Two neat finds

We started investigating the last GPR hit and came down on a jumble of wood.  The excavators were not optimistic, but I kept pushing to go a little further.  Eventually, this appeared:

Feature detected with GPR

The feature (I’m not calling it a burial until there is evidence of human remains) was jumbled because at some time after it was constructed, someone dug a hole in the middle of it.  And right beside where the hole had punched into the feature was this:

Antler arrowpoint

The hole just missed it.

The DWF (Ipiutak) levels had their own surprises.  We found a good bit of fish bone, some lithics (nothing diagnostic) and a lot of broken bone, but the really cool thing, which I found on the edge of the hearth, was a flattened but apparently complete egg!

The remains of the egg

18th Arctic Conference–Part 5 (Day 2-PM)

At last!  After a fine lunch, we reassembled in Dalton for the afternoon session.  We moved from Alaska to the North Atlantic, and a variety of Norse sites.  Tom McGovern kicked it off with an overview of what had been accomplished during the most recent IPY.  Much of this is due to the work of various NABO members.  He talked about some really neat school outreach programs, including one issuing GPS and camera to students & teachers to record archaeology and in the case of Iceland, place names.  He also highlighted a very interesting initiative to develop

Konrad Smiarowski talked about zooarchaeology associated with the Vatnahverfi Project, part of the Norse Eastern Settlement, Greenland.  The project involved survey and excavation (following NABO common protocols, which make for great inter-site inter-comparability).  He was looking at how the Norse immigrants adapted to a new environment with new (to them) resources.  He had evidence for the adoption of seal hunting, which the Norse seem not to have done elsewhere, despite the presence of seals, as well as hunting of walrus for ivory and birding.  Bones of harp and hooded seals, both of which are migratory, show up even at more inland sites, so it looks like either people are coming to the outer coast to hunt or the seals are being traded inland.  It looks like they were net or drive hunting.  Things seem to have been going on well, but increasing amounts of ice seem to have changed things, driving people to intensify sealing at the same time as it was affecting the local seal populations.  Things ended badly, as we know.

Ramona Harrison gave an interesting paper on the farm Gásir and its hinterlands, including various types of landscape (hayfields, pastures, etc).  She is working on the zooarchaeology as part of a long-term human eco-dynamics in Eyjafjörður, Northeast Iceland.  Unfortunately, my notes on this appear not to have been saved, so I won’t go into more detail, so as not to mis-report anything Ramona said, but it was quite interesting, and reports should be on the NABO website soon, if they’re not there now.

The final paper was given by Seth Brewington on work in the Faroes, particularly at Undir Junkarinsflotti.  It was abandoned in the 1300s due to repeated sand blows, which were a problem at that time in a number of places on the eastern side of the North Atlantic.  The paper dealt with the zooarchaeology, which is quite unique as bone preservation generally seems to be bad in the Faroes, and the idea of keeping bone is still relatively new.  The inhabitants seem to have been eating lots of birds (mostly puffins), even in comparison to other Norse sites, where the bird consumption seems to drop after the earliest settlement period. 

18th Arctic conference–Part 4 (Day 2-AM)

This penultimate chapter is a bit belated, to say the least, due to holidays, much travel and associated presentations, and proposal preparation.  However, there were some very interesting papers on the final day as well, and I decided I needed to get this written before yet another conference happened.  And I needed a break from final tweaking of the PowerPoint for said conference.

The first paper was by Molly Odell, on economic change at  Mitksqaaq Angayuk between 3400-100BP.  The site, on Kodiak, seems to have had discontinuous occupations from Early Katchemak to the Russian occupation.  Molly focused on the fauna from a midden associated with an Alutiiq house.  The house seemed to have been occupied primarily by men, based on the artifacts.  The midden showed a change from a pre-contact mixed fishery (primarily cod but with significant amounts of salmon and small amounts of other locally available fish) to a fishery focused almost entirely on cod in the historic period.  Molly interprets this as a shift from a winter settlement to a cod-fishing camp, presumably staffed by men.

