A group of us have been working on an article on climate change and the effects it is having on archaeological sites and the cultural heritage and environmental information they contain. It has finally been published in the journal Antiquity. It is open access, so you can read it here. Local sites, especially Walakpa, make an appearance.
It’s been a while since I’ve managed to post. Lots has been going on, some of it only tangentially related related to archaeology. I started the year with a partial right knee replacement, which led to lots of PT. It turned out I had a loose piece of bone the size of an acorn floating around in my knee, according to my surgeon. Getting that out was a huge improvement, but I had to do a lot of PT to get to a point where I can kneel if necessary for excavation. I’ve got about 0-132° range of motion, so I can kneel now, although it isn’t pleasant to do it for a long time.
A few weeks later, I gave a paper at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage. I was able to talk about Patou the mummified seal and the long-headed bear, to an audience largely composed of oceanographers, marine biologists and the like. It was a great venue to raise awareness of the potential for archaeology to add time depth to research in other disciplines. Unfortunately, I had to spend most of the meeting in my hotel room icing my knee, so I missed a lot of the other papers.
After that, there were the Alaska Anthropological Association meetings in Anchorage, where I organized a session on Accelerating Environmental Change Threats to Alaskan Cultural Heritage: Emerging Challenges and Promising Responses, which involved both papers and an open discussion. I gave a paper in that session and one on Walakpa in a session on Alaskan coastal archaeology.
Next up was the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Washington DC. I took over as chair of the Committee on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR). I gave a paper, in the “Burning Libraries” session sponsored by CCSAR, and was also a discussant for a session on climate and cultural heritage.
Once I get the PowerPoints properly annotated I’ll put them up on-line.
A month ago, I also had retinal and cataract surgery, to resolve a retinal pucker that was blurring and warping the center of my visual field in my right eye. The surgeon says my vision should improve over several months, but it already has improved considerably, since lines now look straight to my right eye! I just had a one month followup visit and the doctor said I now have a foveal pit (which you are supposed to have, but which had been absent pre-surgery). Anyway, I can see much better.
I’ve also been working on a whole bunch of articles, some coauthored with various colleagues and some that I am sole author on. I’ve also been working on several proposals. All that made for more than enough writing, which perhaps explains the silence here.
I’m going to be spending a good part of the summer in the community of Kaktovik monitoring the remediation of the old Air Force hangar, which contained some materials now known to be hazardous. They are being removed as part of the demolition process, and even some of the soil around and under the hangar will be taken away. That’s where I come in, since the hangar was built before most cultural resources protections were in place, and there is a chance that it was built on top of an old site. Most likely there will be nothing archaeological there, but at least if there is we should be able to identify it and deal with it properly.
I had hoped to be able to get back out to Walakpa this summer, but that is not looking too promising. The Kaktovik project falls right into the period when volunteers are available. Plus the schedule is ever-changing as the remediation progresses. It might not have worked anyway, since we had a VERY snowy winter, followed by a chilly spring. As a result, the site is still covered in lots of snow. People who have been down recently say nothing of our excavation can be seen due to deep snow, and they can’t tell if the site was damaged by the big fall storm that resulted in a disaster declaration for Utqiaġvik (Barrow). At the rate things are going, if we were planning a field season, we might wind up stuck in the lab for half of it.
SO late last year I submitted a session proposal on Environmental Change Threats to Alaskan Cultural Heritage. I never heard anything, so I assumed the session wasn’t accepted and what with the holidays & the knee replacement, I didn’t try to solicit papers.
I just learned that the session was accepted, so I am looking for participants. The organizers are being kind enough to give us a couple of extra days past tomorrow’s deadline, but this has a pretty short fuse. The abstract is linked here, but in short, I want to get a conversation started about this issue. In many ways, Alaska has more at risk, sooner, than most of the rest of the US or most of the rest of the world, but we seem to be responding more slowly than places like Scotland or Florida or California. I am hoping for papers that either highlight sites that are being or have been destroyed (you don’t need to have completed excavation & analysis), or showcase specific ways that communities, agencies and/or archaeologists have tried to deal with the issue. We should have time after the papers to actually start a discussion on ways to deal with this problem beyond simply noticing it exists.
Please send abstracts to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and to Andy Tremayne (Andrew_Tremayne@nps.gov).
