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.
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.
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.
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 am writing this from Disney World, where I have gone to talk about archaeology, particularly global change threats to the archaeological and paleoecological records. The Society for American Archaeology is having its 81st Annual Meeting here, so I am sitting on the 11th floor of a hotel with a view across a lot of fairly low lying land. It might be high enough to survive several meters of sea level rise, but by 20m, the Orlando airport looks like it gets iffy.
I organized a session on, surprise, global change threats to the archaeological and paleoecological records. It should be good, with people presenting on various aspects of the problem in various part of the world (mostly the North), and some possible solutions being tried as well. The session is Saturday morning, and we’ve got Ben Fitzhugh from UW as discussant, as well as a 15 minute discussion slot. I hope we get good attendance, because this is a critical issue for the future of the discipline (and maybe of people in general). Of course, in their infinite wisdom, the schedulers put us directly opposite the session in honor of Lou Giddings, which deals with coastal Alaska. I actually have to read a paper for someone because the primary author couldn’t travel and the second author is giving a paper in the Giddings session at the same time! Meanwhile, I’d already gone to most of the papers I want to see today by 10:30 AM.
Last night I went to the President’s Forum, which was on Climate Change and Archaeology. Dan Sandweiss had organized a nice set of speakers. One of them was Paul Mayewski,who specializes in ice cores and their analysis. He talked about some new software they have, and then he described a new instrument they have which can sample cores in tiny increments, so they can actually see individual storms thousands of years ago in the right type of core! I introduced myself afterwards, and asked if it might work on ice wedges, following up on a suggestion Vlad Romanovsky had made during ASSW. He thought so, and offered to pay to ship a trial wedge sample to his lab so they could try it. Now I just have to get a good sample. Hopefully it works, but either way it will be interesting.
I’ve got a meeting later today (and another on Saturday for those who can’t make today’s) for folks who want to help with 2016 Walakpa Archaeological Salvage (WASP 2016). Today we meet at 5PM at registration, and anyone who is interested is free to come along. Now I have to run off and find the meeting of the newest SAA committee, Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR).
From Glasgow, we went on to Vienna and CHAGS (the Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies), by way of Düsseldorf. The Düsseldorf airport is not high on my list of airports in Europe.
In Vienna, we stayed in Hotel-Pension Bleckmann, a nice family-run hotel near the University, where all the conference sessions were being held. The hotel had great breakfasts, and the staff was really nice and very helpful. They recommended a restaurant that had great food and a local clientele, so it was more reasonable than the more touristy places.
The conference was very interesting. Both Glenn & I were giving papers in a session on Aboriginal Whaling in the 21st Century. I talked about the archaeological evidence for whaling in Alaska, and Glenn talked about the late pre-contact/protohistoric whaling-centric system in North Alaska. There were a number of other northern papers in the session, including papers on Central and Eastern Canadian whaling archaeology from Jim Savelle and Peter Whitridge, as well as papers on whaling in places like Korea & Bequia. There were 51 other sessions, all having to do with hunting and gathering groups. Of course there were a lot of northern papers, but some of the other papers were very interesting as well. The organizing committee and the students really made an effort to have a green conference, including the food and drinks served at breaks, and all in all it was quite fun.
We ran into a couple of hooded crows in one of the courtyards on campus. Oddly, we’d seen one at the University of Glasgow as well.
The campus has all sort of restaurants and beer gardens more or less on or next to it. It was very convenient after sessions. Several times we wound up at Steigel-Ambulanz. This was a restaurant/beer garden right across a walkway from the area where the sessions were concentrated. It featured seriously large portions, but the food was very good. We also had a dinner at Universitätsbräuhaus, which was more or less across the quad.
The conference banquet was held in a banquet hall in the Wiener Rathauskeller. That literally means the cellar of the city hall, and that’s exactly where it is, in the basement of Vienna City Hall. It is set up for banquets (and also as a restaurant). The food was great, and Richard Lee (of Man the Hunter fame) was honored for his contributions. He was just back from something like his 50th field season!
Vienna had more places that only took cash than do most cities these days. We wound up having to wake quite a way to find a bank that exchanged money, since we needed more Euros than we had exchanged in the first place. On the way, we stopped by the Spanish Riding School (home of the Lipizzaner stallions), and booked a stable tour for the next afternoon, when there weren’t any sessions we simply needed to hear. The building the Riding School is in had a stratified archaeological site under the plaza in front of it, and portions had been preserved with a wall around it.
The next day we went for the stable tour. It was pretty interesting, and the stables were very nice, although we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the actual stables. Much like the Royal Stables in Denmark, the horses were all in box stalls, but you could see they had been converted from tie stalls at some point in the past.
Believe it or not, when it was built, the Winter Riding School hall was considered very simple in design, the better to show off the horses!
We walked back to our hotel through the Hofburg grounds. Being in Vienna really brings home that until pretty recently, it was the seat of a major empire.
I couldn’t resist adding this. The German for ice cream is “eis” and this is an ice cream shop.
