Last week I went to the Alaska Marine Science Symposium 2017 meetings in Anchorage. I’ve never gone to those meetings before, but we were presenting two posters on finds from Walakpa.
One was on the results of the necropsy of a mummified seal found in a 1944 ice cellar. I was excited about it because it was pre-bomb with a pretty tight date and therefore helpful for refining radiocarbon correction factors. It turns out to be the first mummified seal reported from anywhere outside the Dry Valleys of Antarctica! Who knew?
The second was presenting some preliminary results of investigations on a polar bear skull which eroded from Walakpa, and was recovered and turned in by Kenneth Brower. It turned out to be somewhat unusual in shape, as well as being really big (maybe the 4th largest ever measured). That bear must have been HUGE!
I spent most of the day talking about climate change threats to cultural heritage and archaeological resources. I started off at a fairly conventional session about archaeology at various sites in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, which had a number of interesting papers, many based on analysis of well-preserved faunal remains.
I then went on to the first formal meeting of the newest SAA committee, on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Response (CCSAR). Dan Sandweiss, who is the SAA board liaison, as well as being one of the earlier people to call attention to the importance of archaeological sites as archives of paleoenvironmental data, as well as the obvious archaeological data. It seems to be a really great group of people,working in a lot of different places, all of which are having some climate issues. Most of them are interested not only in saving data, but in what that data can tell us about past climates, and about how people adapted to changes in them. As one person said, “We really don’t have much data about the Archaic, the last time people lived sustainably in North America.” This may be a bit of an exaggeration, especially for Alaska, but basically the idea is correct.
After that, I had to go to an appointment in the book room. We will see what comes of that in due time.
Then there was another interesting session on Heritage Tools for Tackling Climate Change. This included a variety of talks on ways people are dealing with the effects of climate change. One had to do with melting ice patches in Glacier National Park, and how the Park Service had dealt with material coming out, in consultation with the local Native American community, as well as studies they were doing so they could be proactive. Another paper included information on the California Cultural Resource Management (CRM) community’s efforts to get public lands on the coast surveyed completely.
There was some discussion about whether the US ban on revealing any site location data helps or hurts. Most other countries will reveal that data, although they may wait until very valuable materials have been properly excavated in some cases. They have found that it decreases looting, if anything. It also helps people avoid inadvertent damage that happens when people don’t know a site is there, and lets them report on changes in site conditions. So instead of a few archaeologists, lots of people can keep an eye on the sites. Here they can’t do that. I suspect, as do many others, that the people who are serious looters already know where the sites are, and have a pretty good idea where to prospect for more. On the other hand, when the US government shut down for a couple of weeks in 2013, looting exploded in the National Parks.
Tomorrow morning the session I organized on Global Change Threats to the Archaeological and Paleoecological Record (not snappy, but lots of buzzwords for search engines) happens.
I spent most of the week in Seattle at the Arctic Observing Open Science meeting. Ben Fitzhugh and I were the point persons for the broader GHEA/IHOPE Emerging Knowledge Hub on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past. This is a long and fancy way of talking about the threats that sea level rise, ice retreat, and permafrost warming pose for archaeological sites in the North. Since this was not an archaeological meeting, most of the folks were either natural scientists or resource managers. We focused on the kind of data that archaeological sites contain that are more than relevant to answering the kinds of questions they are asking, while pointing out that the data is vanishing quickly. The library is on fire!
Ben and I each were the lead on a talk (both massively multi-authored), and we also did a poster, with a similarly large number of contributors. Ben’s talk was in the Marine Ecosystems session. It seemed like it interested the audience, which was primarily oceanographers, and related agency and funding folks.
Mine was in the Human Dimensions session, since the Coastal Processes session we had aimed for apparently didn’t get enough papers. I followed a paper on frozen heritage (primarily ice patches and the preliminary stages of development of site evaluation schema) by Martin Callanan and Shelby Anderson, so the issues were thoroughly driven home. The audience included a number of natural scientists (!), and the discussions included the relevance of archaeology to both other fields of research and to developing toolkits for sustainability.
Our hope is we woke some of our colleagues up to both the potential of archaeological sites to provide data, and the need to find a way to get that data that doesn’t rely entirely on Arctic Social Science funding.
I’ve spent the last month writing almost non-stop. However, none of it was posts on here. We had done a number of CRM projects this summer, and the results had to be written up. Five reports later, that is more or less done, pending a couple of possible new illustrations.
