We are getting ready for another season at Walakpa, in which we hope to find out more about the house connected to the tunnel we found, and if it is connected to the two house visible in the erosion face, as well as the house that turned out to be beside the monument that got moved. I’ve been scanning field notes, writing proposals, coordinating travel schedules, replacing camera lenses, rounding up tents, and trying to get a fund set up to accept donations.
We’ve got a volunteer crew lined up, including several folks from last year, including Ben Fitzhugh, Caelie Butler, Glenys Ong Echavarri and Becky DeAngelo. We’re going to be joined for a short while by several other archaeologists and students from Barrow, elsewhere in Alaska, the Lower 48, France and possibly Poland. There is also a small field school run through University of Alaska Fairbanks (which still has room for a couple more people–if you have tried to register & failed, contact me–there was apparently a computer glitch that was blocking people for a while), and some folks who are volunteering in other ways. One of my co-workers can’t get away to go into the field, since summer is the busy season, but is scanning all of last year’s field notebooks.
Getting to the field may be a challenge. The ocean is still ice-covered, and there is still snow and ice on the beach. We just had a pouring rainstorm, with thunder & lightning, so the land trail is probably now really awful.
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.
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.
I just put up a new page with the gear list that I’m sending to the folks who are volunteering to help with the archaeological salvage at Walakpa this summer. I thought it might be interesting to people.
If you have experience camping up here and notice anything you think is missing, please drop me a line :-).
UPDATE 5/29/16: I added something to the list, thanks to a good suggestion from Randall O.
I spent most of the day talking about climate change threats to cultural heritage and archaeological resources. I started off at a fairly conventional session about archaeology at various sites in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, which had a number of interesting papers, many based on analysis of well-preserved faunal remains.
I then went on to the first formal meeting of the newest SAA committee, on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Response (CCSAR). Dan Sandweiss, who is the SAA board liaison, as well as being one of the earlier people to call attention to the importance of archaeological sites as archives of paleoenvironmental data, as well as the obvious archaeological data. It seems to be a really great group of people,working in a lot of different places, all of which are having some climate issues. Most of them are interested not only in saving data, but in what that data can tell us about past climates, and about how people adapted to changes in them. As one person said, “We really don’t have much data about the Archaic, the last time people lived sustainably in North America.” This may be a bit of an exaggeration, especially for Alaska, but basically the idea is correct.
After that, I had to go to an appointment in the book room. We will see what comes of that in due time.
Then there was another interesting session on Heritage Tools for Tackling Climate Change. This included a variety of talks on ways people are dealing with the effects of climate change. One had to do with melting ice patches in Glacier National Park, and how the Park Service had dealt with material coming out, in consultation with the local Native American community, as well as studies they were doing so they could be proactive. Another paper included information on the California Cultural Resource Management (CRM) community’s efforts to get public lands on the coast surveyed completely.
There was some discussion about whether the US ban on revealing any site location data helps or hurts. Most other countries will reveal that data, although they may wait until very valuable materials have been properly excavated in some cases. They have found that it decreases looting, if anything. It also helps people avoid inadvertent damage that happens when people don’t know a site is there, and lets them report on changes in site conditions. So instead of a few archaeologists, lots of people can keep an eye on the sites. Here they can’t do that. I suspect, as do many others, that the people who are serious looters already know where the sites are, and have a pretty good idea where to prospect for more. On the other hand, when the US government shut down for a couple of weeks in 2013, looting exploded in the National Parks.
Tomorrow morning the session I organized on Global Change Threats to the Archaeological and Paleoecological Record (not snappy, but lots of buzzwords for search engines) happens.
The crew (Owen Mason, Anne Garland, Mary Beth Timm, Laura Crawford and myself) gathered out at NARL, at a small yellow warehouse. We were using UIC Science archaeological gear. IHLC & Ilisagvik College let us use some tents, sleeping pads & kitchen gear. We managed to get everything packed into side-by-sides and trailers and headed off to Walakpa with Sean Gunnells, Oona Edwardsen and Ray Kious of the UICS logistics staff who weren’t otherwise occupied.
We got to Walakpa around 2PM. We got camp set up, with a slight hitch because some of the tents had not been repacked properly when last used. However, the logistics staff dealt with it, and headed back to town.
