I’m in Fairbanks on a combined trip to do some work on the WALRUS project and to give a couple of papers at the Alaska Anthropological Association’s 44th Annual Meeting. I was supposed to come down on Sunday and got to a zooarchaeological workshop on teeth, but alas there was a blizzard in Utqiaġvik, and that didn’t happen.
Last night, there was the opening reception. Jenny Blanchard had organized 2-minute talks, which went well. I did 2 minutes on Walakpa 2016, with a plug for Walakpa 2017. We didn’t get quite as many people as we’d hoped, since we were in a room at the end of the main entry hall, and people had to pass the bar with free beer to get there, so some folks got sidetracked.
The day started early with a paper on Arctic genetics by Jennifer Raff, Justin Tackney, Margarita Rzhetskaya, Geoff Hayes and Dennis O’Rourke, in a session on the Seward Peninsula. All of them except for Margarita had worked on the Nuvuk people as part of a big project, also involving modern that was at least in part done at the request of Utqiaġvik Elders (although they didn’t have to twist Dennis & Geoff’s arms too hard). That project contributed to this paper, and as results continue to come out, it is only getting more interesting. Now that the North Slope is somewhat understood, the Seward Peninsula is the next gap.
The rest of the session focussed largely on the first field season of a project at Cape Espenberg spearheaded by Claire Alix and Owen Mason. They are working on a couple of Birnirk houses, one of which was started by an earlier project there that I spent a couple of weeks on. Very interesting material coming out, and very interesting geomorphological and paleoenvironmental work in progress. Their dates for Birnirk seem to be running a bit later than what we are seeing at Walakpa, up into the range I would call Early Thule at Nuvuk. Of course, we aren’t really talking about two different groups of people here, bur rather a change through time, but it is still interesting. They aren’t nearly done with one of the houses, so it will be interesting to see if they get some earlier dates.
Spent the afternoon polishing my PowerPoints for tomorrow, and now I’m going to try to catch up on sleep.
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.
When we first started archaeological work at Nuvuk, it took a while to find a physical anthropologist who was willing to work with the human remains here in Barrow. Dennis O’ Rourke and his team were willing to do that. Dennis came up to Barrow to speak to the community and the Elders to get their permission. His lab works with genetic studies as well as skeletal material, and he asked if they would be interested in allowing ancient DNA studies on the remains from Nuvuk. The Elders were not only interested in those studies, they suggested that the group undertake a program of modern DNA studies across the North Slope as well. They developed a proposal to do just that, and once it was funded, research got underway, with resident of all seven North Slope communities contributing samples.
The analysis took a while. The team traveled to all the villages to collect the data and returned to present the results to North Slope residents before they were published. Finally, thefirst paper based on the project is published! It is based on looking at mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from your mother. It is present in many more copies than the more familiar (to most people) nuclear DNA, and therefore is often studied in archaeological situations, since all the extra copies make it more likely that some of it will survive.
The short version is that the modern DNA results support the North Slope as the source for the populations that migrated to the eastern Arctic, both the Neoeskimo (ancestors of today’s Inuit/Inupiat people) and the earlier Paleoeskimo. This fits well with the picture from the archaeological data.
Jennifer Raff is senior author, with Margarita Rzhetskaya, Justin Tackney and Geoff Hayes as co-authors.
This paper has gotten picked up by a number of science news sources.
Edit: 4/30/15 Fixed a link that WP had put an ellipsis in the middle of the link. It should work now.
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.
I made it back from DC on Thursday night. Friday was the usual scramble after being out of town. Saturday night was the annual meeting of the Friends of the Library. There was a business meeting, and a potluck dinner. But the highlight of the meeting was the guest speaker, none other than Daniel Inulak Lum, author of the book Nuvuk, the Northernmost: Altered Land, Altered Lives in Barrow, Alaska.
Dan’s family is Nuvukmiut (that’s how it is spelled in Nuvuk dialect–it would be Nuvugmiut in Barrow dialect), originally from Nuvuk. He ran a tour company which took tourists to Nuvuk for much of the time the Nuvuk Archaeological Project was active. While doing that, he wound up taking a whole lot of pictures. He has some really great animal photos, particularly of bears, as well as some really beautiful landscapes shots. His family had to move to Fairbanks for a while for reasons connected to health of a family member, so he isn’t running the tour company any more, but it gave him an opportunity to look through his pictures and he wound up writing a book about Nuvuk and life in Barrow.
When he was running the tour company, Dan gave great tours. He really wanted to pass on accurate information to his clients, and would stop at our excavations and talk to us, so he had the latest news. As he said in his talk, the village is no longer there (due to erosion) so all the Nuvukmiut have to remember it by is information from oral history and archaeology. He’d always check to see if it was OK to bring the tourists over (not if we were excavating human remains), and was always willing to bring things back and forth for us in his van. When the Ipiutak sled runners were uncovered, Dan stood by until we had them out of the ground around 2AM (despite having had tours all day) and then drove them very slowly back to the lab at NARL, making sure that they weren’t bounced around. It took over an hour to go the five or so miles. He also brought pop out for the crew on warm days.
