Getting ready for Walakpa, round 4

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.

Trying to catch up

The trip to the conferences went well.  I really didn’t have much time at SAAs to even see friends, if they weren’t in one of the sessions I was involved in.  Then it was off to Prague for a session at Arctic Science Summit Week.  It was a great session, although we were put into a tiny room, which the participants in the session nearly filled, so a lot of non-archaeologists wound up peeking in and moving on.  Peter Jordan  who got me involved in the session, and Sean Desjardins, are guest editors for a special issue of Quaternary International which will publish papers from this and a previous session.  I seem to have promised them two!

I didn’t have very long in Prague, but did get a chance to catch up with Vica Lozinschi, a former BASC intern who helped with some salvage at Nuvuk.  She is married and living in Prague now.  We only had a morning, but she took me to see some of the sights (some literally “see” from afar since I had a lunch meeting afterwards!).

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One of Prague’s many bridges
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Street performer in Prague
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Street food in Prague
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Vica sampling an adult beverage which the Czech people claim to have invented.
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Me also sampling said adult beverage.  My grandfather owned a brewery, so it is of more than passing interest.

Once I got back from Prague I have been writing proposal language, and papers almost non-stop.  For some reason, most of the handbook/encyclopedia type volumes I have contributions in are doing new editions this year, which means the articles have to be revised and updated.  Several other articles have reached the proofs stage and need to be gone through.

Then there is a dissertation committee I am on.  That meant I spent last weekend reading the dissertation, and am now trying to find a time when the entire committee can meet (several of us on Skype) to discuss.  I am also working on final radiocarbon calibration and modeling for the WALRUS project, with a deadline due to one of the students having a presentation at the end of the month in which he wants to use my results.  There were a few problems with the master database, now resolved.  I’ve got all the dates calibrated, haveHarris Matrices built for all but two of the sites, and am using them to check my  radiocarbon modeling against.  I’ve spent all day today and will spend part of tomorrow on a site with a big wiggle in the calibration curve that pretty much seems to fall right at the period of occupation, so that’s annoying.

I’m also trying to pull the Walakpa salvage project together.  This is a site with a deep history that was used up until very recently, and is still visited regularly by folks from Utqiaġvik.  It would be a real shame if the structures we found last year just eroded, and at the rate things are going, normal funding channels simply are not fast enough.

This has all kept me pretty busy, and last week I had dental surgery.  I was supposed to get an implanted post that a crown would go on after it healed, but apparently my bone hadn’t grown into the socket in a way to suit the dentist.  So he routed a bunch of it out (hate that crunching sound in your head) and did a bone graft, so now I have to wait four months and maybe then get the implant.  Sigh.

Back in town

We made it back into town just over two weeks ago.  The field season went well, despite a few challenges from sea ice, snow drifts on the beach and general cold weather.  There was  a huge amount of catching up to do (nearly 4000 emails), three projects which needed various forms filed, an MOA which had to be done for this project, some radiocarbon calibrations to write up for another project, lots of equipment which needed to be cleaned, dried, put away or returned, and many artifacts and samples which needed processing.  Although I had lots of help, I’ve been working 16 hour days since before we went into the field, and something had to give.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have good connectivity in the field, so the only updates I could send were from my deLorme InReach.  At 160 characters per message, it really isn’t up to blog posts.  That means I’m sort of going to have to do some catch-up posts.  I head to Deering for a monitoring project on Saturday, and it’s not clear how good the connectivity will be there either, so there may be another gap.

Getting closer

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.

A hundred and one (roughly) moving pieces

There are a lot of things that go into a successful project.  We’ve been inventorying field gear and project supplies, getting emergency contact forms filled out, finalizing safety protocols and on and on.  Kaare Erickson is up from Anchorage for a week or so to help get the gear organized for the Walakpa season, plus another project we’re doing right after that.  He’s heading back down next weekend and will do some serious shopping (& screen building) before he comes back up for the field season.

Today we decided to try to get down to Walakpa to see how the site was.  Some folks have made it down (including someone in a truck, supposedly.  Sean Gunnells, who worked at Walakpa in 2013 came along, and we headed down on ATVs.  Alas, yesterday’s snow was not helpful, and the Honda kept bogging down, since it had less ground clearance than the Polarises.  We kept having to go up on the tundra, which made for slow riding.  We made it to Hollywood, which was probably about nine miles, or a little over halfway there, before we decided that the game wasn’t worth the candle. It would have taken all day, and we had lots of other things to get done.  It’s supposed to be warm (in the 40s) for several days, so we hope that a lot of the snow will melt and make for easier traveling.

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Beach just south of Hollywood.  We got as far as the snow in the distance.

