Back from the field

We got into town late last Thursday.  The field season went pretty well, after a slow start due to ice preventing us from getting out.  We lost a few days to major storms, but we had a great crew and accomplished a lot.

Breaking camp was a bit of a challenge, since we were down to seven people in the field. The big boat was scheduled to arrive at 9AM, so we broke everything down the day before except for the mess tent and the latrine, plus our sleeping tents.  Then we got up at 6 AM and took down all the sleeping tents, and started ferrying gear to the beach with the ATV & trailer.

It turned out the boat ramp wasn’t in the water back in town, so the boat didn’t make it until nearly 1PM, after having to launch into Elson Lagoon and go around Point Barrow.  It was a cold morning, and once we had stuff packed, it was hard to stay warm, especially since we’d dressed for hard work and packed up everything else.  At one point, several of the crew were napping in a ditch.

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Crew members napping.

The boat had to make two trips, so we sent 3 people up with the first load, and then 3 more with the second.  I drove the ATV & Tubby back to town, so I was the last one in.  I left before the boat, but Doctor Island is pretty fast, and I was riding into a north wind and kept meeting people and stopping to chat, so they beat me home.

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Loading the boat.  Photo courtesy of Zac Peterson.
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Heading home.  Photo courtesy of Zac Peterson.

Our first day back was the last day of the UIC Science Fair, and the archaeology lab was featured tour.  Also I had a presentation scheduled.  Everyone was really tired, but we managed to pull things together for a good tour, and in fact had visitors well past the scheduled end of tours.  The presentation was well attended.

As I write this, another early storm with winds from the West is brewing, with predictions of coastal erosion.

 

 

All ready

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.

 

Sorting things

Two more crew members are here, and we’ve been doing lots of sorting.  Sorting field equipment, sorting some samples from last year, sorting food.  We’ve got one or two more days of sorting and putting away samples, and then we can focus on packing field gear.

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Katrina and Heather leaning up after the first round of sorting.
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Adriana and Heather getting the fine excavation kits straightened out.
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Katie looking for something in the database.
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Sorted excavation equipment.

Kaare is shopping for the project in Anchorage, but he can’t make it up until after the 4th of July, which is probably about when the freight will get here, so we may be rushing around cooking after that.

#Arctic #Arctic #climate_heritage

People are arriving!

The first of the crew members have arrived.  The field school starts tomorrow morning.  We’re spending the first week in town so we can go over some things inside where it is warm  not windy, and the students can experience Nalukataq and the 4th of July games.  As it turns out, one of them is from Barrow, so it’s not a new experience, but she’ll get to hang out with her family and do field school, so that’s a good thing.

The other part of this is that I think it is important for students to understand what goes into the logistics of a project, so they will get to help with and learn about that aspect of archaeology.  Better than trying to learn on the fly when they are in charge, like some of my friends have had to do!

I spent the day getting the field forms updated and finalized, so we can start printing them on waterproof paper tomorrow.  Now to update the lab forms and get the workflow established so we can hand off between crew members as they come and go.  Several of them are returners, so they know the routine, but it is always a good thing to have documented.

Level_unit form 2017

I added the bit about not writing on the back of the form after having to flip dozens of forms over to scan both sides.  Not a good use of time.

Talking with Teachers

I had a fun morning talking to about 40 elementary school teachers from the North Slope Borough School District.  They were having an in-service.  The original plan was to take them out to Walakpa by boat, but the weather this weekend features snow, a bit of rain and winds up to 30 mph.  So–not boating weather.

Since we knew this a couple of days ago, we were able to get the lab ready for visitors.  We (Ashtyn & I) put out several drawers with some of the more interesting artifacts from Walakpa and Nuvuk.  I put together a slide show to give them an idea about the project, which we showed before they visit d the lab.  I also talked a bit about the history of science in Barrow, and the building of the BARC.

A number of the teachers are interested in bringing their classes out to the lab.  A few of them are also interesting in volunteering, either in the lab or as photographers.  And I think I probably sold a bunch of the Barrow Science hoodies, given how many people asked how they could buy one :-).

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.

Boxes and Boxes

Tony and I spent the day going through boxes containing animal bones from the 1990s excavations at Pingusugruk.  Tony made a list of boxes that contained the sample bags we wanted, which we then had to find in the warehouse.

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There were over 300 boxes from that site, so it was a long day.  We didn’t have to open all the boxes, thank goodness, but we had to move most of them.  I suspect I’ll be sore tomorrow.  Not really in full fieldwork shape yet, unfortunately.