Jennifer Raff gave a paper on mitochondrial aDNA (ancient DNA) from the Lower Alaska Peninsula & Eastern Aleutians.  This is interesting, as there are disagreements about how/when various cultures in that area appeared, and whether or not they represent in situ (in place) developments or population replacements.  This work may help settle some of those questions.  Not to spoil any surprises, as this paper is being published, but both haplotypes A & D are well represented, and there is B from one site!

Rick Knecht, a fellow Bryn Mawr College PhD, gave a “just out of the field” talk about excavations at Nunalleq, a Yup’ik site in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta.  The Yup’ik culture is quite well-known ethnographically, but almost no archaeology has been done in the area.  Nunalleq, for which there is a date of 1300BP (not sure if that’s calibrated or what it’s on or associated with) has extraordinary organic preservation at the moment, but is suffering erosion, which is accelerating due to permafrost melting and sea level rise.  The local community actually contacted the archaeologists in concern.  The 2010 season excavated a house, with lots of organic artifacts (rye grass matting, for example) present on the floor.  They think it might have been a men’s house, which are known for the Yup’ik from the ethnographic record, based on the low numbers of women’s artifacts recovered.  There was a burnt side room, with a large number of arrowheads present, which is possibly a result of conflict.  More work is planned.

Chistyann Darwent followed with a report on the 2010 work at Cape Espenberg, a beach ridge complex which is located near Kotzebue in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.  This project has been doing survey there for a couple of years and has surveyed and mapped extensively, especially the more recent periods.  They have actually been able to excavate several houses (one on each of the 3 Thule-age ridges) to a considerable extent.  One thing they discovered was that the surface mapping did not necessarily give a good picture of what was under the ground in terms of houses, side rooms and so forth.  One of the houses seems to have burned, although why is not yet clear.  They excavated an outdoor ceramic manufacturing area (inadvertently–it looked like part of the house from the surface).  The houses on the oldest and middle Thule ridges had Thule 2 harpoon heads associated with them, suggesting that they were fairly early.  The also found a copper eyed needle, slat armor.  The tunnel floor was lined with baleen.  The youngest house was of a type that was familiar to the project’s elder consultant, who had been in the US Army during the Korean War, since he’d grown up in a similar house.  It had lots of evidence for fishing.  The dates were a bit later than prior testing had led them to expect, the oldest around 1260-1400BP, the middle 1450-1650BP.

Justin Tackney gave a paper on mDNA (mitochondrial DNA) from Nuvuk, as well as presenting the new direct dates that Joan Coltrane has for the human remains. The results show a number of haplogroups hypothesized to be founders to modern Inuit populations all in one area, which is new.  In general, this supports a Thule expansion from North Alaska.

I got the slot before lunch, and gave a paper looking at the material culture of modern Iñupiat whaling.  I am using this as a way to approach what sort of evidence might be expected in archaeological sites of whalers, and where that evidence might be found.  Essentially, the modern case has a number of artifacts that are needed for whaling and nothing else, most of which have pre-contact equivalents.  The interesting thing is that they are generally not stored in the house, which implies that excavations focused on houses may not be able to address presence/absence whaling too well.

A mystery tooth

One of the fun parts of the job is that people find all sorts of things around Barrow.  Often, they show them to me, or at least send me pictures.  In a lot of cases I can ID them, but I’m not expert on extinct fauna, and the printed/online resources available are not as good as those for modern critters.

I usually send pictures to some folks at UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks), since they actually have a pretty good collection.  Unfortunately their current curator of mammals flatly denies any knowledge (!) of extinct animals, and doesn’t seem inclined to rural residents of the state that pays his salary by taking a peek in the collections to try to make an ID.  So I’m broadening the search.

This particular tooth was given to the current owner.  Matu believes it was found in a gravel operation near Barrow, AK.  He’s really anxious to know what it is.  If you have any ideas what it might be from, please let me know.  If you have any colleagues who might be able to ID it, we’d appreciate it if you’d give them the URL for this post and ask them to take a look if they have time.

