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.