Tomorrow, we’ll do a bit of modeling, before Tony leaves on the evening plane.

In Fairbanks, looking for walrus

After a rather long, drawn-out saga, everything is in place and I can draw on funds so I can work on the WALRUS project.  The delays have been really frustrating for everyone involved.   Once I get the interns on board in Barrow, we’ll get back to going through the faunal material we have there for walrus samples.

We are trying to get samples from a wide range of sites.  Since the sampling is destructive, we don’t want to use artifacts if that can be avoided.  Ideally we want  unmodified walrus parts, bone or tooth, or if we can’t get enough of them, manufacturing discards.  As a fallback, we may wind up sampling things like shovels or bola weights, assuming we can get the museum’s permission, since they are common types of artifacts, and not diagnostic (or something that is likely to be displayed).  We currently can’t use tusk parts, since there have been no modern studies to compare their chemistry to that of bones and teeth, so interpretation of results would be problematic. (If any carvers would be able to contribute some scraps from tusks along with a sample of bone and/or a tooth from the same animal, it would be a really big help).  We are also looking for caribou or some terrestrial plant material from the same place in the site for radiocarbon dating, since marine mammals incorporate old carbon and the dates are hard to interpret.

More recent archaeological projects tend to have excavated faunal material in the same way as everything else, with decent stratigraphic control, and also tend to have brought it back from the field.  However, in the early days, that was not often  the case.  Even if material was brought back, it often wasn’t cataloged in any detail, so reports are almost no help in figuring out if there is any walrus to be had in archaeological collections.  A bit of walrus shows up in catalogs, but most of it is in the form of artifacts.  A lot of walrus artifacts (particularly bone, since ivory was clearly an item of trade) suggests that the inhabitants of a site were hunting walrus, so the potential for walrus parts to exist in the collection is there.

Many of the classic sites on the coast of  Alaska have strong indications that walrus were being caught by the people who lived there, but they were excavated decades ago, and finding suitable samples in the collections was not something that could just be done by getting someone to pull a particular bag or catalog number.  It pretty much requires looking through mixed lots of artifacts and bags of bones.  So I’m in Fairbanks doing just that.

We are mostly working in the museum, but it is closed on the weekend, so we got  permission to bring a collection of faunal material to the PI (Nicole Misarti)’s lab, and we went through it yesterday.  It took some doing, but we got though it, and should have plenty of samples.  It was an adventure.  We had 24 boxes, most of them full of bags like this:

Nicole holds a bag from which the bones on the tray burst forth when she took it out of the outer bag.
Nicole holds a bag from which the bones on the tray burst forth (like a scene from Alien) when she took it out of the outer bag.  Sadly, these were almost all ringed seal parts.  Other bags from that box are on the right.

Not all of the bags were correctly labeled, or at least the labels often didn’t specify species, just element, so we had to look.

We found a few other interesting things in the process, including this really large fish bone from Point Hope.

Really big fish bone.
Really big fish bone.
The other side of the really big fish bone.
The other side of the really big fish bone.

I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of cod (Gadid) but exactly what sort?  It’s really big.  If I have time, I’ll talk to the curator of fish, but the mission is walrus samples at the moment.

A day in the lab

I spent much of Friday in the lab, selecting items from Walakpa to send off for radiocarbon dating.  We had a reasonable set of samples from 2013 and funds to run the dates, but given that that entire area is gone, I wanted to get some idea of how old some of what was exposed this fall is.  That meant I had to make some choices about what got sent and what didn’t.

We had managed to collect several caribou bones, but most of them were ex situ (not in their original location).  There are also several samples of plant material from known locations which are much more likely to be informative.  Everything had been frozen as soon as it came in from the field due to the aggressive mold we had had to deal with last year.  For carbon dating, the lab needs to have a certain minimum weight to work with (varies by each type of material), which means that the samples had to be thawed enough to allow them to be split, cleaned, and dried enough to make sure that the weights were accurate.

Beta Analytic has got a slick new sample submission interface that I had never used before.  It has a few quirks, which meant that I had to quadruple check the submissions to fix things.  I got better at it, so .  In the end, it prints out a barcoded form that you put in the package with the samples.

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By the time I finished, it was too late to mail the samples on Friday.  The US Post Office in Barrow doesn’t have any counter service on Saturdays, so they’ll get mailed on Monday.