Dan showed slides of many of the photos from the book, and talked about how he came to write a book in the first place. He was very encouraging to audience members about writing and publishing their own books.
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 :-).
I just got an email from the editor of Polar Geography, the journal in which on of the articles I have been working on over the past year or so was recently published as part of a special issue on Arctic Community Engagement during the 2007-2008 International Polar Year. He has been able to arrange for several of the contributions to the issue, including my article, to be available Free Access (no pay wall) until the end of January 2013. My article is here, and the contents of the entire issue, with links to the various articles, is here.
This is a limited time offer, so if you are interested, head over there now. You should be able to download the free articles to read later.
And it’s been great so far! The weather has been gorgeous, not too cold or windy. The light this morning was amazing, golden reflecting off the clouds & snow. Unfortunately no pictures from when it was best because I was trying to get stuff done before I start a series of back-to-back trips, although I did look out the window a lot when I was making phone calls. I did get some a bit later, and it is still pretty great.
Last year I got to finish unwrapping the child on my birthday. This year was not nearly as exciting, but then archaeology really isn’t like Indiana Jones… much. I finished and sent the quarterly report to the client on our activities supporting the ARM site. It is good to look back and see what has been done, and I’m using a format that asks for lessons learned, so it forces one to think and track, which is not a bad thing and easy to skip when things get busy.
I made the final corrections on the encyclopedia entry on frozen sites, and am just waiting for one image to upload it to the publisher. The Point Hope chapter is being read (quickly, I hope) by a couple of friends, and then will get sent to the editors for review. I still need to recalibrate C14 dates for Northern Archaic and Palearctic, but that can get added to the final.
One of the things I’m involved in as part of the GHEA/Long-Term Sustainability RCN is a workshop on the Kurils & Aleutian Islands. I’m a participant, not a discussant, which is a bit odd since I’ve never stepped foot in either one of them, or even worked on a collection from either area. The workshop involves putting up some articles and a conference paper ahead of time, and some on-line discussion, in hopes that we will all be up to speed by the time we get to Seattle, and can hit the ground running. I got put in a group looking at Ecological Dynamics and Paleoecological Histories, which is very cool. I definitely have some catching up in the literature to do here, so I spent a chunk of the afternoon downloading the various papers & such folks in my group (and others) had put up. I have put them into my Dropbox and synced my iPad, so I can read them while traveling. It turns out I am not the only one who doesn’t have a conference paper done, and some of those that are there are not that formal :-).
I also need to find a way to get a paper I wrote on bearded seals in Greenland up. I don’t have an electronic copy, but it seems pertinent. One topic that seems to be coming up is possible sea ice extension into the region and folks seem to be making a few unwarranted assumptions about how species that are not now present in the area behave. That would of course skew any climatic interpretations one might be trying to derive from faunal data. I think the bearded seal paper covers that and provides a good example of some issues that are counter-intuitive.
And Barrow caught their final whale of the 2012 season! Hey hey hey Anagi Crew!
Shortly after I got home there was a know at the door & flowers & balloons arrived! That was quite the surprise, since Glenn had already bought me a huge arrangement of flowers (and a Kindle Paperwhite, which is supposedly in transit). I unwrapped them, and they turned out to be from the entire staff at UICS (arranged in secret by Tammy). The flower arrangement is gargantuan!
I’m almost done with the last of the papers I (over)committed to. I am waiting for one reference and the encyclopedia entry on frozen sites will be done. I’ve got a few more references to add and a few more C14 dates to calibrate and the chapter on North Slope archaeology for a Point Hope bioarcheology volume will be ready to go off for review. I have a general NS archeology document that I wrote and update on a regular basis that I use when people ask for background. Because the available information about the published C14 dates from some of the earlier sites is not really sufficient to calibrate them (and the archaeologists haven’t published calibrated dates) I had been using BP (before present–present being 1950) dates in this, but decided that I needed to bite the bullet and get some calibrated dates. Some more recent work has resulted in calibrated dates being available, so I can at least give date ranges for the various cultures in cal years, which should be an improvement.
I started to work on the two NSF proposals that are up next. I am working on both a RAPID and a regular proposal for work on the Ipiutak component at Nuvuk. Unfortunately the NSF Fastlane web site wouldn’t let me see any of the PDFs that it converts things to. I’ll have to take this up with their tech support in the morning.
On Friday afternoon we headed to Point Barrow. I’d gotten KTUU set up with Aarigaa Tours, who picked them up in town at Top of the World Hotel, and then picked me up at my house at NARL on the way out to the point. I’d run home from work to change into my warm gear. A good thing, too, as will become clear later.
