Cleaning things

Archaeology is, in some respects, a dirty business.  We excavate things out of the dirt, and, in the process, we can get pretty dirty ourselves.  If we are camping, showers and laundry are rare events.  Walakpa is pretty sandy, so …

This past week, the remaining crew have been working to get equipment cleaned & stored.  We dried several tents, dried and hung up jackets, dried and got the sand off a lot of equipment, and sorted the remaining food.  We were going to donate it to the common pool, but there were already 8 bottles of mustard in the refrigerator, so we’ll store that for next year.

I’ve been working on both project equipment and my personal gear. My dishwasher is full of coffeepots & plates, which will get stored for the winter.  I’ve washed the tent and blanket Garrett Knudsen was kind enough to leave, which was used by several other crew members, and will be mailing it on Monday, along with a few souvenirs that crew members didn’t manage to pack.  I’ve also washed a pile of assorted gloves.  I’ve still got a UICS sleeping bag to wash and dry, and some down jackets to drop off at the dry cleaner.

I have been washing field clothes since I got home.  I spent the weekend washing and drying two sleeping bags (one that I used, and a spare that one of the crew members used, cleaning and packing two Thermarests (ditto), and washing and renewing the waterproofing on my tent & fly.  I’ve still got to rewash the chairs I loaned the project.  The crew power washed the crushed mosquitos off them, but they wound up muddy, so I’ve got to wash them again.

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Clean gear 🙂
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Putting gear away until the next time I head for the field.

And now there are none

The last 2 members of the field crew left today.  Although a few people were only able to be here for the beginning of the season, and a couple had to leave in the middle, most folks came out of the field at the beginning of August.  They have been heading home one or two at a time.  Those who were left worked in the lab stabilizing and cleaning some of the artifacts, drawing and scanning artifacts, and entering data recorded after the transit decided to stop working with a week left in the field season.

 

Back from the field

We got into town late last Thursday.  The field season went pretty well, after a slow start due to ice preventing us from getting out.  We lost a few days to major storms, but we had a great crew and accomplished a lot.

Breaking camp was a bit of a challenge, since we were down to seven people in the field. The big boat was scheduled to arrive at 9AM, so we broke everything down the day before except for the mess tent and the latrine, plus our sleeping tents.  Then we got up at 6 AM and took down all the sleeping tents, and started ferrying gear to the beach with the ATV & trailer.

It turned out the boat ramp wasn’t in the water back in town, so the boat didn’t make it until nearly 1PM, after having to launch into Elson Lagoon and go around Point Barrow.  It was a cold morning, and once we had stuff packed, it was hard to stay warm, especially since we’d dressed for hard work and packed up everything else.  At one point, several of the crew were napping in a ditch.

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Crew members napping.

The boat had to make two trips, so we sent 3 people up with the first load, and then 3 more with the second.  I drove the ATV & Tubby back to town, so I was the last one in.  I left before the boat, but Doctor Island is pretty fast, and I was riding into a north wind and kept meeting people and stopping to chat, so they beat me home.

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Loading the boat.  Photo courtesy of Zac Peterson.
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Heading home.  Photo courtesy of Zac Peterson.

Our first day back was the last day of the UIC Science Fair, and the archaeology lab was featured tour.  Also I had a presentation scheduled.  Everyone was really tired, but we managed to pull things together for a good tour, and in fact had visitors well past the scheduled end of tours.  The presentation was well attended.

As I write this, another early storm with winds from the West is brewing, with predictions of coastal erosion.

 

 

All ready

Almost the entire crew has made it out to the site.  Some of them went down in the morning and set up a lot of things.  Half of them came back and took some more people and gear down, and should be heading back soon.

Meanwhile back in town Katrina Watson got the electronics packed up and into the yellow shed, while I got both lab computers back on the network, connected them to the project dropbox and put all the necessary files on them.  I reviewed the workflow with Katrina, who will be cycling in and of town, since she’s from here and her family and kids are here for the summer.  That means she can provide a bit of continuity for the lab.

I’m going down in the morning.  Since the wind is supposed to stay east for a few days, we hope a boat can go down on Monday and bring most of the rest of the heavy stuff (chairs, wood for tables) and more delicate things (cameras, computers, transit) down.

The crew asked for some board games.  I posted on Facebook to see if anyone in town had any they weren’t using anymore, and in about 2 minutes, Doe Doe Edwardsen said she had 5 we could use.  She even had them delivered!  Quyanaqpak Edwardsen family!

One of our international volunteers is coming a bit later.  She is currently working somewhere without internet, so she’s been communicating as she can.  When I got her itinerary, it became clear she’s going to have to overnight in Anchorage both ways.  Back to Facebook, and within a few minutes archaeologist friends Monty Rogers and Katie Meyers had offered to put her up.

Most of the archaeology crew are volunteers, and others are putting in a lot of volunteer time on top of what is paid.  Not everyone can take time and go into the field.  But we can’t do it without help, and the people like Doe Doe and Monte chipping in make this salvage possible.  The true Alaska spirit.  We appreciate every bit of help.