As a result, I didn’t get to see much of the sun that day.  It is almost time for it to go down for the winter, and we’ve had so much cloudy weather this year, it was a pity to miss a rare sunny day.  By the time I had finished, the sun was down, and this was the view from the BARC.

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UnPhotoshopped iPhone picture of the sunset

 

A quick recap

This summer was unexpectedly quite on the archaeology front.  The non-profit through which my grants were run had some problems, which meant that work had to stop and I had to move my grants.  This turned into a rather long drawn-out process, with many fits and starts.  In the end, I was appointed as a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College and the three grants on which I am PI (Principal Investigator) were moved.  We are still finalizing moving the purchase orders to allow for work to proceed on the WALRUS grant, but hope to get it done this coming week.

We had hoped to be doing some work at Walakpa, which had survived the winter unscathed, but despite the North Slope Borough asking for UIC Science’s Certificate of Insurance, which usually happens when a contract is about to be awarded (good thing, the insurance company charges to issue those things), nothing was issued.  Then came the first week in September.

I was in Point Hope monitoring the drilling of a geotechnical test hole for a possible fiber project.  It took an extra day to get there from Kotzebue, because the weather was so stormy that planes couldn’t land in Point Hope.  We didn’t find anything during the drilling, but the extra day gave me a chance to visit with Molly Odell and some other colleagues who had been working in Kotzebue and look at some of what they had recovered during their field season.  That was fun, but unfortunately the same storm really did some damage at Walakpa.

The site was undermined by high surf.  Mark Ahsoak Jr. kept me posted (Taikuu Mark) via Facebook message, and it was pretty depressing.   In the end, the house we were working on last year seem to have been entirely obliterated.  A big slump block broke off and is resting on the beach.

Slump block on the right, intact strata on the left. Notice the Visqueen on both sides.

I went down with a crew from UIC Science Logistics to evaluate it.  We found that there had been a lot more Visqueen under the surface than we had thought.   The stratigraphy is very complex, with a very large feature containing solidified marine mammal oil, some artifacts and what appears to be maqtaq at the landward edge of the slump block.

Marine mammal oil feature.
Marine mammal oil feature.

Unfortunately, the marine mammal oil feature is starting to break loose from the  main slump block and tip back into the crack between the block and the intact site.  We put driftwood props under it, and then stopped all work under the overhang, since it could easily kill someone.

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Side view of overhanging block of marine mammal oil. Note crack on the left.

We didn’t find any loose artifacts, although there were a number of visible artifacts that were frozen in.   Some folks had been collecting them and turning them in, which is great.  I’d really like to thank everyone who has been helping in this way.  Unfortunately, some other people have just been collecting them.  Several of the artifacts that we saw the first day were gone by the time we returned.

After we headed home, the next day was spent in getting a crew and material to do some stabilization.  Several of the Barrow-based UIC subsidiaries pitched in with materials, crew and transport, and we went back to put some temporary protection on the site.  We were able to cover almost all the eroding surfaces with  geotextile fabric , secured with some cutdown metal support fasteners and sandbags.

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Panorama of the site after the initial covering.

We made another trip down with the theodolite to map the new boundaries of the site.  This let us document the loss of over 33 feet (11+ m) in that storm alone.  We also put a lot more sandbags on the site, and so far it has resisted the weather.

Help wanted!

Crew members wanted

Nuvuk Archaeology Project

Walakpa Archaeological Salvage Project

WALRUS – Walrus Adaptability and Long-term Responses; Using multi-proxy data to project Sustainability

——————-

We are seeking students (high school or college) to work in the archaeological laboratory on artifacts as part of several NSF-funded research projects. The lab crew will be working on processing artifacts excavated at Nuvuk, Walakpa and other North Slope sites.

This will involve cleaning (gently), sorting, marking, cataloging and preparing some items for transfer to a long-term repository. We will also be going through and sorting some frozen organic samples from an earlier project in Barrow that have been sent back from New York State.

We also will be attempting to find walrus bones in these collections for analysis at UAF. There is a possibility for student travel in connection with that project.

You do not need any prior experience; we can train you. Many archaeology crew members start as high school students. Once you learn how to do the work, scheduling can be very flexible. If you have skills in drawing, photography, or data entry, we can really use your help as well! Starting wages will depend on experience and qualifications.

To apply, send a resume and cover letter to Anne Jensen, anne.jensen@uicscience.org as soon as possible.  You can use the contact form below for questions.

Ramping up in the lab

I have gotten far enough along in getting over the back surgery that I finally have enough energy to do things that are not strictly essential for work or staying fed.  So we are ramping things up in the lab.