The following pictures aren’t great.  I didn’t have a tripod or photo stand, or decent lighting.  If you think you know what it might be, but need better pictures (not hard to imagine) or a particular angle, let me know and I’ll see if I can have him bring it to the lab for a better-lit portrait.

Mystery tooth from near Barrow, AK.
Root of mystery tooth.
Close-up of mystery tooth. Any comments on traces at photo center?

Mysterious sea Creatures

One of the things we collected a lot of from the strand lines was a variety of sea creatures.  There are a lot of pieces of what we thought (in the field) was gut, which is a useful raw material.  Now that we’ve gotten them into the lab, we think most of it is some sort of marine worms.  There are also a variety of other small marine creatures (plants or invertebrates–they have lost their orignal colors) and mollusks.

Marine worm? from 300-400 AD
Another sort of sea creature
Some sort of seaweed?
Maybe some type of sponge-like creature?

Obviously, I know a lot more about mammal bones & teeth than these things.  So we’ve sorted out a bunch, and Claire will take a couple of each type to Fairbanks, along with the shells. With any luck, we can get some IDs.  If we’re really lucky, the species in question will turn out to have fairly narrow habitat requirements, and we’ll know something about what the ocean was like near Barrow when the big storm happened between 300 & 400 AD.

If you happen to recognize any of these, please let me know what you think they are.  If you know anyone who might be interested in these creatures, send them my way.  The “worms” are very well-preserved, and still flexible.  It occurs to me that it might be possible to extract DNA from them (and maybe some of the other creatures as well), which would be a pretty rare opportunity.

A couple of needles (maybe…)

The processing of the large bulk samples is proceeding.  It’s slow going, but we are reducing the overall volume.  We have found a few things that are noteworthy.

Claire has found some well-preserved wood that she was able to take samples of for species identification and possible tree-ring dating.

We also found one piece of coal with one flat, highly polished side.  The rest of it looks like it broke naturally and got smoothed by being rolled in the water, but the one side looks different.  It’s a maybe, but a pretty good one, although we’ll probably never know what it was or was going to be…

There are also a variety of marine worms, shells and what we think are marine plants.  I just spoke to a friend of mine, “retired” biologist, Dr. Dave Norton, who used to live in Barrow and is fairly familiar with the contents of modern strand lines here.  Claire is going to take the oddities we are sorting out down to Fairbanks (where he lives) tomorrow night, and he will look at the specimens and try to connect with the appropriate curators at the UAF Museum of the North.  I’m going to Fairbanks (for shotgun refresher qualifications for a non-archaeology project I manage for Sandia National Labs) the week after next, and will go visiting the curators with him, in hopes of getting good IDs.

Paris–Visit to the Louvre

I promised a number of people I’d put some pictures from the trip to Paris up, so here goes.  I took these with my iPhone, which isn’t quite up to even my Optio S, let alone the Nikons, so the picture quality isn’t that great.

The first set is from the Louvre.  A few of us went to visit on Thursday, which the conference organizers had allowed as a day off.  This was a great idea, since day after day of papers can leave people sort of “conferenced out” and really not able to pay much attention to papers on the last day.  This avoided that syndrome.

Pyramid at the Louvre (the new entrance).
Winged Victory of Samothrace.

The Mona Lisa looks a little forlorn hanging by itself on a wall that is apparently also a protective vault.

Mona Lisa.

It looks much smaller than one expects, particularly since it is facing a really immense painting.

Opposite the Mona Lisa.

The room is really crowded, and it takes a while to get close enough to get a good picture.

The hordes in front of the Mona Lisa.

The Louvre itself was pretty amazing in terms of over-the-top interior decoration.  The craftsmanship was amazing.

Interior at the Louvre.
Wild boar mosaic on fireplace.
Leopard mosaic on the same fireplace.
Venus de Milo.
Another angle on the Venus de Milo.

Venus de Milo from the seldom-photographed back.