 

Last call for AJA RECENT RESEARCH NOTES for the next volume

I have to finalize the RRN in the next couple of days.  If you have something you’d like in there, pleas get it to me properly formatted (including C14 dates, tables, etc.).  We want to include δ13C for radiocarbon dates if it’s available.  More information is here.

Alaska Anthropological Association–Day 1

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.

Walakpa Zooarchaeology

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.

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At the poster session.  Photo courtesy Raphaela Stimmelmayr.

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?

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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!

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Talking with Teachers

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 :-).

Workshop at the World Conservation Congress

After we got back from Walakpa, we had fieldwork in both Deering and Wainwright, which kept me pretty busy.  After that, I had to head to Honolulu for the World Conservation Congress.  I had organized a workshop on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past.  The timing of the conference was a bit unfortunate, since it overlapped with the World Archaeological Conference in Japan, so the workshop was fairly small.  However, the idea was to get some of the people who are active the conservation field to  look to the paleoecological data from archaeological sites to help build realistic conservation plans.  It was pretty well attended and on top of that, it was live-streamed.  The video is now up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

Honolulu was quite a switch from Alaska, with temperatures in the 80s the whole time.  It was beautiful, of course.

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Rainbow on the walk back to the hotel after the workshop.
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Another rainbow from the balcony of the hotel room.

On the other hand, it was nice to get home to Alaska.  The sunsets are better.

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Back in town

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.

Looking for scrap lumber

We’re in need of a bit of scrap lumber (1x2s and 2x4s), to complete construction of a water screening device.  Alas, Barrow no longer has a lumberyard, so it is a real problem when it turns out you need a bit more lumber.  If anyone has some excess lumber they would be willing to contribute to the Walakpa salvage effort, please let me know.

Getting closer

Time is flying before the field season.  It has been insanely busy trying to get some projects to a point that they can be left for a few weeks while we’re in the field, while at the same time getting set to actually go to the field.  We have been ordering things, and waiting for them to get here so we can build things, or pack things or prep meals or…   And of course, this being the Arctic, shipping delays abound.  However, we have gotten the replacement cover for a Weatherport, all the recalled transit batteries, extra new batteries for the handheld radios, Rite in the Rain paper for field forms, the refurbished iPads, the nice new big First Aid kits, chaining pins, Sharpies (lots of Sharpies) and a bunch of other goodies.  I got my new tent stuff sack (the original lasted one trip, and all the duct tape in the world isn’t enough to hold what’s left together if I actually put the tent in it) and my InReach.  We are still waiting on the parts for a water screening station, and the dry goods.

The lab looks a mess, because everything is still out from the inventory, and needs to be packed, but some of the things to pack it in are part of the freight.  Not optimal, but it will sort itself out.

The freeze and chill food got in, and Kaare will be working with the volunteers to prep a lot of meals to freeze before we head down.  That is, once there are enough volunteers here.

The first of the volunteers were to get in Tuesday night, but the plane couldn’t land, so they all wound up heading back to Anchorage, getting in quite late.  One got on the early flight today on standby, but the rest are now coming tomorrow morning.  I figured maybe 2 nights in Anchorage would be a student budget-buster (having slept under some stairs once when stranded in England for a week on the way home from the field–Laker had raised ticket prices over the summer and I didn’t have a credit card), so I posted on a couple of northern archaeology Facebook groups, and had 5 offers of places to stay from folks in Anchorage within a couple of hours.  In the end, folks couldn’t get refunds for the nights they paid for (a downside of online booking, I guess), but if anyone else gets stranded overnight on the way in or out, at least I’ve got a bunch of phone numbers and we should be able to help out.  Gotta love Alaskan archaeologists.

Kaare made it to Walakpa, although there is still snow on the beach.  There has been a good bit more slumping, but it looks like the overhanging block that was making access so dangerous has fallen, which is a good thing indeed.  The plan is to try to take some of the heavy stuff down tomorrow, although that may change depending on if the freight makes it in.

We’ve also got a survey to finish before we go (only got the go-ahead a week ago) and maybe a desktop study as well, depending on their timeframe (just got the go-ahead today).  Oh, and a proposal, which was just requested yesterday.

And I need to finish making sense of a bunch of dates which I have calibrated for the WALRUS project.  It looks like we have decent ranges for many of the sites based on the caribou dates.  There are a couple of sites that are confusing (possible reverse stratigraphy in big mounds) and I haven’t been able to get copies of the field notes or talk to the excavators yet.  I’ve calibrated the walrus dates using the marine curve, and it is clear there is not a standard offset from the terrestrial dates.  I’m redoing it using the best available local delta R, but I know the one for Barrow is off by several hundred years (if you use it there are a lot of bones from archaeological sites that it indicates will be dying in a couple of centuries!) and there is one site in the walrus study where one pair of dates on associated caribou and walrus is several hundred years farther apart that the other pair.  Since walrus move around, some probably more than others,  it may not make sense until we figure out where the individuals were feeding.

