The smell of old seal oil in the afternoon…

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

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

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

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

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

Contents of the bag.
Contents of the bag.

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

Fish vertebra
Fish vertebra
IMG_0852
Grass?
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Bone fragments

Tomorrow I’ll do some more.

Thinking about logistics & links

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.

A visit from the media

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.

Coby updating storage locations in the catalog

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.

Dan Carpenter shooting video. He really liked this fox skull.
Dan Carpenter, KTUU, interviewing me in the lab. Photo by Coby Hatcher.

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.

2000+ miles of outreach–part 1

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.

Alaska Range from Parks Highway

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.

Pathway to Murie Science and Learning Center. The white dinosaur footprints lead to the MSLC from the Denali NP Visitors’ Center.

Closer view of MSLC.
Justine indicating where we are for the photographic record of the trip.
Main room of the MSLC, with a couple of park visitors and an interpreter.

We got in touch with NJ Gates, who runs the speakers’ program and she got us settled.  I made sure my computer worked with their projector.  Although this was not a paying gig, they were kind enough to put us up in a yurt that they have for visiting researchers.  Since there weren’t many around, we each got our own room.  I had brought down sleeping bags & a Thermarest (since we thought one of us would be sleeping on the floor) from Barrow.  The Park has wagons, and we used one to pull our gear to the yurt.  I somehow didn’t manage to get a picture of the outside or the bear-proof box into which all food and toiletries went.  The interior was divided into 3 rooms, 2 of which shared an entryway.  We got those two.

Bed in yurt, strewn with gear.
Interior view of yurt & skylight.

After we got settled, we went to the grill at the visitors’ center for a quick dinner, and headed back to give the talk.  We got a decent crowd for a Monday night, I thought.  It went well, except for the earthquake in the middle of it.  It was big enough to really shake the screen, and given that the MSLC is a heavy timber-frame building, I waited a few seconds to see if it would get bigger.  It didn’t, so on we went.  Some folks had a lot of questions, but we were all done, and in bed in the yurt by about 9:30.

This was important, because Justine had a doctor’s appointment in Anchorage at 11AM the next day.  We got up at 4:15, grabbed a couple of sandwiches & a drink and were on the road a little after 5AM.  The weather wants quite as nice, but it didn’t rain until we were nearly to Wasilla (yeah, that Wasilla), but stopped quickly a little later.  Still no sight of Denali, but the drive was beautiful.

Mountains along the Parks Highway.

We made it to the doctor’s office around 10AM, I dropped Justine off, met my husband for lunch (he was in Anchorage on his way back from Ketchikan to Barrow), and caught a plane back to Barrow on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, we got ready for a visit by kids from the City of Barrow summer program.  More about that in the next post.