While we were on the beach, we looked for tracks.  We didn’t see any, even near a couple of areas where animals had been butchered.  All we saw was an old walrus carcass that must have been dragged up the beach by a bear, but no tracks around it.

However, we had packed lunches, so we went ahead and ate on the beach.  A little ring seal popped up in the shore lead and looked at us.

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Sean looking down the beach.

 

 

Gear list posted

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.

Getting the word out–or the library is on fire!

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Ukkuqsi eroding in a late summer storm.

Folks who have been reading this blog are aware that erosion of archaeological sites due to global change effects (warming, sea level rise, etc.) is a huge problem where I live and work.  Rapid decay of the exquisitely preserved organic contents of the sites is also a huge problem.  But a blog only reaches so many people and actually dealing with the sites and otherwise doing my day job means that I can’t spend endless time on outreach.  So when a member of the media is interested, I take the time to talk to them.  Sometimes something comes of it, other times not.

Last summer Eli Kintisch, who writes for a number of scientific publications came up and spent a few days in Barrow.  He managed to spend a day at Walakpa, although his schedule meant he couldn’t be there for the whole thing.  He’s been working on it since, and I think the result is pretty engaging.  The resulting article was just published by Hakai Magazine here and simultaneously by the Smithsonian website here.  Hakai focuses on coastal issues and just recently published an article on Tom Dawson and SCAPE’s work in Scotland dealing with similar problems (minus the permafrost thawing and sea ice retreat).

It’s a big problem, and one that will take a considerable input of human and financial resources to deal with.  We’ve only got a few decades (less in many cases) before all the cultural heritage and paleoenvironmental information in these sites is gone for good.

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Tests in a midden at Walakpa.  A new date shows it is Late Western Thule, between 300-500 years old.
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Column sample at Walakpa, Summer 2015.

Walakpa, July 30, 2015

We got up with the goal of getting packed up.  It wasn’t clear if the UICS logistics staff would be able to come and get us today, but we decided to finish all the field work, and pack up as much as possible.  We got right on the screening, and recording of the edges of the midden and the units on the Pipe Monument mound.  Owen went to work on a detailed profile of CS 2.

CS 2 after excavation and preparation for detailed profiling.
CS 2 after excavation and preparation for detailed profiling.

Once that was well in hand, it still wasn’t clear if we would be able to get home.  I needed to go in to Barrow to make sure everything was progressing with the other project, so we decided I could take trailer load of field gear, samples and some of my gear back to town.  That way, we would need less help getting back, and if the pickup wasn’t going to happen until tomorrow, I could bring back my sleeping bag and sleep in the mess tent.

Once I got to town, I unloaded and did some more work on the other project.  It turned out that some logistics folks were available, so I went back down with them, and we managed to get everything back to town, and into the UICS yellow building.   Everybody got to sleep in a real bed.

Walakpa, July 29, 2015

Last night was not particularly restful.  The collapse had complicated matters quite a bit.  However, after breakfast, we went back to work.

The old location was not viable, so I picked a new spot about a meter south, which became Column Sample 2 (CS 2).  There was a bit of an overhang, and a very deep crack behind the bluff face.  We needed to get all that material out of there.  It took a bit of thought to figure out how to do it (not a usual archaeological operation, fortunately).  Finally, we put a blue tarp down on the bottom of the main cleft so we could drag fill without anyone having to be under any overhangs or unstable areas, everybody got out of the way, and I cut the overhang back while standing as far back from it as possible.  We then took the material out with a bucket brigade.  Once that was done, I levered all the cracked material off, and we took it out the same way.

Bucket brigade in action.
Bucket brigade in action.

Once that was done, I decided that we would excavate in levels labeled with letters, so we could proceed quickly, rather than wait for Owen to try to match levels in the detailed CS1 profile, which could have been a slow process.  It seemed like the fairly warm, dry weather was letting the face dry out while detailed profiling was happening, and the longer it was exposed the more chance of another collapse.  Owen would do another detailed profile after we got the column sample.

I also decided to make the sample a bit smaller in volume.  CS 1 we had been trying for 75 cm x 75 cm (mostly because that size fit between some prior disturbances), but 50 cm x 50 cm seemed more manageable in the time we had left.  One gallon from each sub level was retained as a bulk sample, and the remainder of sediment from the sub level was screened through 1/8″ and 1/4″ mesh.

We were just getting started when someone arrived to do a coastal DGPS survey that is part of the coastal mapping aspect of the Barrow Area Information Database project.  He passed on a message that said my boss needed me to come back into town.  (There is no effective connectivity at Walakpa, which is why this is being posted after the fact).  I reviewed recording stratigraphy  (or artifacts if any showed up) with Laura Crawford, made sure everyone knew how to use the InReach is needed, and headed back to Barrow by ATV around 1PM.