Contact me (email@example.com) if you have any questions.
Almost the entire crew has made it out to the site. Some of them went down in the morning and set up a lot of things. Half of them came back and took some more people and gear down, and should be heading back soon.
Meanwhile back in town Katrina Watson got the electronics packed up and into the yellow shed, while I got both lab computers back on the network, connected them to the project dropbox and put all the necessary files on them. I reviewed the workflow with Katrina, who will be cycling in and of town, since she’s from here and her family and kids are here for the summer. That means she can provide a bit of continuity for the lab.
I’m going down in the morning. Since the wind is supposed to stay east for a few days, we hope a boat can go down on Monday and bring most of the rest of the heavy stuff (chairs, wood for tables) and more delicate things (cameras, computers, transit) down.
The crew asked for some board games. I posted on Facebook to see if anyone in town had any they weren’t using anymore, and in about 2 minutes, Doe Doe Edwardsen said she had 5 we could use. She even had them delivered! Quyanaqpak Edwardsen family!
One of our international volunteers is coming a bit later. She is currently working somewhere without internet, so she’s been communicating as she can. When I got her itinerary, it became clear she’s going to have to overnight in Anchorage both ways. Back to Facebook, and within a few minutes archaeologist friends Monty Rogers and Katie Meyers had offered to put her up.
Most of the archaeology crew are volunteers, and others are putting in a lot of volunteer time on top of what is paid. Not everyone can take time and go into the field. But we can’t do it without help, and the people like Doe Doe and Monte chipping in make this salvage possible. The true Alaska spirit. We appreciate every bit of help.
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!).
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.
I’m in Vancouver for the Society for American Archaeology’s 82nd Annual Meeting. I’ve got a schedule that is looking pretty insane. I’m giving a paper (tomorrow morning at 8:15 in a session on When Disaster Strike, organized by Heather Thakar), co-chairing a session on Arctic and Subarctic Coasts that Chris Wolff & I put together (tomorrow night at 6PM) and being a discussant along with Alice Kelley in the Burning Libraries session that Tom McGovern organized on Friday afternoon. I’ve also got a committee meeting (CCSAR) after that. Yikes!
I’m also supposed to meet up with several different folks to discuss things we are writing or planning to write, and have a few papers in other sessions that I hope to get to listen to as well. Not to mention, I’ve got friends here that I need to catch up with!
After we got back from Walakpa, we had fieldwork in both Deering and Wainwright, which kept me pretty busy. After that, I had to head to Honolulu for the World Conservation Congress. I had organized a workshop on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past. The timing of the conference was a bit unfortunate, since it overlapped with the World Archaeological Conference in Japan, so the workshop was fairly small. However, the idea was to get some of the people who are active the conservation field to look to the paleoecological data from archaeological sites to help build realistic conservation plans. It was pretty well attended and on top of that, it was live-streamed. The video is now up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.
Honolulu was quite a switch from Alaska, with temperatures in the 80s the whole time. It was beautiful, of course.
On the other hand, it was nice to get home to Alaska. The sunsets are better.
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 have been really busy the last month, trying to finish several reports and papers, plan for the summer, and get ready for a research visit from Tony Krus of SUERC, who was a member of the 2008 Nuvuk field crew before he headed off to grad school. He is now Dr. Krus, and was able to get a grant to come over and work on Bayesian modeling for Barrow area dates, as well as attempting to improve the value for DeltaR (a correction factor used with radiocarbon dates on marine organisms to compensate for the excess older carbon found in the oceans). Between the massive amount of writing I was doing and smashing a finger getting luggage out of the overhead coming back from a trip, I’ve not been blogging.
I hope to catch up with things a bit; there’s been considerable activity on the DONOP/global change threats to cultural and natural heritage front, as well as planning for Walakpa.
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.
I am writing this from Disney World, where I have gone to talk about archaeology, particularly global change threats to the archaeological and paleoecological records. The Society for American Archaeology is having its 81st Annual Meeting here, so I am sitting on the 11th floor of a hotel with a view across a lot of fairly low lying land. It might be high enough to survive several meters of sea level rise, but by 20m, the Orlando airport looks like it gets iffy.