We are looking for a few more people to work in the lab here in Barrow, joining the current crew on weekdays or weekends.  Due to the source of funding, these folks will need to be high school or college students.  We are also looking for volunteers.  I will post the announcements on here a static page and also as posts.

We aren’t sure yet if we will have funds available to do fieldwork this summer, but we are hopeful.  If we do get into the field this summer, people who have lab experience will have priority for fieldwork jobs.

If you are interested, please contact me ASAP.  Please pass this on to anyone you know who might be interested.

 

 

The smell of old seal oil in the afternoon…

… can be a bit overpowering.  I chose one of the bags of frozen samples from Utiqiaġvik to thaw out for the lab tour after the Saturday Schoolyard talk.

The talk went well, with a very large turn out.  Afterwards, a fair number of them came by the lab for a tour.  And then I opened the bag.  It was from Mound 8, and was described as containing fish bones and perhaps artifacts embedded in seal oil.

Provenience tag from the bag.
Provenience tag from the bag.

It was rather smelly to say the least.  The oil made up most of the matrix, with a consistency like cold greasy peanut butter.  Not only that, the most obvious contents were wood chips and hair, which weren’t too exciting.  Most folks didn’t feel like hanging around too long.  Since it was my birthday & there was a party at my house, I didn’t finish the bag.

Today I got back to work on it for an hour or so.  It still smelled, I guess, but I think the smell of old seal oil is sort of nice.  It’s the smell of archaeological sites, and they are places I like to be.  The couple of extra days had let the oil warm up and it was a little easier to work with.

Contents of the bag.
Contents of the bag.

I found a number of interesting things, including a fish vertebra, some fish scales, a number of hairs, some bone fragments, and of course, wood chips.  When I was labeling the bags, I realized it had been excavated by none other than Kevin Smith, now at the Haffenreffer, exactly 32 years and 3 months ago.

Fish vertebra
Fish vertebra
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Grass?
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Bone fragments

Tomorrow I’ll do some more.

A day of taking pictures

This Saturday, I’m giving a Saturday Schoolyard talk about the Walakpa salvage project.  That means I need a lot of pictures.  So I spent the last couple of days in the lab taking pictures of the artifacts from we recovered.

Just a few of the results:

Rim sherd
Rim sherd
Fragments of arrowheads.
Fragments of arrowheads.
Very thin ivory harpoon head.  Note the shadow of the finger showing through the artifact.
Very thin ivory harpoon head. Note the shadow of the finger showing through the artifact.

Some media attention, and why it can be a double-deged sword

For some reason, this year there has been quite a bit of media interest in Barrow and archaeology.  To begin with, there were several film crews in Barrow while we were working at Walakpa, two of which actually came out to the site and filmed as well as filming in the lab.  Only one of them has anything out yet.  PBS filmed for several both in the field and in the lab, and a little bit of it made it into this piece,  and a shot in the slideshow that they put up on the web in conjunction with the series on sea ice change. It was a very buggy day in the field, and it was quite the challenge not to be swatting mosquitoes all the time.

Oh, and the buoy experiment that Ignatius Rigor is working on in the film clip is supported by UIC Science staff (not that they have to do much, the idea is to see how the buoys do with no servicing). Their data can be compared to data from ARM’s established serviced meteorological instruments.   That way, when scientists get buoy data, they have an idea how reliable it is, and if there are any special considerations in interpretation (becoming uncalibrated over time, etc.)

We’ve also gotten interest from the press. Abra Stolte-Patkotak, one of our volunteers writes for the Arctic Sounder, and did a piece on the Walakpa excavations, which is on-line here.  For some reason, they don’t have the picture that was published up on-line, but I will ask Abra if I can put it up here & add it if so.

I am currently working with a free-lancer who has interviewed me and asked me to fact check the article before he goes further.  A very good idea, as many years ago I was interviewed by a reporter who mis-heard my answer to the question of how far back in time human occupation of the Barrow area was archaeologically demonstrated to extend.  I said “maybe 4 to 5 thousand years” which was what people thought reasonable for Denbigh at the time.  He refused fact-checking help, and published an article in which I was directly quoted as saying “45,000 years”.  Although Glenn & I could never get the Arctic Sounder to mail our subscription to us in Pennsylvania, apparently Tiger Burch could.  I got a very puzzled email from him after the article came out, in which I believe he was politely trying to ask me if I’d lost my mind.  Fortunately, he had enough experience with the press that he believed the explanation.

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