Something had come up with one of the compliance projects we are working on, and I needed to talk to people and draft some documents.  I made it back to Walakpa around 10PM.

On the way, I met some folks out for an evening ride, and they stopped over to visit.  One of them had spent a lot of time at Walakpa when she was younger, and had some great stories.  I hope we can get them recorded for future generations.

The rest of the folks had managed to complete the column sample, so we talked about closing up shop tomorrow.  We just need to finish screening, record the Test Units on the Pipe Monument midden, and backfill the TUs.

Walakpa, July 28, 2015

Owen and Laura got up early and screened what we had dug last night.  Owen worked to finish the profile.  There is an apparent marine level at Level 13.

CS 1 profile
CS 1 profile

We had problems with both transit and radio batteries.  Despite that, I showed Laura how to run the transit, so I don’t have to be awake all the time.  We shot in the remaining levels of CS 1, as well as the new test units on the mound.

Laura and Owen continued taking CS 1 down.  Unfortunately, after the dinner break, they returned to find that the bottom of the profile had collapsed.

The view after dinner.
The view after dinner.

It was a pretty depressing situation.  It left an overhang, so there was no way to just continue safely.  It mean that we would have to start over again in the morning.

Walakpa–July 27, 2015

We went to work in earnest today.  Owen went to work on recording the stratigraphy of the profile we had chosen for the column sample (CS 1).  I had him marking the bottom of each level so we could continue excavation even after he went to sleep.  Anne Garland and Laura kept working on the tests on the mound with the monument.  The SW quad of the 1×1 came down on a cryoturbated sterile layer.  There was metal throughout the cultural levels.  We expanded northward to examine some wood in that wall.

Owen Mason examining the profile of CS 1.
Owen Mason examining the profile of CS 1.

Meanwhile, I set up the transit and began shooting in the CS 1 profile, as well as the bluff edge.  The NW quad of TU 1 had similar results, so we put some 50x50s closer to the bluff edge to see if we could find datable material and the edge of the  feature.

Mary Beth Timm and I took naps, so we could stay up late and work on the CS 1 profile.  After dinner, we shot in the upper levels of the CS 1 profile, as well as a polar bear jaw that was exposed in Level 12, so that it would not get stepped on.  Mary Beth & I started excavating CS 1.  We are excavating in natural stratigraphic levels, with any level that is more than 5 cm in depth broken into 5 cm sub-levels.   One gallon from each 5 cm is being kept as a bulk sample, and we are screening the remainder.

Midnight double selfie.  Anne & Mary Beth at work on CS 1.
Midnight double selfie. Anne & Mary Beth at work on CS 1.

We kept going until it go so dark that we really couldn’t see the soil colors, which was around 2 AM.  We had accomplished a fair bit, so we headed off to bed.

Results of our labor.
Results of our labor.
Off to bed.
Off to bed.

The weather is often best at night.  It was really beautiful.  A pair of loons was swimming on the lagoon.

Loons on the lagoon.
Loons on the lagoon.

Today, back in Barrow

Jeff Rasic from the National Park Service, along with Rebekah DeAngelo from Yale and her grad student Brooke Luokkala are in town to do some work, along with Laura Crawford, at the Birnirk National Historic Landmark site, which is on UIC lands (and yes, the actual name of the place is Piġniq, but the site has been written about as Birnirk, so I’m using that name for the site).  Becky and Brooke got in Sunday, after travel from the east coast, and Jeff got in yesterday.  However, the weather was pretty bad, so we postponed real fieldwork until today.

I did see them in the field briefly yesterday.  I had to take a quick trip to the point to check on something for UIC Lands.  On the way back, I met them near the Birnirk site, unfortunately a bit stuck in gravel.  They were successfully extracted and continued their tour of Barrow.

Today we went out to Birnirk.  We looked at all the mounds, Jeff got GPS points on mounds and other reference points, and Laura did quite a bit of coring.  I flagged the perimeter of a “box” that we hope to have some of Craig Tweedie’s crew do detailed DGPS measurements on.  That data can be used to make a contour map of the site, which can then be compared to the map James Ford made in the early 1950s, when he was there with Carter.  It should be interesting to see how much sea level has changed.  It clearly has risen since the earliest houses were occupied, and even since the early aerial photos, but the question is, how much?

Sun on water at Birnirk.
Sun on water at Birnirk.
Part of the crew visiting one of the mounds at Birnirk.
Part of the crew visiting one of the mounds at Birnirk.

Walakpa–July 26, 2015

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.

Loading up to head to Walakpa
Loading up to head to Walakpa

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.

Laura Crawford excavating the SW quadrant of a 1x1 while Mary Beth Timm looks on.
Laura Crawford excavating the SW quadrant of a 1×1 while Mary Beth Timm looks on.  View NE along the coast toward Barrow.

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.