I organized a session on, surprise, global change threats to the archaeological and paleoecological records. It should be good, with people presenting on various aspects of the problem in various part of the world (mostly the North), and some possible solutions being tried as well. The session is Saturday morning, and we’ve got Ben Fitzhugh from UW as discussant, as well as a 15 minute discussion slot. I hope we get good attendance, because this is a critical issue for the future of the discipline (and maybe of people in general). Of course, in their infinite wisdom, the schedulers put us directly opposite the session in honor of Lou Giddings, which deals with coastal Alaska. I actually have to read a paper for someone because the primary author couldn’t travel and the second author is giving a paper in the Giddings session at the same time! Meanwhile, I’d already gone to most of the papers I want to see today by 10:30 AM.
Last night I went to the President’s Forum, which was on Climate Change and Archaeology. Dan Sandweiss had organized a nice set of speakers. One of them was Paul Mayewski,who specializes in ice cores and their analysis. He talked about some new software they have, and then he described a new instrument they have which can sample cores in tiny increments, so they can actually see individual storms thousands of years ago in the right type of core! I introduced myself afterwards, and asked if it might work on ice wedges, following up on a suggestion Vlad Romanovsky had made during ASSW. He thought so, and offered to pay to ship a trial wedge sample to his lab so they could try it. Now I just have to get a good sample. Hopefully it works, but either way it will be interesting.
I’ve got a meeting later today (and another on Saturday for those who can’t make today’s) for folks who want to help with 2016 Walakpa Archaeological Salvage (WASP 2016). Today we meet at 5PM at registration, and anyone who is interested is free to come along. Now I have to run off and find the meeting of the newest SAA committee, Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR).
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.
I spent most of the week in Seattle at the Arctic Observing Open Science meeting. Ben Fitzhugh and I were the point persons for the broader GHEA/IHOPE Emerging Knowledge Hub on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past. This is a long and fancy way of talking about the threats that sea level rise, ice retreat, and permafrost warming pose for archaeological sites in the North. Since this was not an archaeological meeting, most of the folks were either natural scientists or resource managers. We focused on the kind of data that archaeological sites contain that are more than relevant to answering the kinds of questions they are asking, while pointing out that the data is vanishing quickly. The library is on fire!
Ben and I each were the lead on a talk (both massively multi-authored), and we also did a poster, with a similarly large number of contributors. Ben’s talk was in the Marine Ecosystems session. It seemed like it interested the audience, which was primarily oceanographers, and related agency and funding folks.
Mine was in the Human Dimensions session, since the Coastal Processes session we had aimed for apparently didn’t get enough papers. I followed a paper on frozen heritage (primarily ice patches and the preliminary stages of development of site evaluation schema) by Martin Callanan and Shelby Anderson, so the issues were thoroughly driven home. The audience included a number of natural scientists (!), and the discussions included the relevance of archaeology to both other fields of research and to developing toolkits for sustainability.
Our hope is we woke some of our colleagues up to both the potential of archaeological sites to provide data, and the need to find a way to get that data that doesn’t rely entirely on Arctic Social Science funding.
I’ve spent the last month writing almost non-stop. However, none of it was posts on here. We had done a number of CRM projects this summer, and the results had to be written up. Five reports later, that is more or less done, pending a couple of possible new illustrations.
I’m working on a couple of projects for a client who is in the early stages of planning some big infrastructure projects. Instead of waiting until the design and site selection is nearly complete and then considering cultural resources, which often leads to unfortunate surprises, unnecessary expenses and project delays (which are then blamed on archaeology instead of poor project planning), they are actually trying to get a handle on what cultural resources might be located in the possible Area of Potential Effect (APE) and what dealing with them appropriately might entail. This seems like a way better approach and should be a win-win.
This weekend, I’m working on a paper and a poster for the Arctic Observing Open Science Meeting in Seattle in 2 weeks. I had hoped to give the paper in a proposed Coastal session, but apparently there weren’t that many coastal papers, so it looks like I’ll be in the Human Dimensions session. Sort of ironic, given that I’m talking about the paleoenvironmental data that Arctic sites can contain, and how that data is at imminent risk of being destroyed by global change effects, and pretty much taking the human dimension information potential as a given. That’s pretty much been the basic premise of archaeology since the days of CJ Thomsen & JJA Worsaae. I’m spending a part of next week in Anchorage, so I want to get it more or less done before I go.