It is time to think about submitting contributions for the Recent Research Notes column in the Alaska Journal of Anthropology. Get the word out about a project (maybe find some collaborators), let colleagues know about some interesting little find that isn’t big enough for a full article, keep folks posted on what you are doing. More specifics here. This is not limited to archaeologists, folks!
It’s been a while since I’ve managed to post. Lots has been going on, some of it only tangentially related related to archaeology. I started the year with a partial right knee replacement, which led to lots of PT. It turned out I had a loose piece of bone the size of an acorn floating around in my knee, according to my surgeon. Getting that out was a huge improvement, but I had to do a lot of PT to get to a point where I can kneel if necessary for excavation. I’ve got about 0-132° range of motion, so I can kneel now, although it isn’t pleasant to do it for a long time.
A few weeks later, I gave a paper at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage. I was able to talk about Patou the mummified seal and the long-headed bear, to an audience largely composed of oceanographers, marine biologists and the like. It was a great venue to raise awareness of the potential for archaeology to add time depth to research in other disciplines. Unfortunately, I had to spend most of the meeting in my hotel room icing my knee, so I missed a lot of the other papers.
After that, there were the Alaska Anthropological Association meetings in Anchorage, where I organized a session on Accelerating Environmental Change Threats to Alaskan Cultural Heritage: Emerging Challenges and Promising Responses, which involved both papers and an open discussion. I gave a paper in that session and one on Walakpa in a session on Alaskan coastal archaeology.
Next up was the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Washington DC. I took over as chair of the Committee on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR). I gave a paper, in the “Burning Libraries” session sponsored by CCSAR, and was also a discussant for a session on climate and cultural heritage.
Once I get the PowerPoints properly annotated I’ll put them up on-line.
A month ago, I also had retinal and cataract surgery, to resolve a retinal pucker that was blurring and warping the center of my visual field in my right eye. The surgeon says my vision should improve over several months, but it already has improved considerably, since lines now look straight to my right eye! I just had a one month followup visit and the doctor said I now have a foveal pit (which you are supposed to have, but which had been absent pre-surgery). Anyway, I can see much better.
I’ve also been working on a whole bunch of articles, some coauthored with various colleagues and some that I am sole author on. I’ve also been working on several proposals. All that made for more than enough writing, which perhaps explains the silence here.
I’m going to be spending a good part of the summer in the community of Kaktovik monitoring the remediation of the old Air Force hangar, which contained some materials now known to be hazardous. They are being removed as part of the demolition process, and even some of the soil around and under the hangar will be taken away. That’s where I come in, since the hangar was built before most cultural resources protections were in place, and there is a chance that it was built on top of an old site. Most likely there will be nothing archaeological there, but at least if there is we should be able to identify it and deal with it properly.
I had hoped to be able to get back out to Walakpa this summer, but that is not looking too promising. The Kaktovik project falls right into the period when volunteers are available. Plus the schedule is ever-changing as the remediation progresses. It might not have worked anyway, since we had a VERY snowy winter, followed by a chilly spring. As a result, the site is still covered in lots of snow. People who have been down recently say nothing of our excavation can be seen due to deep snow, and they can’t tell if the site was damaged by the big fall storm that resulted in a disaster declaration for Utqiaġvik (Barrow). At the rate things are going, if we were planning a field season, we might wind up stuck in the lab for half of it.
SO late last year I submitted a session proposal on Environmental Change Threats to Alaskan Cultural Heritage. I never heard anything, so I assumed the session wasn’t accepted and what with the holidays & the knee replacement, I didn’t try to solicit papers.
I just learned that the session was accepted, so I am looking for participants. The organizers are being kind enough to give us a couple of extra days past tomorrow’s deadline, but this has a pretty short fuse. The abstract is linked here, but in short, I want to get a conversation started about this issue. In many ways, Alaska has more at risk, sooner, than most of the rest of the US or most of the rest of the world, but we seem to be responding more slowly than places like Scotland or Florida or California. I am hoping for papers that either highlight sites that are being or have been destroyed (you don’t need to have completed excavation & analysis), or showcase specific ways that communities, agencies and/or archaeologists have tried to deal with the issue. We should have time after the papers to actually start a discussion on ways to deal with this problem beyond simply noticing it exists.