I’m working on a couple of projects for a client who is in the early stages of planning some big infrastructure projects. Instead of waiting until the design and site selection is nearly complete and then considering cultural resources, which often leads to unfortunate surprises, unnecessary expenses and project delays (which are then blamed on archaeology instead of poor project planning), they are actually trying to get a handle on what cultural resources might be located in the possible Area of Potential Effect (APE) and what dealing with them appropriately might entail. This seems like a way better approach and should be a win-win.
This weekend, I’m working on a paper and a poster for the Arctic Observing Open Science Meeting in Seattle in 2 weeks. I had hoped to give the paper in a proposed Coastal session, but apparently there weren’t that many coastal papers, so it looks like I’ll be in the Human Dimensions session. Sort of ironic, given that I’m talking about the paleoenvironmental data that Arctic sites can contain, and how that data is at imminent risk of being destroyed by global change effects, and pretty much taking the human dimension information potential as a given. That’s pretty much been the basic premise of archaeology since the days of CJ Thomsen & JJA Worsaae. I’m spending a part of next week in Anchorage, so I want to get it more or less done before I go.
We went to Glasgow where the 2014 European Archaeology Association was held, by way of Anchorage and Reykjavik. Because flights from Barrow are disrupted fairly frequently, we went down a bit early, and had a chance to visit with our daughter. There was a pretty amazing double rainbow and a nice lenticular cloud.
We flew Icelandair to Reykjavik and then from there to Glasgow. Glasgow was great. The people who live there seem really proud of their city. The cab driver on the way in from the airport was recommending museums, and in particular Christ of Saint John on the Cross by Dali at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Musuem. Glasgow was once the second most prosperous city in the UK, and the residents seem to have been very civic-minded. The Kelvingrove was built to house the collections that were donated by prominent Glaswegians, using funds from an international exposition and public subscriptions. It houses a fair bit of Charles Rennie Mackintosh material. We got in a good visit our last day there. Unfortunately, some of the other Mackintosh venues were under renovation.
The meetings were held in various venues at the University, including some very old lecture halls and more modern buildings.
We spent most of our time around the University. There were a number of good restaurants & pubs, particularly along Ashton Lane. We tried a bunch of them. We never made it to this one,which was apparently an isolated inn before Glasgow got so big, near a pond where local curlers used to throw rocks. This is apparently where they went afterwards back then, as curlers are wont to do :-).
Our session (Archaeology and Climate Change) was heavily advertised. Tom Dawson, the organizer, had managed to get leaflets put up all around campus before the session, so it was very well attended. As you can see, there were participants from all over. I talked about the threats to frozen coastal sites from climate change, with an emphasis on the Barrow area. I was able to incorporate images from the storm that had happened the week before. There were some other pretty bad situations, but none that were worse. On the other hand, some people are making strides in dealing with these issues with public help, which is good given the turn-around time for even successful funding applications.
The conference featured a very nice party, spread across two venues, both within a block of our hotel! One was Òran Mór, a converted church which now houses performance space and a bar. The upstairs had been rented for the party. It had obviously been redone from its days as a church. The other was the glass house at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, just across the way.
The conference banquet was held in the main hall at the Kelvingrove. It was sponsored by Glenmorangie (the distillery near Glasgow) so there were samples of a couple of their special products. After the speeches and dinner, there was a fine band and dancing.
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.
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.
… 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.
I am currently in Washington, DC, participating in a workshop on Arctic Research and Logistic Support planning. The idea is to get a group of scientists working in the Arctic together to see what we think Arctic research will be like in 10-20 years, and what sort of logistic support will be needed. Then, action steps to get there from here will be formulated. One hopes it is not just an exercise in futility.
As is usual at such gatherings, there are not very many social scientists. There are a lot of physical scientists (marine, terrestrial & atmospheric) and a fair number of biology types. Many of the groups are quite interested in new “toys” (UAVs) and the like, as well as more icebreakers. Better connectivity is also something that is high on most people’s lists, mine included. What I find interesting as an anthropologist is how the cultures of various disciplines vary so widely. One of the breakout sessions was organized more or less by location of research (with social sciences its own group). I actually went to the Coastal group, since I’d just had lunch with Sophia Perdikaris & Genny LeMoine, both of whom are archaeologists, who were going to be in the social science group, and I thought it might be more valuable to get a social science voice into one of the other groups.
The variation in the visions of the groups when they reported back was quite striking. Although there were some things all agreed on, one group saw research in 10-20 years as being done remotely. They even thought that maybe social science could be conducted through social media. Unfortunately they didn’t describe how they imagined one could excavate a site that way; I’m sure it would be a lot warmer than what I was doing last month!
