Pain; or why I should probably learn to say no occasionally

I haven’t been posting here much lately, but it isn’t because I haven’t been writing anything.  In fact, I’ve been doing almost nothing but write, and my carpal tunnel has been acting up so badly that I’ve pretty much been trying to rest my hands.  Over the past year, I’ve  gotten  invitations to contribute papers to several interesting volumes.  I’ve sent in various abstracts for papers at meetings, some of which led on to proposed volumes.  Then I actually submitted abstracts to a couple of proposed volumes I heard about from my husband or various listservs.  All of them had deadlines well in the future, and I didn’t expect all of them to be of interest to the editors anyway.

But no one turned any of the abstracts down, and I had a more successful field season than expected, which lead to the RAPID proposal to NSF to salvage the Ipiutak structure, which took time to organize and execute.  Then the person in the parka turned out to have more than a parka, which meant more time for documenting things.  So now I have a bunch (by bunch I mean 6) of papers due by mid-January, along with a review, a short presentation for a meeting next week (which the organizers just asked be emailed to them by Thursday, a week before the talk!), travel for that meeting and another one, both in some way connected to developing repositories that are responsive to communities of origin, a proposal, Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping and travel to and from New York State for Christmas!  Yikes!  What in the name of caution was I thinking?

I don’t have much trouble doing papers for meetings.  I tried to avoid the cognitive traps of PowerPoint (Tufte 1993), and use lots of pictures, and I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Toastmasters, so I can get up and talk.  This is not a surprise to those who know me :-).

I can even write (via keyboard or voice recognition) fairly quickly, thanks to Freshman English at Bryn Mawr College.  Having to have x pages handed in by 9AM Monday morning come hell or high water concentrates the mind wonderfully.  However, actual papers, with proper references, formatted as required by the particular journal or publisher, take a bit more time.  I’ve got one paper submitted, four in various stages of writing (one of which the research for is continuing but almost done), and will start the talk for the meeting tomorrow.  My hands and wrists hurt a lot.  So does my head, now that I think about it.

Actual incremental progress on several fronts!

Now that the storms have passed for the moment, and I can once again get to the office, I’ve actually gotten a few things done.  I managed to take the few comments on the mission statements for the GHEA working groups and finalize them.  That done, I set up, not one, but two (!), working groups.  The first is focused on coastal erosion, and the second on global change effects on the archaeological and paleoecological records.   They are now open for members (a few have already joined).

Monday’s time-sheet approvals were particularly onerous, because a change of user ID in the time-sheet system didn’t work quite right, and not only detached users from approvers until they logged in again on Monday, it also rescinded submitted and approved time-sheets from last week which were done before the update!  Much confusion and a royal pain for us and for the IT/accounting folks, I can assure you.  But we persevered and everyone should get paid on time!  There were a few other accounting and proposal related details to deal with today, but they’re pretty well in hand, and I just need a few more numbers to get the proposal out the door.

That done, I moved on to drafting a summary for newsletters (several paragraphs) of the Polar Archaeological Network meeting in Tromsø, which somewhat coincidentally (since I am the only overlap between the two groups at the moment) was all about global change and threats to the Polar archaeological and paleoecological records.  That’s been circulated and I’ve made several revisions based on comments.  I’ve gotten one more set from Maribeth Murray at UAF, which actually suggests two versions, one for social science audiences and one speaking more to the paleoecology/global change folks, so I should have that ready for final circulation to the attendees tomorrow, and then it should be ready to go to out.  Maribeth and I (and the other meeting attendees) are also doing a poster at the Alaska Anthropological Association annual meeting in Fairbanks next week.  PAN had a preliminary poster, which I am majorly rewriting and putting Alaska-specific images on (since this version is for an Alaska meeting).  I’ve got to get that finished, circulated, and down to Maribeth in Fairbanks so she can get it printed up (since large-format printers are almost as scarce as hen’s teeth in Barrow).

Also needing finishing and polishing is my paper/PowerPoint for the meeting.  I am in a session in honor of Ernest S. “Tiger” Burch Jr., one of the most renowned ethnologists who ever worked in the North, who passed away unexpectedly last September.  He was a brilliant and meticulous researcher, widely admired among Iñupiaq people, particularly those of Kivalina, where he and his wife lived for some time, and an all-around good person.  I was proud to have him as a friend, as was my husband, Glenn Sheehan, and it’s an honor to be asked to be in this session.