When I last posted I had just left for a trip to two conferences in Europe. Since then, I’ve been in 4 countries, given two papers (at EAA 2015 in Glasgow and CHAGS 11 in Vienna), submitted an organized SAA session for next spring, come home, gone to Fairbanks for shotgun qualification, come back home, had two of the WALRUS project participants up here to cut samples from the bones that the interns have been finding in the collections, written part of two reports, drafted two abstracts for a meeting in November, and started on a proposal for an edited volume dealing with climate change & archaeology. I haven’t managed to post at all.
Last week was a tough week for Barrow in many ways, with the deaths of several community members, including long-time mayor Nate Olemaun Jr.. On a brighter note, Barrow took three whales on Friday, and another three today.
I managed to get a couple of videos of the evaluation of things exposed by erosion at Ukkuqsi on Thursday uploaded to YouTube. You can see them here, and here.
Unfortunately, the erosion continued, and additional items were exposed after I left for a trip to two conferences in Europe, possibly including human remains (this is the site where the little frozen girl was found in 1994). The North Slope Borough is taking care of the situation at the moment.
Things have eroded out elsewhere in the Barrow area as well. At one point I was on the phone with someone from the North Slope Borough about one site, when someone else called about something found at another location entirely. And I now have a voicemail about yet another location!
Last night was not particularly restful. The collapse had complicated matters quite a bit. However, after breakfast, we went back to work.
The old location was not viable, so I picked a new spot about a meter south, which became Column Sample 2 (CS 2). There was a bit of an overhang, and a very deep crack behind the bluff face. We needed to get all that material out of there. It took a bit of thought to figure out how to do it (not a usual archaeological operation, fortunately). Finally, we put a blue tarp down on the bottom of the main cleft so we could drag fill without anyone having to be under any overhangs or unstable areas, everybody got out of the way, and I cut the overhang back while standing as far back from it as possible. We then took the material out with a bucket brigade. Once that was done, I levered all the cracked material off, and we took it out the same way.
Once that was done, I decided that we would excavate in levels labeled with letters, so we could proceed quickly, rather than wait for Owen to try to match levels in the detailed CS1 profile, which could have been a slow process. It seemed like the fairly warm, dry weather was letting the face dry out while detailed profiling was happening, and the longer it was exposed the more chance of another collapse. Owen would do another detailed profile after we got the column sample.
I also decided to make the sample a bit smaller in volume. CS 1 we had been trying for 75 cm x 75 cm (mostly because that size fit between some prior disturbances), but 50 cm x 50 cm seemed more manageable in the time we had left. One gallon from each sub level was retained as a bulk sample, and the remainder of sediment from the sub level was screened through 1/8″ and 1/4″ mesh.
We were just getting started when someone arrived to do a coastal DGPS survey that is part of the coastal mapping aspect of the Barrow Area Information Database project. He passed on a message that said my boss needed me to come back into town. (There is no effective connectivity at Walakpa, which is why this is being posted after the fact). I reviewed recording stratigraphy (or artifacts if any showed up) with Laura Crawford, made sure everyone knew how to use the InReach is needed, and headed back to Barrow by ATV around 1PM.
Something had come up with one of the compliance projects we are working on, and I needed to talk to people and draft some documents. I made it back to Walakpa around 10PM.
On the way, I met some folks out for an evening ride, and they stopped over to visit. One of them had spent a lot of time at Walakpa when she was younger, and had some great stories. I hope we can get them recorded for future generations.
The rest of the folks had managed to complete the column sample, so we talked about closing up shop tomorrow. We just need to finish screening, record the Test Units on the Pipe Monument midden, and backfill the TUs.
Owen and Laura got up early and screened what we had dug last night. Owen worked to finish the profile. There is an apparent marine level at Level 13.
We had problems with both transit and radio batteries. Despite that, I showed Laura how to run the transit, so I don’t have to be awake all the time. We shot in the remaining levels of CS 1, as well as the new test units on the mound.
Laura and Owen continued taking CS 1 down. Unfortunately, after the dinner break, they returned to find that the bottom of the profile had collapsed.
It was a pretty depressing situation. It left an overhang, so there was no way to just continue safely. It mean that we would have to start over again in the morning.
We went to work in earnest today. Owen went to work on recording the stratigraphy of the profile we had chosen for the column sample (CS 1). I had him marking the bottom of each level so we could continue excavation even after he went to sleep. Anne Garland and Laura kept working on the tests on the mound with the monument. The SW quad of the 1×1 came down on a cryoturbated sterile layer. There was metal throughout the cultural levels. We expanded northward to examine some wood in that wall.
Meanwhile, I set up the transit and began shooting in the CS 1 profile, as well as the bluff edge. The NW quad of TU 1 had similar results, so we put some 50x50s closer to the bluff edge to see if we could find datable material and the edge of the feature.
Mary Beth Timm and I took naps, so we could stay up late and work on the CS 1 profile. After dinner, we shot in the upper levels of the CS 1 profile, as well as a polar bear jaw that was exposed in Level 12, so that it would not get stepped on. Mary Beth & I started excavating CS 1. We are excavating in natural stratigraphic levels, with any level that is more than 5 cm in depth broken into 5 cm sub-levels. One gallon from each 5 cm is being kept as a bulk sample, and we are screening the remainder.
