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 :-).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. You can use the contact form below for questions.
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.
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ve added a couple of new student hire for the summer, but still have room for one or two more, so if you are interested, get in touch ASAP!
With the larger crew, we have been working on getting some of the Pingusugruk collection sorted and in proper archival boxes. We need to move the container it was in, so we’d have to move the boxes anyway, and this way we can not only record which bag is in which numbered box, but also sort the “Tamis” bags, which are the 25% random sample drawn at time of excavation from the rest, to make future analysis easier, and find the rest of the bags from the column sample that Rebecca Connor & Angelique Neffe started on, so I can finish that analysis. Most of this work is being done by our adult volunteers.
The students worked on this a little, mostly to get it set up so the volunteers can work easily, and also to get more room on the lab benches, so that they can work on the Nuvuk materials with no chance of things getting mixed up. In the process, we had a number of animal bones that were collected on the beach or tundra and donated to us. Some of them have been labeled as to species and element, and are being used to help with the preliminary sort and cataloging of the materials from Nuvuk Locus 6 midden.
There were a few things which were sort of superfluous, like a caribou skull. The students really wanted to use it as a decoration, so with a little glue to keep the teeth in, it was suspended outside the door (using peel-off hangers of course to avoid damaging the wall.
Apparently, they found something else they felt was not necessary to include in the comparative collection, either because we haven’t found any (we haven’t) or because they figure everyone already knows what it is. The next day, this is what the door looked like.
The new addition is a walrus baculum, often known as an oosik. I doubt some of the visiting scientists know what they are looking at :-).
The important but not overly exciting routine of proposal preparation & writing on my part, and cataloging on Coby’s part was broken on Friday. KTUU TV, the Anchorage NBS affiliate, sent a crew to Barrow for a few days. They were covering the football team, and wanted to get some practice footage, but that left them with lots of free time, so they had to get as many other stories as possible, and they decided to go for science stories.
I know they did an interview with George Divoky, who had just made it in off Cooper Island (the weather has been really awful–not boating weather at all). They also shot some footage about Nuvuk and coastal erosion.
First they stopped into my lab for an hour or so. They shot a fair bit of footage of Coby Hatcher (who is going to HS on-line and therefore was working in the lab when they were there) doing various things one does in an archaeology lab, including re-bagging cataloged artifacts and entering storage locations for artifacts in the catalog database so they can be found again.
With a big collection, this is pretty important, since otherwise it can be very hard to retrieve things. It actually came up because I was trying to find the bird bone from the Ipiutaq levels that had been used to make needle blanks. A number of folks think it looks like it is an albatross bone, which is interesting if true, since there aren’t many albatross around here. One of them is involved in a project which is doing ancient DNA work, and offered to run some of this bone to see if it really is albatross. There was no storage location in the catalog, so we had to look a bit. We found it and I’ll mail it out, and Coby put updates in the catalog.
Then they shot some footage of me showing some of the artifacts, and some of me doing an interview about the project and what one can learn through archaeology. That lead into what gets lots when sites are lost to coastal erosion and/or warming and permafrost thawing.
After that, they headed off to do something else. In the late afternoon, we headed out to Point Barrow for them to get some shots of the site and, as it turned out, coastal erosion in action. That’s a story in itself, so that will be the next post.
I got out to Nuvuk today for the first time today. The ARM project that we support want to put a flux tower at the Point to measure flux off the ocean during the open water season. The thing is that the ideal spot for the tower is on the ridge where the Nuvuk site is.
In the past, other folks wanted to put flux towers there, but there simply wasn’t room for a tower in an area where we had already tested and recovered all the burials, and we didn’t want to chance disturbance to a burial. Now we’ve gotten a good way ahead of the erosion, so it seemed that it might be possible. However, I didn’t want the tower to be on top of the possible Ipiutaq structures, just in case funding for their excavation is available. Since the tower installation involved moving a little gravel, it was important for me to be there just in case something showed up.
It took a while to get out there, since the ARM Kubota is on tracks and can only go about 15 miles an hour. We quickly got a spot picked for the tower. After that, I spent most of my time looking around for bears while the others started putting the tower together. I spotted 2, a mom and a cub, who were heading to the bone pile.
We decided to use sandbags for the guy-wires and then added some more on top the tracks on the base plate. To minimize disturbance to the site, we decided fill the “sand”bags with beach gravel, and bring them up with a four-wheeler.
After the tower was assembled and the instruments were on, the instruments needed to be wired up. That took a while, but I had to sick around since one of them needed to look down are gravel, so we needed to cover the plywood base plate, which meant more digging.
That gave me time to check out the area where we salvaged the Ipiutak structure last fall. Good thing we did that last fall, because that area is gone. There is a big notch in the bluff there, and that’s it. It would have been a pity to lose that, because we found some very interesting things in the field and in the lab.
While I was getting to play, the crew was working away in the lab. They have finished floating and sorting the materials from the fall salvage, and are moving on. Over the winter, we’ve had several sets of visitors on short notice, which required some materials to be cleaned off benches fairly quickly. As a result, there were a lot of miscellaneous boxes around the lab. The crew has reorganized several cabinets and gotten most of the boxes emptied. There is plenty of bench space, so we are moving on to cataloging and marking.
Wednesday was a fun and productive day. There is a group of middle-school students from a Fairbanks charter school who are in Barrow for about a week on a class trip. (I think the best we got in middle school was a one (loooong) day bus trip to New York City). They are going to all sorts of places in the community, including my lab & the ARM site. They came over to the BARC, and I gave them an archaeological tour of Barrow via PowerPoint, since some of the sites are hard to get to in the winter and don’t look like much right now if you do get there. I also spent a bit of time on the various ways sites are endangered in Alaska (erosion, permafrost melting, etc.) and why that matters. They asked a lot of good questions. Some of them (maybe all) have been helping in the archaeological collections at the UAF Museum of the North, so they had a bit of background.
After that, we split them into two groups. Half of them went out to the ARM site, where Mark Ivey of Sandia National Labs & Jimmy & Josh Ivanoff gave them a tour, while the other half came to the lab, and then the groups switched. Since we’re working on weekends, there are samples in various stages of processing, so I was able to show them the process we are using on the Ipiutak floor samples from this fall. Then we looked at the Ipiutak sled runners, which I’d shown in situ (in place in the ground) in the PowerPoint. After that, we looked at the items from the Nuvuk-01 hunter’s tool kit. As usual, the little owl fastener was the star :-).
In the afternoon, I got two contract reports in for last year, and moved on to calibrating radiocarbon dates for the big project I’ve been doing. I’m using CALIB, since it reportedly may be a bit more accurate, but it’s output format means that you can’t just cut and paste columns. The only way to keep track was to do about 30 at a time. I got several hundred done, and finally gave up when it simply kept ignoring two dates. I couldn’t see any problem with the input formating, but it just didn’t make any output. Oh well, there is tomorrow.
Actually, there wasn’t, since I was home with a fever and sore throat. We have a half-day holiday for Barrow employees for Piuraagiaqta (Spring Festival), which starts today and runs all weekend. I’m actually taking the time off, since the Internet at the office is sketchy at the moment. There is a switchover from one connection to the earth station to another in progress, and it is not going as well as hoped.