Checking things off the list

It’s been a busy week getting ready for the field, while still keeping up with the usual flow of work.  Kaare Erickson was up, and went through the field gear.  We went over our lists and are in pretty good shape, although we are going to replace the pump for the water screen since the one we have was anything but trouble free.  Kaare went back to Anchorage with a decent shopping list for food & camp supplies, which he’ll bring/send up next week.

The logistics guys started making sure the tents are all located & in good order.  One of them might try and head down toward Walakpa over the weekend to see how the travel is.  Several days ago someone who travels down that way a lot made it all the way down on an ATV, but the trail wasn’t good and the beach wasn’t clear the whole way.  Plus the streams were hight since there was a west wind.  It changed this afternoon, and the ice has started really breaking out down at Wainwright and maybe in front of town here too, so maybe the beach or even the ocean will be viable soon.  If not, we have requested assistance with transport from NSB Search and Rescue.  I know they get a lot of requests, and of course emergencies take priority, but maybe they’ll be able to help us out.  Fingers crossed we can get down there somehow without a lot of trouble.

I’ve ordered all my personal supplies and am just hoping they get here  before we head to the field.  They are on the way, but the post office is woefully understaffed and seems to be taking days to get non-first class mail and package slips into the boxes.  Not their fault; they work hard, but there aren’t enough workers to get things done in a timely fashion.

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.