A hundred and one (roughly) moving pieces

There are a lot of things that go into a successful project.  We’ve been inventorying field gear and project supplies, getting emergency contact forms filled out, finalizing safety protocols and on and on.  Kaare Erickson is up from Anchorage for a week or so to help get the gear organized for the Walakpa season, plus another project we’re doing right after that.  He’s heading back down next weekend and will do some serious shopping (& screen building) before he comes back up for the field season.

Today we decided to try to get down to Walakpa to see how the site was.  Some folks have made it down (including someone in a truck, supposedly.  Sean Gunnells, who worked at Walakpa in 2013 came along, and we headed down on ATVs.  Alas, yesterday’s snow was not helpful, and the Honda kept bogging down, since it had less ground clearance than the Polarises.  We kept having to go up on the tundra, which made for slow riding.  We made it to Hollywood, which was probably about nine miles, or a little over halfway there, before we decided that the game wasn’t worth the candle. It would have taken all day, and we had lots of other things to get done.  It’s supposed to be warm (in the 40s) for several days, so we hope that a lot of the snow will melt and make for easier traveling.

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Beach just south of Hollywood.  We got as far as the snow in the distance.

While we were on the beach, we looked for tracks.  We didn’t see any, even near a couple of areas where animals had been butchered.  All we saw was an old walrus carcass that must have been dragged up the beach by a bear, but no tracks around it.

However, we had packed lunches, so we went ahead and ate on the beach.  A little ring seal popped up in the shore lead and looked at us.

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Sean looking down the beach.

 

 

Starting to Get Ready to Begin… (Live from the Armadillo World Headquarters!)

It’s been a busy week, between preparations for the Walakpa field season, an interesting polar bear that a  local resident found eroded onto the beach, and other projects at work.

Getting ready for the Walakpa project involves a lot of moving parts.  We’ve got to get the lab ready to handle material coming from the field, get the logistics worked out, get field equipment ready to go, get all the permits and paperwork taken care of, and I’ve got to get my own personal gear set as well.

We have been moving Nuvuk shovel test pit materials from the artifact cabinets in the lab to museum storage boxes, to make space in the lab for Walakpa materials.  We will have a small lab crew this summer, and hope to have a conservator come up for a few weeks later in the year (he’s busy during the summer with his job).  One of the lab sinks had no hot water, and it turned out that the valve was in the ceiling and several shelves needed to be moved.  Dakota and Devin asked if they could move some other furniture, I said yes, and they really reorganized the space.  I think it may wind up being more effective, and it let them get the shelves with the electronics set up and further away from the sinks.   Dakota is inventorying our supplies of vials and canisters for storing small delicate artifacts, and in the process he has been able to rationalize their storage a bit.  I’ll be making an order for Ziplock bags large and small, along with a number of other field supplies.   The Sharpies are here already!

While moving the lab around, we were also able to test all of our handheld radios, and figure out which ones need new battery packs.  I’ve ordered them, and hope they make it before the field season starts.  I’ve got the transit batteries tested, and am sending most of them out to Anchorage to be recelled, since they aren’t holding a charge as well as they should, and being outside won’t help.  Hopefully the logistics folks will be able to check the tents and such, and we can repair or replace whatever needs it.

IHLC is going to contribute to the effort by letting us use field equipment that they bought a few years ago with ECHO grant money.  That will help a lot with sleeping tents &sleeping bags for those who don’t have them, as well as with kitchen gear for a sizable group.

I went over a draft safety plan with UIC Science’s HSET person, and she sent me a fairly generic draft which I commented on.  It will get revised, this week I hope.  We’ve also had discussions about bear safety/ firearms safety (sort of related topics).   We are also trying to see if anyone in town is selling bear spray (AC doesn’t) or if we can ship it in.  I’ve sent around a draft emergency contact form and asked the folks who bring students to the field if they had any additions.  So far, Ben Fitzhugh has had some suggestions.  I’ll give folks a couple of days, and then send around the revised version.

Meanwhile, I’ve been ordering stuff I need, like waterproofer for down gear, and a new Helly Hansen Jarvik jacket (I finally blew the cuff tighteners out of my old one last year).  I’ve got to put up my tent and check the waterproofing, etc., although it was fine the last time I used it.  I also sprang for an InReach.  We should have one from UIC Science as well, but redundancy in emergency communication devices is a very good thing, and it will let me post short updates.

And of course, I’ve got to get ready in other ways.  I’m scheduled to renew my First Aid/CPR (for something like the 45th time) later this week.  And I am working out, since a winter of lots of writing is not conducive to staying in the best of shape, particularly when fighting off bronchitis for a month.  As our HSET Director said in a memo this week, when talking about his commitment to using handrails all the time, “my mind keeps writing checks that my body can’t cash,” and I’m trying to change that equation.

 

 

Gear list posted

I just put up a new page with the gear list that I’m sending to the folks who are volunteering to help with the archaeological salvage at Walakpa this summer.  I thought it might be interesting to people.

If you have experience camping up here and notice anything you think is missing, please drop me a line :-).

UPDATE 5/29/16:  I added something to the list, thanks to a good suggestion from Randall O.