We uncovered portions of the bluff so that we could examine the profiles and decide where we want to take the column sample. While walking the beach examining the bluff profiles, we noticed that there was a cultural layer exposed in the mound with one of the two monuments on it. Anne Garland laid out a 1×1 meter test, well back from the edge of the bluff, to see if it continued across the mound.
It was clear that we couldn’t safely do a profile in the central area where the meat cache had been, since there was still an overhang. In addition, some of the geotextile fabric protecting the site was pinned by collapse of bluffs, preventing its removal. Eventually, after cleaning profiles on either side of the overhang, we picked a spot and Owen went to work on a detailed drawing.
We had visitors in the early morning, a young couple whose ATV had a flat, and were hoping that we had a tire pump. Unfortunately, we didn’t, so they headed on up the coast with both of them on one side of the ATV.
We had been working as fast as we could on the structures at Walakpa. Given how far north we are, “Winter is coming!” pretty much applies as soon as it starts thawing in spring. We had a fair bit of windy weather, so it wasn’t pleasant working conditions, but the ambient temperature was generally above freezing, so the ground remained soft, and we were able to continue excavation.
The batteries on the transit were not happy, and we pretty much needed to have one charging at all times, or risk shut-down until we could charge a battery. The batteries are a bit old, and need to be re-celled or replaced, but since I hadn’t expected to be excavating this summer, that was scheduled to happen over the coming winter, which left us a bit handicapped.
But then, last Monday, there was a dusting of snow on the ground in the morning, and it didn’t melt. Further south in Alaska, snow on the tops of the mountains is often called “Termination Dust” since its appearance signals the beginning of the end of the summer season. And so it was here.
I had started accumulating materials to protect the site over the weekend. UIC Construction had some surplus damaged materials in their yard which would otherwise have just gone to the dump, and they were kind enough to donate them to the cause. Monday, we started hauling them down to Walakpa.
We kept digging, since the ground wasn’t frozen. The next morning, there was a lot more snow on the beach, and the ground was really stiff although we did manage to dig a bit more and screen all but two buckets.
We met a polar bear on the way down to the site. It was tired, resting on the beach, but was so wary that it got up and moved before we could detour around it so it could rest.
We put particle board along the erosion face of the site, and gathered sods from the beach to stack up to hold them in place. We also used upright driftwood to help hold this in place. By the end of the day, I concluded that things were freezing to the point where only a pickax would move dirt, which would sort of defeat the purpose of archaeological excavation, so we started hauling gear back to town that night.
We allowed the site to freeze more the next day, and Thursday we went down to put the site to bed & take down the tent.
We put a layer of whiteboard insulation on the top and front of the site, and then covered it with geotextile fabric, fastened in place with spikes. Then we covered that with the original sods which had been saved.
Once we had that taken care of, the gear had to be packed up and the tent taken down. We spray painted the hubs of the Arctic Oven frame so the next folks who set it up will have an easier time of it than we did doing it without instructions.
Now all we can do is hope and pray that there are no storms before the ocean freezes up that generate waves big enough to reach the site, and if there are, that they don’t last long enough to destroy the protection that we built. If we are fortunate, it will still be there next year, and we can learn more.
For some reason, two of the archaeology blogs I follow had recent posts which were perfect summaries of information for people considering getting into archaeology. Although the topics were quite different, neither was the sort of thing covered in most classes or textbooks.
On the practical side, GraecoMuse did a nice summation of what an archaeologist needs in the way of personal field equipment. I’d add a clipboard desk for forms, and certainly most US and Canadian archaeologists would substitute Marshalltown trowels for WHS.
On the other end of the spectrum, what appears to be a new blog gives an extended quote from an L. S. Klijn article in Acta Archaeologica listing 25 Commandments for archaeological researchers. I tend to think that not all archaeologists are quite as individualistic and cutthroat as #5 might imply, and would offer such highly successful collaboratives as NABO and GHEA as counterexamples. The list is a clear description of some very important principles of archaeological logic and epistemology. Many of the “commandments” are applicable to all scientific endeavor, no matter the discipline.