We’d been having a pretty strong blow from the NNW, and waves had actually been coming up onto the road. The road to the point had actually been closed right by Piġniq (Birnirk), because the waves had been breaking over the road and had done some significant damage. We were in a van equipped for off-road travel, so we were OK, but we had to detour through the cabin area. Once past there, the road was still in pretty good shape, but we could see water seeping in under the gravel berm. Once we got out a bit farther we could see a number of vessels & barges that had come into Elson Lagoon to anchor up and wait out the rough weather.
Once we got to Nuvuk and got a look at the site, it was a bit depressing. However, it made a perfect example of coastal erosion in action, and made it really easy to illustrate how information about the past, which could have application to understanding what directions to take to have a sustainable future, is being lost. At least 10 feet (3 m) of the site had been lost to the ocean since couple weeks ago. The gravel slump that had been protecting the face was gone, and thawing permafrost was sticking out and undercut.
And in that permafrost was the same strandline debris that has proven to be a marker for the Ipiutak occupation. There was a large patch of what looked like fur or peat (which often seems to be found on the floors of Ipiutak structures) and an area where the wood seemed to be far more aligned and level than is normal for a strandline, but would be quite typical for an Ipiutak floor. I tried to get decent pictures, but in the end decided I needed to try to get a sample. I tried walking down on the permafrost, but it was angled, and I couldn’t get close enough without falling off. There were big waves, and the bluff was undercut. If a really big one came at the wrong time, it could wash me off my feet.
Finally, I asked Ricky Bodfish, who was driving the tour van & giving the tour except for the archaeology part, if they had a rope. He did, so he dangled it down the bluff by me, we waited until right after big waves when it looked like a lull and I went down to check it out and try to get close-ups and a sample.
The patch of material turned out to be peat, which I was able to sample, and will send out for dating. My camera got some spray on it, but there was not way or time to clean the lens, so I just kept shooting. Unfortunately a pretty big wave came and dumped gravel on the surfaces just before I got a shot off of the wood, (I managed to turn so I caught it on the side where KTUU’s microphone pack wasn’t) and I could hear the next one was even louder. I ran, and made it into an area above the waves before the big one broke.
Fortunately, nothing soaked through the Carhartts so I just took them off for the rest of the trip.
We had been monitoring the tower we’d put out in June, and just a few days earlier had thought it would be fine. However, the storm had taken out a lot of the bluff, and I wound up calling & texting the guys who work on the ARM project for UICS. They wound up going out later that evening and hauling the whole thing about 50 feet (15m) farther back from the edge. Just in time, since by the time they got out there, they figured it was 2-3 feet (< 1m) from the edge.
After that, the KTUU fellow wanted to see the farthest North point and go to the bone pile to see if there were any bears. We set off, and almost immediately had to detour. The trail we normally use to get to the site, which is always dry, had water all over it from the storm surge.
We made it to the farthest North point, which was a bit less far North than previously. The storm surge had made it to the tip of one of the whale jawbones, and about 10 feet was missing here too. However, we did get some nice light, and the KTUU guys got busy.
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’ve been busily writing away at a couple of overdue papers, and the students have been going great guns processing and cataloging artifacts in the lab. While all this work is important, it doesn’t make for the most exciting blog posts, so I’ve been focusing on the papers.
Last week I wound up doing a couple of outreach events. The first was a public talk at the Murie Science and Learning Center at Denali National Park. Since I don’t live anywhere near Denali NP, this was no small undertaking. I flew to Anchorage, rented a car and went to the Apple store to pick up some video adapters for my Mac Air on Sunday, picked up my daughter Justine on Monday morning, and we made some sandwiches and set out. It is a 240 mile (more or less) north out of Anchorage, up the Parks Highway to the Park and the MSLC. I was speaking at 7 PM, but wanted to get there a bit early to make sure I found the place and my computer worked with their projector & so forth.
We had a pretty nice drive. The weather was sunny, but since I was driving north that was no problem. The drive is beautiful, although there were clouds around Denali (the mountain some call Mt. McKinley) so it wasn’t out.We stopped at a couple of viewing areas, but no luck. There are actually mountains between Denali and the Parks Highway, but Denali is so big it would have been visible anyway except for the clouds.
We made good time to Denali. It is very beautiful country, to my way of thinking, and gets prettier as you climb away from sea level and taiga forests with tundra on the mountains. It took a bit of doing to find the MSLC, but we succeeded.
I am participating in the Day of Archaeology 2012. The Day of Archaeology consists of blog posts from people who are doing archaeology. The idea is that the posts somehow describe what was happening on July 29, and that together they give a world-wide snapshot of archaeology. Given that people may be in the field or otherwise occupied, new posts can be added until July 9. I got my post about the Nuvuk Archaeology Project up late last night. There were 28 pages and counting when it went up.
So go check it out, and while you are there, check out some of the other posts. There is something for everyone!
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.