and community involvement.

I’m primarily part of Focus 3.  I talked about Nuvuk, and hope I made the points that students are more engaged if they can work on a site which is actually scientifically important rather than one which is of a type that is so well understood that it can be “sacrificed” for training.  I also hit the destruction of sites in the North, since that will undercut our ability to do the sort of archaeology necessary to really understand the ecodynamics of a situation well enough to make policy-relevant contributions.

Afterwards, we adjourned to Papa Pia’s for pizzas & more discussion.  The pizzas were good, although I generally don’t expect eight (!) slices in a personal pizza.

The next day was a long one.  The Arctic/Subarctic session started at 8AM.  The room was rather noisy, with a pile driver working outside that was literally shaking the building!  Despite that, there were some interesting papers.  Bryan Wygal led off with a paper on the Nenana and Denali complexes (stone tool groups in Alaska).  Nenana, which is earlier, does not have microblades and Denali does.  There are various theories about this, including climate change.  I don’t think Bryan had a final answer, but he did have some data to bear on the question.  He was followed by Risa Carlson talking about some recently discovered early sites in the Alexander Archipelago in SE Alaska.  There were very few early sites found until geologists figured out that the continental glaciers had actually pushed the land on the unglaciated edge like the islands up (called a “forebulge”), so that old shorelines were at a different elevation (taking into account the forebulge relaxing and sea level changes) than people had thought.  With the new model, archaeologists have been finding old sites.   Then Leslie Howse talked about the archaeofaunas (animal bones) from two sites on Grinnell Peninsula in the Eastern Arctic.  One is a site from the Late Dorset culture and the other is an Early Thule site.  They are very close to each other in both time and space, so she was investigating if the known differences in technology (the Dorset didn’t have bows, floats, whaling gear or dog teams, for starters) and probably in social organization were reflected in the animals they were catching. Indeed, that seems to be the case.

I followed with my paper on Ipiutak hearths.  I talked about the hearths at the type site, which are often described as being annular (like a bull’s-eye).  I believe that the testing technique in use, which consisted of people digging in the middle of any depression suspected of being an Ipiutak house, resulted in the hearths having their tops cut off by the time the archaeologists got there to draw them, leaving a bull’s-eye effect instead of a mound.  I also talked about the box hearth at Nuvuk.

After that, we moved to the Aleutians, with Caroline Funk giving a paper on bird use on the Rat Islands.  The Rats got their name from rats introduce from ships, which pretty much wiped out the birds.  They have been eradicated, and biologists would like species lists of what was there.  She was pointing out that cultural factors are involved in bird use, and that they must be considered in interpretation.  She is still working on this, but is finding references including  symbolic and spiritual uses, as well as the obvious uses for food and raw material.  Diane Hanson gave a nice talk about an upland house on Adak that her crew excavated.  It was interesting, not the least because the received wisdom is that there were no inland sites in the Aleutians.  They were trying to identify activity areas in the house, but unfortunately this particular house seems to have been abandoned on purpose, so it had been cleaned very carefully.  However, it did have some neat floor and chimney features similar to those seen at Amaknak Bridge and Margaret Bay.  Roberta Gordaoff gave a talk comparing lithic (stone) tools from upland and coastal sites on Adak.  After that Joseph Wilson talked about advanced archery technology (mostly Athabaskan) from an ethnohistorical perspective, and Tiffany Curtis finished up with a talk on building a dendrochronology (tree-ring dates) for the Forty-Mile River area in Alaska, in part to help data all the prospectors’ cabins there.

After that, we went to Graceland!  Matt Betts, Karen Ryan, and several of their Canadian colleagues made the pilgrimage.  The last time Matt & I went to a tourist attraction at a conference, it was the Louvre, so from the sublime to the ridiculous perhaps, but still, I was in Memphis, it was close, so I had to go.