We kept going until it go so dark that we really couldn’t see the soil colors, which was around 2 AM. We had accomplished a fair bit, so we headed off to bed.
The weather is often best at night. It was really beautiful. A pair of loons was swimming on the lagoon.
Jeff Rasic from the National Park Service, along with Rebekah DeAngelo from Yale and her grad student Brooke Luokkala are in town to do some work, along with Laura Crawford, at the Birnirk National Historic Landmark site, which is on UIC lands (and yes, the actual name of the place is Piġniq, but the site has been written about as Birnirk, so I’m using that name for the site). Becky and Brooke got in Sunday, after travel from the east coast, and Jeff got in yesterday. However, the weather was pretty bad, so we postponed real fieldwork until today.
I did see them in the field briefly yesterday. I had to take a quick trip to the point to check on something for UIC Lands. On the way back, I met them near the Birnirk site, unfortunately a bit stuck in gravel. They were successfully extracted and continued their tour of Barrow.
Today we went out to Birnirk. We looked at all the mounds, Jeff got GPS points on mounds and other reference points, and Laura did quite a bit of coring. I flagged the perimeter of a “box” that we hope to have some of Craig Tweedie’s crew do detailed DGPS measurements on. That data can be used to make a contour map of the site, which can then be compared to the map James Ford made in the early 1950s, when he was there with Carter. It should be interesting to see how much sea level has changed. It clearly has risen since the earliest houses were occupied, and even since the early aerial photos, but the question is, how much?
After a rather long, drawn-out saga, everything is in place and I can draw on funds so I can work on the WALRUS project. The delays have been really frustrating for everyone involved. Once I get the interns on board in Barrow, we’ll get back to going through the faunal material we have there for walrus samples.
We are trying to get samples from a wide range of sites. Since the sampling is destructive, we don’t want to use artifacts if that can be avoided. Ideally we want unmodified walrus parts, bone or tooth, or if we can’t get enough of them, manufacturing discards. As a fallback, we may wind up sampling things like shovels or bola weights, assuming we can get the museum’s permission, since they are common types of artifacts, and not diagnostic (or something that is likely to be displayed). We currently can’t use tusk parts, since there have been no modern studies to compare their chemistry to that of bones and teeth, so interpretation of results would be problematic. (If any carvers would be able to contribute some scraps from tusks along with a sample of bone and/or a tooth from the same animal, it would be a really big help). We are also looking for caribou or some terrestrial plant material from the same place in the site for radiocarbon dating, since marine mammals incorporate old carbon and the dates are hard to interpret.
More recent archaeological projects tend to have excavated faunal material in the same way as everything else, with decent stratigraphic control, and also tend to have brought it back from the field. However, in the early days, that was not often the case. Even if material was brought back, it often wasn’t cataloged in any detail, so reports are almost no help in figuring out if there is any walrus to be had in archaeological collections. A bit of walrus shows up in catalogs, but most of it is in the form of artifacts. A lot of walrus artifacts (particularly bone, since ivory was clearly an item of trade) suggests that the inhabitants of a site were hunting walrus, so the potential for walrus parts to exist in the collection is there.
Many of the classic sites on the coast of Alaska have strong indications that walrus were being caught by the people who lived there, but they were excavated decades ago, and finding suitable samples in the collections was not something that could just be done by getting someone to pull a particular bag or catalog number. It pretty much requires looking through mixed lots of artifacts and bags of bones. So I’m in Fairbanks doing just that.
We are mostly working in the museum, but it is closed on the weekend, so we got permission to bring a collection of faunal material to the PI (Nicole Misarti)’s lab, and we went through it yesterday. It took some doing, but we got though it, and should have plenty of samples. It was an adventure. We had 24 boxes, most of them full of bags like this:
Not all of the bags were correctly labeled, or at least the labels often didn’t specify species, just element, so we had to look.
We found a few other interesting things in the process, including this really large fish bone from Point Hope.
I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of cod (Gadid) but exactly what sort? It’s really big. If I have time, I’ll talk to the curator of fish, but the mission is walrus samples at the moment.
WALRUS – Walrus Adaptability and Long-term Responses; Using multi-proxy data to project Sustainability
We are seeking students (high school or college) to work in the archaeological laboratory on artifacts as part of several NSF-funded research projects. The lab crew will be working on processing artifacts excavated at Nuvuk, Walakpa and other North Slope sites.
This will involve cleaning (gently), sorting, marking, cataloging and preparing some items for transfer to a long-term repository. We will also be going through and sorting some frozen organic samples from an earlier project in Barrow that have been sent back from New York State.
We also will be attempting to find walrus bones in these collections for analysis at UAF. There is a possibility for student travel in connection with that project.
You do not need any prior experience; we can train you. Many archaeology crew members start as high school students. Once you learn how to do the work, scheduling can be very flexible. If you have skills in drawing, photography, or data entry, we can really use your help as well! Starting wages will depend on experience and qualifications.
To apply, send a resume and cover letter to Anne Jensen, email@example.com as soon as possible. You can use the contact form below for questions.