Some interesting papers so far

I’ve heard a number of interesting papers so far.  A bunch of them were in a session on digital archaeozoology.  I find this interesting in part because I live and work in a remote area with limited research resources on hand, although for the size of the place they are truly exceptional. A number of highlights from the session below:

1)  A paper by Matt Law on zooarch on the Internet.  He’d done a survey of on-line arch data archives. People often use them heavily, but so far are not good contributors. People still see on-line publication as less prestigious (which is a problem if they are working toward tenure), but most would still be willing to participate if the process were straightforward enough.

2)  A paper by Isabelle Baly & others about a big national database (INPN) the French are building of data on plants and animals from archaeological sites. Much of the data they are including comes from salvage and compliance excavations, which often don’t get published. This is a huge amount of work to pull together (especially with the staff of three that they have!), but it lets people do analyses which they could never afford to do otherwise. It seems to be available through a public website, which will let students and members of the public see and use the data themselves, which is pretty cool.

3)  A paper by Jill Weber and Evan Malone about a set (30+) of skeletons of equine hybrids between donkey and onager, which are currently a unique sample. These are thought to be the Syrian Royal Ass, the Kunga, which was actually the Animal of the Year in Syria a few years ago. The problem was how to be able to preserve & share these bones, and study them without damage to the originals. Answer–3D laser scanning & “printing” them.  3D printing actually makes a replica of the item, and is very cool technology.   Depending on the budget, the replicas can be very good.  The scanned models in the computer are actually even better for doing measurements on ( something we do a lot in zooarchaeology) than real bones in some cases.

4)  A paper by Katherine Spielmann and Keith Kintigh on the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR).  TDAR is a large-scale data archiving and integration tool, developed at Arizona State University.  The impetus was that a lot of archaeologists there had data  that they were interested in comparing, in order to look at things across a broader area than any of them had studied individually, but were stymied by differences in the way that their data was stored.  They are trying to develop an integration tool and data warehouse.  I haven’t tried it, but it seems interesting.

5)  A paper by Matt Betts, and a number of others about the Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project (VZAP) –very cool 3D models of Arctic (and subarctic, since ISU has been working in the Aleutians/Lower Alaska Peninsula area under Herb Maschner for years, and that’s what they see most of) fauna.  The bones are accessed through a very neat visual database interface, which lets you look for bones by species or by skeletal element (part of the body), which is the most common way to find things when identifying unknown bones.  Often you can see you have a femur (thighbone) for example, but aren’t sure what animal it’s from.  The best physical comparative collections of bones actually have a set of femurs you can look at, rather than having to go to a bunch of skeletons and find the femur.  I’ve used this one, and it’s handy.  As more species get added, it will only become more useful.

Off to a conference of archaeozoologists

… or zooarchaeologists or faunal analysts (people who study animal remains from archaeological sites), in Paris. The trip over was a two-day affair, involving not one, but two red-eyes. We had a good tail wind, so the Salt Lake City flight was about an hour and a half shorter than expected, which made up for a late departure due to bad weather.

The conference is feeding us lunch every day, and it’s pretty impressive for a university cafeteria. One starter, one main course, one cheese, one desert and one drink. The folks I ate with didn’t see it, but there are rumors that wine was available. The coffee breaks have great pastries and fresh fruit.

The opening reception was amazing, and they didn’t run out of food, frequent problem at such events. They held it in the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (Great Hall of Evolution) of the National Museum of Natural History, which is just amazing. A few pictures from there follow. I took them with my phone, so the quality is not the best.

Skull of Nile crocodile
Blue whale skeleton
Southern right whale skeleton
Arctic or Pacific loon, probably Pacific. They look alike, and the ranges overlap.
A small portion of the assembled multitude.

There are also some neat older mounts.  The one of the tiger on the elephant is because a French duke was hunting on elephant back in India, and a tiger leaped onto his elephant.  He was only saved because she was so heavy she broke the basket he was riding in.  She was shot, and that’s the tiger in the mount, which he had made and donated.  It didn’t say if it’s the same elephant.

A hippopotamus, closer-up than you'd want to get in real life.
Tiger and elephant, with howdah (the basket).