I had somehow lost track of when the meeting was, and had rather a jolt today when I opened an email about a side meeting, which mentioned the attached agenda for next week’s meeting!  A mad dash to make travel plans ensued, so I now have a room, a car, a plane ticket and am registered for the meeting.  All told–1.5 hours.  Practice makes perfect (or at least faster).

Heading home

I’m in the Anchorage airport waiting for a plane to fly back to Barrow. I’m coming back from a very interesting meeting in Tromsø, Norway, dealing with threats to the Polar archaeological heritage. More on that later.

I stopped in Anchorage for the weekend to check out a friend’s library for some literature on the NW Arctic and Seward Peninsula for an article I am writing. Found a bunch of good stuff, which he’ll drop off at a copy shop that does a lot of work for lawyers. Way cheaper than Kinko’s, and they can make PDFs, so we’ll both end up with electronic copies, which are pretty nice for the field.

18th Arctic Conference–Part 5 (Day 2-PM)

At last!  After a fine lunch, we reassembled in Dalton for the afternoon session.  We moved from Alaska to the North Atlantic, and a variety of Norse sites.  Tom McGovern kicked it off with an overview of what had been accomplished during the most recent IPY.  Much of this is due to the work of various NABO members.  He talked about some really neat school outreach programs, including one issuing GPS and camera to students & teachers to record archaeology and in the case of Iceland, place names.  He also highlighted a very interesting initiative to develop

Konrad Smiarowski talked about zooarchaeology associated with the Vatnahverfi Project, part of the Norse Eastern Settlement, Greenland.  The project involved survey and excavation (following NABO common protocols, which make for great inter-site inter-comparability).  He was looking at how the Norse immigrants adapted to a new environment with new (to them) resources.  He had evidence for the adoption of seal hunting, which the Norse seem not to have done elsewhere, despite the presence of seals, as well as hunting of walrus for ivory and birding.  Bones of harp and hooded seals, both of which are migratory, show up even at more inland sites, so it looks like either people are coming to the outer coast to hunt or the seals are being traded inland.  It looks like they were net or drive hunting.  Things seem to have been going on well, but increasing amounts of ice seem to have changed things, driving people to intensify sealing at the same time as it was affecting the local seal populations.  Things ended badly, as we know.

Ramona Harrison gave an interesting paper on the farm Gásir and its hinterlands, including various types of landscape (hayfields, pastures, etc).  She is working on the zooarchaeology as part of a long-term human eco-dynamics in Eyjafjörður, Northeast Iceland.  Unfortunately, my notes on this appear not to have been saved, so I won’t go into more detail, so as not to mis-report anything Ramona said, but it was quite interesting, and reports should be on the NABO website soon, if they’re not there now.

The final paper was given by Seth Brewington on work in the Faroes, particularly at Undir Junkarinsflotti.  It was abandoned in the 1300s due to repeated sand blows, which were a problem at that time in a number of places on the eastern side of the North Atlantic.  The paper dealt with the zooarchaeology, which is quite unique as bone preservation generally seems to be bad in the Faroes, and the idea of keeping bone is still relatively new.  The inhabitants seem to have been eating lots of birds (mostly puffins), even in comparison to other Norse sites, where the bird consumption seems to drop after the earliest settlement period. 

18th Arctic conference–Part 4 (Day 2-AM)

This penultimate chapter is a bit belated, to say the least, due to holidays, much travel and associated presentations, and proposal preparation.  However, there were some very interesting papers on the final day as well, and I decided I needed to get this written before yet another conference happened.  And I needed a break from final tweaking of the PowerPoint for said conference.

The first paper was by Molly Odell, on economic change at  Mitksqaaq Angayuk between 3400-100BP.  The site, on Kodiak, seems to have had discontinuous occupations from Early Katchemak to the Russian occupation.  Molly focused on the fauna from a midden associated with an Alutiiq house.  The house seemed to have been occupied primarily by men, based on the artifacts.  The midden showed a change from a pre-contact mixed fishery (primarily cod but with significant amounts of salmon and small amounts of other locally available fish) to a fishery focused almost entirely on cod in the historic period.  Molly interprets this as a shift from a winter settlement to a cod-fishing camp, presumably staffed by men.

Jennifer Raff gave a paper on mitochondrial aDNA (ancient DNA) from the Lower Alaska Peninsula & Eastern Aleutians.  This is interesting, as there are disagreements about how/when various cultures in that area appeared, and whether or not they represent in situ (in place) developments or population replacements.  This work may help settle some of those questions.  Not to spoil any surprises, as this paper is being published, but both haplotypes A & D are well represented, and there is B from one site!