Since we now are ready to salvage the Ipiutak structure, Laura & I were going to pack up a small amount of field gear yesterday. However, Laura got caught manning a table for Friends of Tuzzy Library, and since she was there when everything was put away, we decided to do it this morning before she caught the plane out for a doctor’s appointment. So bright and early she picked me up in Daisy II (my old truck, which I think needs a muffler) and we headed over. All in all it took less than an hour, and we’re all ready for tomorrow.
I have been majorly busy since the last post. I had two days to get a RAPID proposal in to NSF for funds to salvage the remaining portion of the Ipiutak structure.
I was scheduled to go to Cape Espenberg to take part in a project there under the direction of John Hoffecker of INSTAAR, and had to get on a plane on July 28. I wasn’t due back in Barrow until August 13th, and NSF had to process all grants before then, so if the proposal didn’t get in then, they wouldn’t be able to get the money out if it was successful. Since the house could go in a storm, I spent 2 days writing & submitting the proposal, threw my stuff in a dry bag & my day pack and left for Cape Espenberg.
I had a great time there, with interesting archaeology, which will be a post for another day. From Cape Espenberg, I flew to Kotzebue and then on to Point Hope for the North Slope Borough Elders/Youth Conference. It was a great conference, and I had a great time, despite finding out that the workshop I thought I was giving was actually a talk to the entire conference (which I had no PowerPoint for). Another post for another day. While there, I found out that the RAPID was successful.
I got back to Barrow after some weather and plane repair delays, to find that the surveyors who I was supposed to work with had done their thing and left town. I’ve been extracting info from them and trying to get that survey set up, since the report needs to get done, the helicopter needs to head south & I have a 4-day trip to New York State scheduled on the 25th. Meanwhile, it turns out that most if not all of the heavy equipment in Barrow is either committed to a job or broken, so we’re having trouble getting a bulldozer to move the 100 yards of gravel piled on top of the rest of the Ipiutak structure.
If that’s not enough, a human skull was found in Wainwright by surveyors (actually the same surveyors) who were doing preliminary work for a possible road project. The client decided that it would be a good idea to get an archaeologist to come down and see if the skull was an isolated find or if there might be more, and give them suggestions for how to proceed with the road design, as well as make sure the proper reports and documentation were done. I leave for Wainwright tomorrow afternoon, and hope to be back Friday night, weather permitting.
On top of that, there’s a teleconference & a meeting in the morning. I just finished an interview with Pat Yack of Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN), who won a ticket to anywhere ERA flies and used it to come to Barrow. It was quite enjoyable, since he’d done some homework, and asked intelligent questions. Turns out he’s next-door neighbors with Max Brewer, the long-time NARL science director who lived in the house we now live in. Small world.
I recently contributed a post about a field-made osteometric board to ThenDig, a blog about archaeology which has been doing a theme month on tools and archaeology. There are a number of interesting posts over there, and it’s worth checking out.
The weather was not pleasant. It rained all day, and was pretty cold. My fingers are swollen up like sausages. The rain also took out the track pad on the computer for the transit, so we couldn’t back up the files in the field. We were able to use a mouse in the lab, and got the files backed up and transferred to the other laptop, so if the track pad doesn’t perk up, we’re OK. My Nikon Coolpix S9100, which I just got last night to replace one that failed after a week, died the same way today. Nikon won’t issue a refund for 15 days, which is truly ridiculous under the circumstances. I’ve been committed to Nikon, loved all the SLRs I’ve had (FM, 4 FEs, 4 N70s, D200) and liked everything about this camera, too, except it won’t work. Epic fail. So don’t buy one!
On the plus side, the very deep burial turned out to be a person wearing a fur parka and wrapped in hide! You can even see traces of the stitching. We aren’t sure how well-preserved the person is (we found a few finger bones and a nail inside the cuff). We decided to take it out en bloc (complete) and take it back to the lab to excavate in controlled conditions so we can document the garment better, since it is very fragile. We had some plywood brought out and managed to slide it through the gravel under the entire burial and lift the whole thing. This required the digging of a very large hole, which we’ll now need to backfill. Many thanks to Brower Frantz and his crew for bringing out the plywood and transporting the individual back to the lab while we kept on in the field.
The DWF keeps yielding more artifacts, some of which are quite nice. We’re trying to get to a reasonable stopping point and figure out a way to protect the exposed feature in case we can get funds to work on it in September.