Please send abstracts to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and to Andy Tremayne (Andrew_Tremayne@nps.gov).
Contact me (email@example.com) if you have any questions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have been getting gear ready for days. The next challenge is to get it (and ourselves) to the field. The weather and equipment have not been cooperating. The shore fast ice is just really melting this week, so we hadn’t been able to take anything down before. Then the wind changed to the west, leading to one helicopter-assisted rescue in front of my house and ice against the shore. We staged gear in the “yellow shed” (a small warehouse shared by archaeology and the ARM program) and we waited. Yesterday, the wind went east for a bit and pushed the ice off the beach, so we rushed to load the UIC Science boat Crescent Island and sent heavy, durable & waterproof things down to the site. Four of the crew went along and they and the two UICS logistics staff who were running the boat put the stuff in a secure spot and headed home just as the wind changed back. They made it before the ice came back in.
Today, the wind wasn’t as strong as predicted, so Kaare and a bunch of the crew were going to head down with a little more gear, set up tents, and Ben Fitzhugh, Garrett Knudsen, Zac Peterson & Katie Daniels were going to stay and start stripping sod. We packed up after lunch, but various ATVs decided to not behave (one only wanted to run well in reverse) so it took a while.
By the time they got to Nunavak it was pretty late, and the stream was still really deep to cross, but it was draining, so they came home and will try again tomorrow. We may try to do two trips to get more folks down, but there will be one more boat trip Sunday or Monday, so some folks will go down that way.
Meanwhile, I had discovered that the newly-returned batteries for the transit were really not in as good shape as the tests at the surveying equipment shop indicated. I spent some time chasing down replacement batteries. In the end, GPS Alaska had a charger for the new batteries in stock, could order me new batteries, and had two that they use which they are renting to us at a very low price until our come in and get shipped to us. My boss is in Anchorage and going to fly his plane up, so he was able to pick them up and bring them along. All the other stuff is in decent shape, so we should be able to work and record what we are doing.
Things have been so busy with getting gear for the project ready and a couple of contract projects that I really haven’t had time to get my own stuff packed. I had ordered everything that I can’t get here it Utqiaġvik, but actual packing, not so much. The weather had been beautiful.
We went to the parade, which was quite long, with the usual fire apparatus, SAR, and local businesses, as well as a just married couple, and an entire fleet of cabs.
I was going to take the whole day off and go to the games, but it kept raining, they moved the contests to Ipalook, and there weren’t nearly as many food booths as usual.
So I decided to pack. My husband, who also has a PhD in anthropology and did field archaeology for many years (he now manages the Community Health Aid program for the North Slope Borough) was available to help, so that was a bonus! We managed to get almost everything, except what I am still using, into two dry bags, a duffle bag and my day pack. That includes all my personal gear (including tent and a very plush sleeping pad due to my twice-fused spine) plus some personally owned electronics we’ll be using, and a couple of extra things in case someone’s gear isn’t quite up to snuff.
It’s been a busy week getting ready for the field, while still keeping up with the usual flow of work. Kaare Erickson was up, and went through the field gear. We went over our lists and are in pretty good shape, although we are going to replace the pump for the water screen since the one we have was anything but trouble free. Kaare went back to Anchorage with a decent shopping list for food & camp supplies, which he’ll bring/send up next week.
The logistics guys started making sure the tents are all located & in good order. One of them might try and head down toward Walakpa over the weekend to see how the travel is. Several days ago someone who travels down that way a lot made it all the way down on an ATV, but the trail wasn’t good and the beach wasn’t clear the whole way. Plus the streams were hight since there was a west wind. It changed this afternoon, and the ice has started really breaking out down at Wainwright and maybe in front of town here too, so maybe the beach or even the ocean will be viable soon. If not, we have requested assistance with transport from NSB Search and Rescue. I know they get a lot of requests, and of course emergencies take priority, but maybe they’ll be able to help us out. Fingers crossed we can get down there somehow without a lot of trouble.