Rick Knecht, a fellow Bryn Mawr College PhD, gave a “just out of the field” talk about excavations at Nunalleq, a Yup’ik site in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta.  The Yup’ik culture is quite well-known ethnographically, but almost no archaeology has been done in the area.  Nunalleq, for which there is a date of 1300BP (not sure if that’s calibrated or what it’s on or associated with) has extraordinary organic preservation at the moment, but is suffering erosion, which is accelerating due to permafrost melting and sea level rise.  The local community actually contacted the archaeologists in concern.  The 2010 season excavated a house, with lots of organic artifacts (rye grass matting, for example) present on the floor.  They think it might have been a men’s house, which are known for the Yup’ik from the ethnographic record, based on the low numbers of women’s artifacts recovered.  There was a burnt side room, with a large number of arrowheads present, which is possibly a result of conflict.  More work is planned.

Chistyann Darwent followed with a report on the 2010 work at Cape Espenberg, a beach ridge complex which is located near Kotzebue in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.  This project has been doing survey there for a couple of years and has surveyed and mapped extensively, especially the more recent periods.  They have actually been able to excavate several houses (one on each of the 3 Thule-age ridges) to a considerable extent.  One thing they discovered was that the surface mapping did not necessarily give a good picture of what was under the ground in terms of houses, side rooms and so forth.  One of the houses seems to have burned, although why is not yet clear.  They excavated an outdoor ceramic manufacturing area (inadvertently–it looked like part of the house from the surface).  The houses on the oldest and middle Thule ridges had Thule 2 harpoon heads associated with them, suggesting that they were fairly early.  The also found a copper eyed needle, slat armor.  The tunnel floor was lined with baleen.  The youngest house was of a type that was familiar to the project’s elder consultant, who had been in the US Army during the Korean War, since he’d grown up in a similar house.  It had lots of evidence for fishing.  The dates were a bit later than prior testing had led them to expect, the oldest around 1260-1400BP, the middle 1450-1650BP.

Justin Tackney gave a paper on mDNA (mitochondrial DNA) from Nuvuk, as well as presenting the new direct dates that Joan Coltrane has for the human remains. The results show a number of haplogroups hypothesized to be founders to modern Inuit populations all in one area, which is new.  In general, this supports a Thule expansion from North Alaska.

I got the slot before lunch, and gave a paper looking at the material culture of modern Iñupiat whaling.  I am using this as a way to approach what sort of evidence might be expected in archaeological sites of whalers, and where that evidence might be found.  Essentially, the modern case has a number of artifacts that are needed for whaling and nothing else, most of which have pre-contact equivalents.  The interesting thing is that they are generally not stored in the house, which implies that excavations focused on houses may not be able to address presence/absence whaling too well.

A Meeting in Abisko

I’m at the Abisko Naturvetenskapliga Station (Scientific Research Station) in northern Sweden.  There is a meeting here of scientists and station managers who are involved either directly (or indirectly in the case of non-EU participants) in a project called INTERACT which is about building research & monitoring infrastructure for arctic research.  I’ve come along since my husband is here representing the Barrow Environmental Observatory, and we are both giving papers at a meeting in Munich after this.

It was quite the trip to get here, but the station is very nice, and it looks like it will be quite an interesting meeting.

Papers and articles and PowerPoints, oh my…

Despite the fact that I am still in New York on vacation (except for things like on-line payroll and P-card reviewing and approving, which can’t wait), I’m taking a bit a of a break from reading mysteries and eating Christmas goodies to work on several things I have in progress.  I’m not going to be able to finish any of them, since I don’t have any books here for checking references, and most of the images I want to use are in the Aperture vault  on my computer back in Barrow.  However, I can do outlines, and get a fair bit of the text drafted before I get home, at least for some of them.

In order they are: 1) PowerPoint & accompanying paper on Iñupiat and Cold War Science for a conference in Munich, 2) encyclopedia article on Western Thule 1300-1750AD in North & Northwest Alaska (in 7000 words maximum!), 3)PowerPoint on Alaskan archaeological sites and threats to them from climate change as it has been observed to be occurring for a conference in Tromsø, Norway, 4) article I’m working on with Claire Alix and Owen Mason on Ipiutak at Nuvuk, 5)  encyclopedia article on Barrow sites (Nuvuk, Birnirk and Utqiagvik), 6) paper on ethnographic data on storage of whaling gear, and 7) a paper on whaling gear recovered from archaeological sites which are known to have had whaling taking place.