While all that was going on, the Alaska Dispatch picked up Abra’s Arctic Sounder story. Then Archaeology magazine added it to their website news, even asking if they could use a specific picture from this blog. Then they used another one… Oh, well. And I got another interview request.
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.
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.
It’s been a fairly productive few days. I spent the weekend cooking a turkey (it was stored in the Arctic entryway, and with spring coming, it will soon be too warm. Since there was no freezer space, it was Easter turkey for us! Then, of course, there were the inevitable taxes :-(.
Today I managed to submit a RAPID proposal to NSF. If it’s successful, it would let us save an analyze some frozen samples from a past excavation which turned up recently (not in our lab), instead of their being discarded due to lack of storage space. Fingers crossed.
Now there are just two presentations, and three papers to finish this month! What was I thinking?
I have been majorly busy since the last post. I had two days to get a RAPID proposal in to NSF for funds to salvage the remaining portion of the Ipiutak structure.
I was scheduled to go to Cape Espenberg to take part in a project there under the direction of John Hoffecker of INSTAAR, and had to get on a plane on July 28. I wasn’t due back in Barrow until August 13th, and NSF had to process all grants before then, so if the proposal didn’t get in then, they wouldn’t be able to get the money out if it was successful. Since the house could go in a storm, I spent 2 days writing & submitting the proposal, threw my stuff in a dry bag & my day pack and left for Cape Espenberg.
I had a great time there, with interesting archaeology, which will be a post for another day. From Cape Espenberg, I flew to Kotzebue and then on to Point Hope for the North Slope Borough Elders/Youth Conference. It was a great conference, and I had a great time, despite finding out that the workshop I thought I was giving was actually a talk to the entire conference (which I had no PowerPoint for). Another post for another day. While there, I found out that the RAPID was successful.
I got back to Barrow after some weather and plane repair delays, to find that the surveyors who I was supposed to work with had done their thing and left town. I’ve been extracting info from them and trying to get that survey set up, since the report needs to get done, the helicopter needs to head south & I have a 4-day trip to New York State scheduled on the 25th. Meanwhile, it turns out that most if not all of the heavy equipment in Barrow is either committed to a job or broken, so we’re having trouble getting a bulldozer to move the 100 yards of gravel piled on top of the rest of the Ipiutak structure.
If that’s not enough, a human skull was found in Wainwright by surveyors (actually the same surveyors) who were doing preliminary work for a possible road project. The client decided that it would be a good idea to get an archaeologist to come down and see if the skull was an isolated find or if there might be more, and give them suggestions for how to proceed with the road design, as well as make sure the proper reports and documentation were done. I leave for Wainwright tomorrow afternoon, and hope to be back Friday night, weather permitting.
On top of that, there’s a teleconference & a meeting in the morning. I just finished an interview with Pat Yack of Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN), who won a ticket to anywhere ERA flies and used it to come to Barrow. It was quite enjoyable, since he’d done some homework, and asked intelligent questions. Turns out he’s next-door neighbors with Max Brewer, the long-time NARL science director who lived in the house we now live in. Small world.
Much of today went trying to find freezer space for the person in the parka. We were able to get X-rays done by the North Slope Borough vet clinic (they needed a bit of practice with a new machine anyway), and there are skeletal elements in the parka. I talked to a conservator and it seems possible that the garments might be able to be preserved if the community chooses. We need to have a discussion with the Elders about that.
At least we need to document them really well, as they are being removed so the person can be examined and reburied. To do that we need not only a good videographer, but also a group of experience skin sewers, since the sinew has decayed, and it may only be possible to figure out what stitch was use by skilled sewers looking at the ghosts they left. We need to get the funds for that work, which probably won’t be available until October or so. That means that we need a freezer to keep the person in a stable environment until the examination can happen.
CPS/UMIAQ couldn’t really offer anything right now, except to note that it hadn’t been requested in the program plan last year (sadly, I’m not clairvoyant–if I were, we could skip all the pesky shovel testing). Fortunately, North Slope Borough Wildlife Management also has a freezer, and they were kind enough to step up and help out in this urgent situation. Many thanks to DWM! One UMIAQ fellow later thought of a freezer that might be a possible fallback, although it’s got stuff in it at the moment.
Next step, grant applications for that work and for the Ipiutak structure that remains at the bluff in the DWF, waiting for the next big storm to take it out.