I’ve ordered all my personal supplies and am just hoping they get here before we head to the field. They are on the way, but the post office is woefully understaffed and seems to be taking days to get non-first class mail and package slips into the boxes. Not their fault; they work hard, but there aren’t enough workers to get things done in a timely fashion.
We are getting ready for another season at Walakpa, in which we hope to find out more about the house connected to the tunnel we found, and if it is connected to the two house visible in the erosion face, as well as the house that turned out to be beside the monument that got moved. I’ve been scanning field notes, writing proposals, coordinating travel schedules, replacing camera lenses, rounding up tents, and trying to get a fund set up to accept donations.
We’ve got a volunteer crew lined up, including several folks from last year, including Ben Fitzhugh, Caelie Butler, Glenys Ong Echavarri and Becky DeAngelo. We’re going to be joined for a short while by several other archaeologists and students from Barrow, elsewhere in Alaska, the Lower 48, France and possibly Poland. There is also a small field school run through University of Alaska Fairbanks (which still has room for a couple more people–if you have tried to register & failed, contact me–there was apparently a computer glitch that was blocking people for a while), and some folks who are volunteering in other ways. One of my co-workers can’t get away to go into the field, since summer is the busy season, but is scanning all of last year’s field notebooks.
Getting to the field may be a challenge. The ocean is still ice-covered, and there is still snow and ice on the beach. We just had a pouring rainstorm, with thunder & lightning, so the land trail is probably now really awful.
The trip to the conferences went well. I really didn’t have much time at SAAs to even see friends, if they weren’t in one of the sessions I was involved in. Then it was off to Prague for a session at Arctic Science Summit Week. It was a great session, although we were put into a tiny room, which the participants in the session nearly filled, so a lot of non-archaeologists wound up peeking in and moving on. Peter Jordan who got me involved in the session, and Sean Desjardins, are guest editors for a special issue of Quaternary International which will publish papers from this and a previous session. I seem to have promised them two!
I didn’t have very long in Prague, but did get a chance to catch up with Vica Lozinschi, a former BASC intern who helped with some salvage at Nuvuk. She is married and living in Prague now. We only had a morning, but she took me to see some of the sights (some literally “see” from afar since I had a lunch meeting afterwards!).
Once I got back from Prague I have been writing proposal language, and papers almost non-stop. For some reason, most of the handbook/encyclopedia type volumes I have contributions in are doing new editions this year, which means the articles have to be revised and updated. Several other articles have reached the proofs stage and need to be gone through.
Then there is a dissertation committee I am on. That meant I spent last weekend reading the dissertation, and am now trying to find a time when the entire committee can meet (several of us on Skype) to discuss. I am also working on final radiocarbon calibration and modeling for the WALRUS project, with a deadline due to one of the students having a presentation at the end of the month in which he wants to use my results. There were a few problems with the master database, now resolved. I’ve got all the dates calibrated, haveHarris Matrices built for all but two of the sites, and am using them to check my radiocarbon modeling against. I’ve spent all day today and will spend part of tomorrow on a site with a big wiggle in the calibration curve that pretty much seems to fall right at the period of occupation, so that’s annoying.
I’m also trying to pull the Walakpa salvage project together. This is a site with a deep history that was used up until very recently, and is still visited regularly by folks from Utqiaġvik. It would be a real shame if the structures we found last year just eroded, and at the rate things are going, normal funding channels simply are not fast enough.
This has all kept me pretty busy, and last week I had dental surgery. I was supposed to get an implanted post that a crown would go on after it healed, but apparently my bone hadn’t grown into the socket in a way to suit the dentist. So he routed a bunch of it out (hate that crunching sound in your head) and did a bone graft, so now I have to wait four months and maybe then get the implant. Sigh.
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.
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.
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.
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.