These all have places they are to go, and times they need to be there.  Nothing concentrates the mind like deadlines, except perhaps the threat of execution…

18th Arctic Conference Part 3-Visit to the University Museum

In the afternoon we took a bus in to the University Museum at Penn for a look at the collections.  William Wierzbowski, Associate Keeper of the American Section, has set things up for the visit.  He had gotten a number of items that had been collected by the late Frederica de Laguna, (BMC ’27: founder of the Bryn Mawr College Anthropology Department) in Alaska out and had arranged them as a temporary “ancestor shrine” for us.

Frederica de Laguna "ancestor shrine" with a number of conference attendees. Rick Davis of Bryn Mawr, who was the host, is in the blue sweater at photo center.

It included maps drawn by Freddy, and fragments of Raven’s Tail weaving, a style which had fallen out of use and was recovered from archaeological fragments like these and a few remaining ethnographic samples.

Hand-drawn map of site location.
Fragment of Raven's Tail weaving.

Bill also brought out THE original Clovis Points.  It was really fun to see them “in person” as it were.

Attendees photograph the Clovis points.
Clovis Point with original catalog card.
Close-up of Clovis point.
Close-up of Clovis point.

18th Arctic Conference–Part 2 (Day 1).

Here’s part one on the long-delayed wrap-up of the  18th Arctic Conference.  There were a number of quite interesting papers, as is usually the case.  Since most of this stuff is not yet fully published, it seems worthwhile to put a little update up here.  If anything here sounds interesting, contact the authors.

The first day was mostly earlier material, from Northwest Alaska and the Alaska Range around Denali National Park.  Jeff Rasic gave a paper (coauthored with Bill Hedeman, Ian Buvit and Steve Keuhn) about the Raven’s Bluff site.  This site, about 100 miles north of Kotzebue, not only has fluted points and microblades, but it has a unit (Unit 1) with well-preserved old faunal remains! The 2009 and 2010 work has looked at soils, and there is clearly intact stratigraphy there.  There is an upper ASTt (Arctic Small Tool tradition) component with a date of 2150±40BP, separated from the late Pleistocene materials with a fairly thick sterile layer.  There are 10 C14 dates so far, 9800±60 BP and 10720±50, on the lower component.  Very cool!

John Blong gave a paper on the summer’s work surveying in the uplands of the central Alaska Range, specifically the upper Savage River drainage (Denali NP) and the upper Susitna drainage.  They also found some really old animal bones together with flakes (C14 dates around 10000BP), and excavated at Ewe Creek, where they got cultural material dating to 4500 BP.

Katie Krasinski gave a paper she had done with Gary Haynes on taphonomic analysis of Proboscidean remains.  They had been able to work with fresh African elephant bones and Alaskan mammoth remains to look at how impacts by hammerstones, percussion flaking (this sort of bone can be flaked, as can whalebone) and carnivore chewing modify the bone.  This is important, as groupings of non-intact mammoth (and mastodon in some areas) are often found.  If there are lots of stone tools around, it’s fairly easy to figure out that people butchered them, even if they didn’t kill them in the first place, but otherwise, it’s a lot harder.  This research is aimed at getting data to help figure that out when sites like that are found.  They did gather a fair bit of data.  Biggest surprise: a higher percentage of the animal-gnawed bones had spiral fractures than did the human-modified one.

Brian Wygal talked about survey in Denali NPP.  There has been a several year project to try to get a handle on the prehistory of the park, finishing in 2009.  The talk was a preliminary wrap-up of the project.  He noted that they found the most sites the years they surveyed the fewest acres.  This really points out a problem in Alaska, where the place is so huge and so little has been done.  From the survey results, it also appears that the variations in tool kits which people have been wondering about are more related to seasonal movements and conditions, with microblades (and composite tools in general) perhaps being preferable in colder and snowy conditions.

Heather Smith gave paper on the excavations at the Serpentine Hot Springs site on the Seward Peninsula somewhat north of Nome.  Prior work had found fluted point bases, and 2009 work had located a hearth which yielded a C14 date of around 11,200-11,400BP.  Last summer’s work found more hearth features, which contained a lot of burnt bones and other organics.  Dating is underway.

Lunch was in the Dorothy Vernon Room, a rather interesting room in the modern Louis Kahn dormitory Haffner Hall which includes much of the original Dorothy Vernon Room from the old Deanery.  The afternoon was taken up by a visit to the collections at the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania.