Some media attention, and why it can be a double-deged sword

For some reason, this year there has been quite a bit of media interest in Barrow and archaeology.  To begin with, there were several film crews in Barrow while we were working at Walakpa, two of which actually came out to the site and filmed as well as filming in the lab.  Only one of them has anything out yet.  PBS filmed for several both in the field and in the lab, and a little bit of it made it into this piece,  and a shot in the slideshow that they put up on the web in conjunction with the series on sea ice change. It was a very buggy day in the field, and it was quite the challenge not to be swatting mosquitoes all the time.

Oh, and the buoy experiment that Ignatius Rigor is working on in the film clip is supported by UIC Science staff (not that they have to do much, the idea is to see how the buoys do with no servicing). Their data can be compared to data from ARM’s established serviced meteorological instruments.   That way, when scientists get buoy data, they have an idea how reliable it is, and if there are any special considerations in interpretation (becoming uncalibrated over time, etc.)

We’ve also gotten interest from the press. Abra Stolte-Patkotak, one of our volunteers writes for the Arctic Sounder, and did a piece on the Walakpa excavations, which is on-line here.  For some reason, they don’t have the picture that was published up on-line, but I will ask Abra if I can put it up here & add it if so.

I am currently working with a free-lancer who has interviewed me and asked me to fact check the article before he goes further.  A very good idea, as many years ago I was interviewed by a reporter who mis-heard my answer to the question of how far back in time human occupation of the Barrow area was archaeologically demonstrated to extend.  I said “maybe 4 to 5 thousand years” which was what people thought reasonable for Denbigh at the time.  He refused fact-checking help, and published an article in which I was directly quoted as saying “45,000 years”.  Although Glenn & I could never get the Arctic Sounder to mail our subscription to us in Pennsylvania, apparently Tiger Burch could.  I got a very puzzled email from him after the article came out, in which I believe he was politely trying to ask me if I’d lost my mind.  Fortunately, he had enough experience with the press that he believed the explanation.

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What came before we were so rudely interrupted by Mother Nature

Things got rather busy around here, since I hadn’t actually been planning to be in the field, and had several other things going at work that required some time and attention.  Combined with rather chilly weather and a commute that did my no-longer-fused spine no favors, I wound up putting sleep ahead of updating the blog.  Now that the fieldwork is done & I’m getting everything else caught up, time for an update on what happened before the season ended.

We managed to get quite a bit accomplished before the weather stopped us.  Fortunately, the entrances to the lagoons closed up, and we generally had less trouble getting to the site in September, thank goodness!  In the end, we had just hit frozen ground at the back corner of the excavation when everything started freezing up.  This is good, since that means everything behind/below that should still be in great shape if erosion doesn’t get to it before we can.  We actually had some really lovely days.  And enough wind so no bugs!

Lagoon and tent on a nice day.
Lagoon and tent on a nice day, as seen from the excavation.

The floor that we had encountered in the south end of the trench cleaned up nicely.  There had been a pot in the corner, but all that was left was a pile of smashed sherds.  The digging of the pit that someone had put in above it had probably smashed what was left.  Near where the arrow shafts were found was an area of floor so soaked with marine mammal oil that you could actually wipe it off of one patch of floor.  It seems most likely that this was a tent floor, since there was no evidence of structure otherwise, and it was not far enough below the surface for a semi-subterranean house.

Probable tent floor after cleaning.  Pot was located in the lower left corner, left of the stick.  The oil patch surrounds the North arrow.
Probable tent floor after cleaning. Pot was located in the lower left corner, left of the stick. The oil patch surrounds the North arrow.

The house (at least I think it was a house) proved very complex.  The small area we were able to open was not big enough to let me see what was going on well enough to be definite.  However, there seem to have been several floors.  We were not able to get down to them before freeze up, but we determined that there were several layers of midden (trash deposit) on them, so it would appear that the house must have been abandoned and reused, rather than just rebuilt.

VIew from the side showing
View from the side showing several layers of floor logs above the sill logs & below the green bucket.

At some point in the sequence, it looks like the structure may have had a meat cache pit (sort of the forerunner of today’s ice cellars) in it.  There was a distinct line of hardened red marine mammal oil

IMG_0754
North edge of the meat pit. Caribou jaw lying along the sloping side just to the left of the North arrow. The red oil layer continued under the plank.  The north logs were above the edge of the pit, but there was a layer of midden in between, so they were not associated.
IMG_0068
Another view of the red oil level underneath some logs (possibly 2 separate floors). Notice the seal scapula used as a chock under the plank on the right.
IMG_0065
Another view of the red oil layer showing it sloping up to the right. Note that the apparent sill logs for the main structure are below what is visible in the picture.

We got all the way to the bottom of the large post in the northern half of the trench.  It turned out to be a later addition, dug into an existing midden, and chocked with a seal sacrum, a walrus vertebra and a broken pick head.  There were two smaller (and apparently earlier) posts very close to it, one of which had a deposit of shell next to it.  That will be interesting if we can ID any of them.

Post, showing sacrum and vertebra used as chocks.
Post, showing sacrum and vertebra used as chocks.
Post with pick used as chock at base to left of North arrow.
Post with pick used as chock at base to left of North arrow.
A view of the excavation.  NO, the wall was not curved; this is a raw iPhone panorama shot, & that happens.  Our walls are straighter than that!
A view of the excavation before the post and north logs came out.  NO, the wall was not curved; this is a raw iPhone panorama shot, & that happens. Our walls are straighter than that!

 

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Winter comes

We had been working as fast as we could on the structures at Walakpa.  Given how far north we are, “Winter is coming!” pretty much applies as soon as it starts thawing in spring.  We had a fair bit of windy weather, so it wasn’t pleasant working conditions, but the ambient temperature was generally above freezing, so the ground remained soft, and we were able to continue excavation.

The batteries on the transit were not happy, and we pretty much needed to have one charging at all times, or risk shut-down until we could charge a battery.  The batteries are a bit old, and need to be re-celled or replaced, but since I hadn’t expected to be excavating this summer, that was scheduled to happen over the coming winter, which left us a bit handicapped.

But then, last Monday, there was a dusting of snow on the ground in the morning, and it didn’t melt.  Further south in Alaska, snow on the tops of the mountains is often called “Termination Dust” since its appearance signals the beginning of the end of the summer season.  And so it was here.

I had started accumulating materials to protect the site over the weekend.  UIC Construction had some surplus damaged materials in their yard which would otherwise have just gone to the dump, and they were kind enough to donate them to the cause.  Monday, we started hauling them down to Walakpa.

A dusting of snow on the site & the beach in the morning
A dusting of snow on the site & the beach in the morning
Shards of ice from the tarp after the site was uncovered.
Shards of ice from the tarp after the site was uncovered.

We kept digging, since the ground wasn’t frozen.  The next morning, there was a lot more snow on the beach, and the ground was really stiff although we did manage to dig a bit more and screen all but two buckets.

We met a polar bear on the way down to the site.  It was tired, resting on the beach, but was so wary that it got up and moved before we could detour around it so it could rest.

More snow on the beach.  And a tired polar bear, who was none too happy when we showed up on ATVs.
More snow on the beach. And a tired polar bear, who was none too happy when we showed up on ATVs.

We put particle board along the erosion face of the site, and gathered sods from the beach to stack up to hold them in place.  We also used upright driftwood to help hold this in place.  By the end of the day, I concluded that things were freezing to the point where only a pickax would move dirt, which would sort of defeat the purpose  of archaeological excavation, so we started hauling gear back to town that night.

We allowed the site to freeze more the next day, and Thursday we went down to put the site to bed & take down the tent.

We put a layer of whiteboard insulation on the top and front of the site, and then covered it with geotextile fabric, fastened in place with spikes.  Then we covered that with the original sods which had been saved.

Excavation surface covered by whtieboard.
Excavation surface covered by whiteboard.
Protecting the site with particleboard, geotextile, sod and driftwood.
Protecting the site with particle board, geotextile, sod and driftwood.
Sod back on the site.
Sod back on the site.

Once we had that taken care of, the gear had to be packed up and the tent taken down.  We spray painted the hubs of the Arctic Oven frame so the next folks who set it up will have an easier time of it than we did doing it without instructions.

Tent & fly are packed and Jason Thomas is disassembling the frame.
Tent & fly are packed and Jason Thomas is disassembling the frame.
Packing the trailers.  Riley Kalayauk brought his trailer down too, so we had 2.
Packing the trailers. Riley Kalayauk brought his trailer down too, so we had 2.
Happy hard-working crew ready to head home.
Happy hard-working crew ready to head home.

Now all we can do is hope and pray that there are no storms before the ocean freezes up that generate waves big enough to reach the site, and if there are, that they don’t last long enough to destroy the protection that we built.  If we are fortunate, it will still be there next year, and we can learn more.

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An exciting commute

The water was a bit higher than yesterday on the way down, and we had to winch a couple of the 4-wheelers out of deeper mud, but we got to the site with not too much trouble.  We put a stick in a the high water mark so we could see what the ocean was doing and went to work on the structure.

Yesterday, the strong winds made water screening where we have to do it a pretty sure ticket to hypothermia, so we tried just dry screening on the beach in the shelter of the bluffs, and it worked well.

Dry screening on the beach.
Dry screening on the beach.

We made pretty good progress on the excavation.  More logs were exposed in both of the parallel log features (fallen walls?).   The area between the logs is getting soft, and seems to contain a lot of animal bones, many of which are lying in a way suggesting they were tossed into a depression.  South of the southern logs, we uncovered what appears to be part of a plank floor, maybe for a tent, since it doesn’t seem deep enough for a house.  Next to, but apparently not on it, there was a cluster of ceramic sherds, including a large rim sherd.  This was right under an old looters pit, and their activity may have broken the pot.

Panorama of the excavation
Panorama of the excavation.
IMG_0036
Ceramic sherds at lower left (with Visqueen sticking out of the wall above them), plank floor in lower center, south logs at right, and arrow shafts at top center.

Beside the logs, but again not on the plank floor, we found two arrow shafts, apparently associated with a strip of baleen, and a fragment of bird hide.  A couple of pieces of hide, one sewn, had been found just above this.  This could be the remains of a quiver, or possibly a work bag, since there was a ground slate knife blade fragment and a worked piece of chert nearby. We’ll continue there tomorrow.

We didn’t stay out as long as we might have, since the waves seemed to be coming higher up the beach.  It turned out to be a good thing.  Going back to town was a bit of an adventure for us, although only one of us got stuck, but even more so for a man & his son we met on the way.  They were trying to head out towing a trailer, and had gotten really stuck in a deep soft spot.  It looked like they had been there a while trying to get out.  We were able to get one of the 4-wheelers with a winch to where we could pull them out, and then waited until they got turned around and back on the town side.

 

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August 15th at Walakpa–78 years ago and today

Seventy-eight years ago, it was a foggy day at Walakpa.  The Okpeaha family was camping there.  A floatplane descended out of the fog, and two men asked how to get to Barrow, since they had lost their bearings in the fog.  Getting directions, the got back in the plane and took off.  The engine failed, and the nose-heavy aircraft crashed into the lagoon and flipped.  Unable to reach the plane to help the men, Clare Okpeaha ran all the way to Brower’s Trading Post in Barrow, over 12 miles of very rough going, to get help.  When boats got back to Walakpa & they got to the plane, it became clear the men had been killed instantly.  They were Will Rogers, a noted humorist and political commentator, who was traveling around Alaska to get stories for the newspapers, and Wiley Post, probably the most famous American aviator of the time after Charles Lindbergh.

The crash was national news at the time, and a few years later a monument was erected near the site, followed some time later by another one.  These are the monuments that show up in some of the pictures of the site.  For some reason, these are on the National Register of Historic Places, but the archaeological site isn’t.

The first monument , looking out over the lagoon where the crash occurred.
The first monument , looking out over the lagoon where the crash occurred.

Today was a much better day at Walakpa.  We headed down with 7 volunteers, including David Pettibone, Michael Berger, dental extern Temurkin Cucukov, and the entire Von Duyke family, plus Marybeth Timm from the Inupiat Heritage Center.  The stream was running high and fast at Nunavak, but we got across, although not before I got my boot wet.  With that many people, it seemed worth getting the water screening going, so we did, using a small pump to take water out of the lagoon.  Alan & Scott Kerner happened by on an ATV ride and pitched in for a while as well.

Wet screeners in action by the lagoon.
Wet screeners in action by the lagoon.

The rest of us continued with taking down the rather disturbed level under the sod.  It would be a lot easier if we could just shovel it out, but the bluff doesn’t seem that stable & we’re afraid we’ll knock the whole thing down if we shovel, especially since there are still a lot of roots holding things together at this level.

Excavating the disturbed layer. Note the Visqueen.
Excavating the disturbed layer. Note the Visqueen.

A while after we got there, a boat pulled in, and Jeff Rasic from the National Park Service (in town for a meeting at the Inupiat Heritage Center) Patuk Glenn (IHC) and Kunneak Nageak (IHLC) appeared.  They got a good tour, and spent a bit of time wandering around.  Jeff found a big sod with a lot of artifacts in it, including several very nice potsherds, one with residue, which we collected.

Excavation at Walakpa.
Excavation at Walakpa.  L. to R.  Marybeth Timm, Temerkin Cucukov, Michael Berger, Jeff Rasic, David Pettibone & Trina Brower.
Potsherds.
Potsherds.

The ride home was even more exciting.  Nunavak wasn’t too bad, but they were unloading a barge on the beach, so we took the old Nunavak “road” back to town.  It has pretty much disappeared back into the tundra on the middle section the last few years, and it was a very muddy ride!

A beautiful day at Walakpa!

We went to Walakpa today.  I’d heard that Nunavak might be running too hard to cross, so we were sort of preparing for having to ride around on the tundra, which would be time-consuming and bone-rattling.  When we got there, we were able to find a couple of ways across, so no worries.

We made good progress on removing the sod & an underlying level of disturbed soil.  Aside from the fact that it contains random fragments of bone, charcoal, rocks, lumps of clay, etc, the fact that it is on top of Visqueen in a lot of places is a strong hint.

Excavating at Walakpa.
Excavating at Walakpa.

The last bits of the overhang are gone.  One fell, and the rest we cut off where it was cracking.  It looks like the ground squirrels had a tunnel where the crack was, so there really wasn’t much holding it.  Some of what came off looked like a sod wall, but it had part of a plastic eyeglasses frame in it, so it can’t be very old, or associated with the house.  We are almost at the point where we should be able to excavate normally.

It was a beautiful day.

Walakpa around lunchtime.
Walakpa around lunchtime.

A bit more about Iñupiat subsistence whaling

My post on the Anagi crew’s whale has gotten a number of comments from people who are interested, one way or another, in whales.  Some of them are genuinely interested in learning more about whales & Iñupiat whaling; others appear not to be.  I’m going to try to answer some of the questions, and provide links to sites that can give even more information.

But first,  see this Public Service Announcement.

OK, now a bit of history.  Alaska Natives (and in fact many other Native Americans and Canadian First Nations people) have been whaling for 2000 years or more, since before the Thule culture developed, based on archaeology.  Aboriginal whaling did not damage the whale stocks in any way that can be detected.  What damaged whale stocks was European (and later Euro-American) commercial whaling.  The bowhead was popular with commercial whalers because it was non-agressive and had a lot of blubber for whale oil, plus long baleen.  Most Eastern Arctic stocks were decimated by the early 19th century.

In the western North American Arctic, commercial whaler Thomas Welcome Roys first cruised north of the Bering Strait in 1848, starting a rush to catch the plentiful and naive Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort stock of bowheads on which so many coastal Alaska natives and their inland trading partners depended.  The whales soon became skittish and scarce and many Alaska Natives died of starvation.

Once oil was struck in Pennsylvania, one of the big reasons for hunting whales diminished.  But the baleen, the plates in a whale’s mouth that they use to filter-feed, was still valuable for buggy whips and corset and collar stays.  Bowheads have by far the longest baleen of any whale (15 feet or more from a big whale), so they were still hunted until those items were no longer in fashion or needed.

Many coastal Alaska Natives had become involved in commercial whaling, including shore-based commercial whaling carried out with traditional Iñupiat techniques with Yankee style harpoons, to support their families.  After commercial whaling ended, coastal whaling communities continued these hunts, combining traditional techniques and traditional and modern technology.

In the late 1970’s, some Western biologists, who were not experienced in the Arctic and knew little about bowhead whales (biologists didn’t back then) tried to count bowheads.  They believed that the whales were scared of ice!  They thought the bowheads had to travel in a lead and would come up to breathe in the lead so they could be counted.  Even if that were true, they didn’t account for the fact that there are multiple leads, and that the whales only have to breathe every so often and that wouldn’t necessarily be where the observation post was.  They came up with a count of several hundred whales, and of course, sounded the alarm.  A moratorium was declared on Alaska Native whaling in 1977 (years before the moratorium on commercial whaling, I might add).

Since many families got (and still do get today) a significant portion of their meat from whales, this was a huge problem.  Although wages may look high in places like Alaska’s North Slope, costs are high too, and many families do not have someone who is working in the cash economy and can afford to feed a family on store food and whatever else they can hunt (and of course full-time work does interfere with hunting, which was traditionally a full-time occupation itself).  Most Iñupiat had never heard of the International Whaling commission, and couldn’t understand why they felt it appropriate to starve human beings by forbidding them to feed themselves.

They were particularly puzzled because senior whaling captains and hunters who had spent many decades on the ice had observed that the bowhead population appeared to be growing from the depths it had sunk to by the end of commercial whaling.  They knew that bowheads are not scared of ice.  In fact they can breathe under quite thick ice (they become positively buoyant and use the bow on their head where their nostrils are to push up the ice, cracking enough to let air into the little tented space formed under the ice and breathe there, and then submerge and go on about their business), and that they would not restrict travel to the near shore lead, so they knew the count was wrong.

The North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, with many cooperating researchers over the years, has been studying bowhead whales ever since.  They soon developed a much better way to count them, which is continually refined.  Counts now show an annual rate of increase of 3.2%, which is really high for such long-lived animals.

The Alaska Native Bowhead hunt is highly regulated.   The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) manages the hunt under authority from the US government.  There is a quota of strikes (not whales taken, but whales struck so there is an incentive to land every whale struck if humanly possible), which is established based on document subsistence needs of each whaling community, in light of the population estimates. This quota is set so that communities get what they need and no more.  The harvest is considerably below what population biologists would consider a sustainable harvest if they were talking about elk, or caribou, or mule deer.  As long as something else, like marine noise or a massive oil spill in Arctic waters, doesn’t come along and decimate the population the way commercial whaling did, this is absolutely a sustainable harvest, carried out by people who entire culture is centered around that harvest.

The AEWC divides the quota between communities, based on active crews and population, and approves the transfer of strikes between communities (if, say, the ice is bad in one place and they can’t catch whales, they may transfer their strikes to a place with better conditions) since the maktak and meat is shared and everyone on the North Slope and beyond benefits if whales are taken.  Only captains and crews registered with the AEWC are allowed to take whales, and violations of rules, ceasefires, etc can and has led to punishment or suspension of the offending captain.

When a whale is taken there are traditional rules for sharing which vary by community.  In general, specific shares go the captain, the boat (itself–although obviously the boat owner disposes of the boat’s share), the harpooner, the other crew members, and the other boats which helped tow the whale back to be cut up.  Anyone who shows up to help with the butchering (even a little) gets a share.  My daughter helped a very little once when she was about 8, and she came home with a small share.  The captain’s wife and her helpers cook round the clock after the whale is ashore, and when they are ready, the captain’s flag is hoisted and anyone who wants can go and get fed (they will usually send to-go plates to house-bound Elders).

After that, the captain and crew get ready for a celebration where a great deal more of the whale is shared with whomever shows up.  People get whale meat, maktak, kidney, intestine, tail, flipper, gums, plus goose soup, mikiaq (whale blubber, meat & blood, fermented–and before you say gross, when was the last time you ate curdled drained milk with mold on it–AKA a nice Stilton or Brie?), rolls, cakes, fruit, etc.  Most families in the community go to at least one of these every year.  Many go to all of them.  The amount given to each person depends on how many in the family (and the servers pretty much know or the people sitting around do, so no one fibs).  Captains also give out meat & maktak at Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts to whomever shows up (usually much of the community), and usually will provide some for potluck and other festivities as well.  They also share with Elders & folks who need it during the year.  Most of the folks with whom it is shared share it farther.  Shares travel to Anchorage and even to the Lower 48.  Some of the people who get shares send back things like berries or smoked salmon from their area, or caribou from the interior.

None of the whale, or any other marine mammal for that matter, can be sold, with the exception that Alaska coastal Natives can use baleen or bone or ivory to make handicrafts, which they then may sell.  They are not allowed to waste the rest of the animal just to get these products.

There is a great list of links to good solid information on the bowhead whale and bowhead hunt here.

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Finally, a whale for Barrow! Yay, hey, hey!

Yesterday and today were great days for Barrow.  Last night, showing real persistence in the face of very discouraging conditions this spring, a number of crews went out.  Anagi crew took a 54 footer, the first whale taken in Barrow this spring (or summer, as some of my Facebook friends pointed out).  The whale reached the beach just after midnight, according to Coby, who took a picture of the landing at 12:05 AM.

I had gone to bed early, trying to make up for sleep lost due to something or other wrong with my shoulder, and slept right through it.  None of my co-workers did.  I got a call at 7AM from Trina, who had been helping all night and had realized she couldn’t stay awake for work (or give rides to the others).  I headed for town.  I stopped at the whale first.  As you can see, the weather wasn’t great, as it often isn’t in the morning in summer, and it actually started raining pretty hard while I was there.

Approaching Anagi crew's whale.
Approaching Anagi crew’s whale.
About 9 hours into the butchering.
About 9 hours into the butchering.
Shares of maktak waiting to be put away.
Shares of maktak waiting to be put away.

A bowhead whale weighs roughly a ton a foot, so cutting up a whale this big involves a tremendous amount of labor.  People had been working for about nine hours at this point, and still had a way to go.  The maktak (skin & blubber–very tasty indeed) was mostly off.  There was a bit waiting to be taken either to the captain’s cellar to be put away or divided as shares, but a lot of it had clearly already been taken care of and put away.

I thought a panorama of the scene might be interesting, so–thanks iPhone.

Panorama of Anagi whale being cut up on beach in Browerville, June 27, 2013.
Panorama of Anagi whale being cut up on beach in Browerville, June 27, 2013.

After that, I got Coby, who had apparently only been at the whale until 2:30 AM, & we tried to find RJ, with no luck.  Went back to the BARC to discover a message from my assistant Tammy, who had been at the whale until 4AM, saying she would be late.  Since she is Michael’s ride, he wasn’t there either.  Coby & RJ started working, and I started trying some VZAP troubleshooting, which required running a logger while trying to access the site and then forwarding the logs to the VZAP team at ISU.  I hope it helps, and we don’t discover the problem is just awful connectivity.  Jan, the middle school teacher who is volunteering, wasn’t in, but she rides her ATV to the lab, so we figured she had decided the rain was a bit much.  After I finished with the logging on the computers, I fired up my email, to discover one from Jan saying she had apparently slept right through her alarm, because she’d been at the whale until after 2 AM!  Coby and RJ decided to call it a day around noon, to go back to the whale.

All this made for limited progress in the morning.  A good bit of the afternoon was taken up with things connected with various non-archaeology projects I manage.

The weather warmed up a good bit later, and the south wind was actually ablating the snow in the drifts by the snow fences, making fog billow off them. It was pretty spooky looking.

Fog coming off the snow banks.
Fog coming off the snow banks.
Enhanced by ZemantaADDED  7/1/2013:  If you don’t think people should hunt whales, well, it’s a free country and you are entitled to your opinion.   But before you try to post a rude comment, please check here and here.

A bit of interior decoration

We’ve added a couple of new student hire for the summer, but still have room for one or two more, so if you are interested, get in touch ASAP!

With the larger crew, we have been working on getting some of the Pingusugruk collection sorted and in proper archival boxes.  We need to move the container it was in, so we’d have to move the boxes anyway, and this way we can not only record which bag is in which numbered box, but also sort the “Tamis” bags, which are the 25% random sample drawn at time of excavation from the rest, to make future analysis easier, and find the rest of the bags from the column sample that Rebecca Connor & Angelique Neffe started on, so I can finish that analysis.  Most of this work is being done by our adult volunteers.

The students worked on this a little, mostly to get it set up so the volunteers can work easily, and also to get more room on the lab benches, so that they can work on the Nuvuk materials with no chance of things getting mixed up.  In the process, we had a number of animal bones that were collected on the beach or tundra and donated to us.  Some of them have been labeled as to species and element, and are being used to help with the preliminary sort and cataloging of the materials from Nuvuk Locus 6 midden.

There were a few things which were sort of superfluous, like a caribou skull.  The students really wanted to use it as a decoration, so with a little glue to keep the teeth in, it was suspended outside the door (using peel-off hangers of course to avoid damaging the wall.

The caribou skull
The caribou skull

Apparently, they found something else they felt was not necessary to include in the comparative collection, either because we haven’t found any (we haven’t) or because they figure everyone already knows what it is.  The next day, this is what the door looked like.

A addition to the decor
A addition to the decor
The new addition is a walrus baculum, often known as an oosik.  I doubt some of the visiting scientists know what they are looking at :-).

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Article on Nuvuk Project available Free Access for the rest of January

I just got an email from the editor of Polar Geography, the journal in which on of the articles I have been working on over the past year or so was recently published as part of a special issue on Arctic Community Engagement during the 2007-2008 International Polar Year.  He has been able to arrange for several of the contributions to the issue, including my article, to be available Free Access (no pay wall) until the end of January 2013.  My article is here, and the contents of the entire issue, with links to the various articles, is here.

This is a limited time offer, so if you are interested, head over there now.  You should be able to download the free articles to read later.

 

 

 

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A trip to the nation’s capitol

Last week I went to Washington, DC.  I went for the 18th Inuit Studies Conference.  The Inuit Studies Conference happens somewhere every two years, and this year it was hosted by the Smithsonian.  I was a co-author on a paper on aDNA from the North Slope (I provided the archaeological background), and I wanted to hear it, as well as a couple of other Arctic genetics papers.  I also wanted to get together with several folks I collaborate with who were going to be there.  Sometimes face-to-face is better than Skype between Europe & Alaska.

Because of the Smithsonian hosting, it was a bit of an odd conference.  There was no main conference hotel.  Events & sessions took place at three different venues distributed around the mall, which in many cases made it logistically impossible to catch a paper in one session and hop over to another session.  The program didn’t have times set for papers, so it was tough to know when folks were talking even if the sessions were next door to one another.  And of course there was the usual problem of all the papers on a topic being scheduled in sessions which were opposite each other!  Despite the challenges, there was a very interesting Paleoeskimo session, which I was able to go to 2/3rds of.  I had to miss the end to go over the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to hear the paper on Nuvuk (given by Justin Tackney) and one on the North Slope modern genetics given by Jenny Raff.  They were in a session with papers on 1) Unangan myth and magic, 2) theriomorphic imagery in the Liangzhu culture of China and Old Bering Sea, and 3) the Sealstone (a large petroglyph which was probably from Shemya in the Aleutian Islands, although it had been removed to a garden in California and the folks who were trying to return it to its home weren’t quite sure.  It was a bit incoherent.

All this happened opposite what looked like a very interesting session on ethnology and one on education with a number of my friends from the North Slope in it.  The next day I went to a session to hear a couple of archaeology papers, which were in a session with a paper on Greenlandic theater and a paper about a novel about Greenland.

I arrived to find my registration had gotten scrambled, so that there was no banquet ticket (and they were sold out).  A 1-day registration was $100, and the full conference was $325.  Even though I was only able to stay for 2 days, I had to pay the full conference fee!  It didn’t seem quite right, but there was supposed to be a free book included.  Unfortunately, they were out of all the books that I didn’t already own, and even though they kept saying more copies would come, they never did…  Hauling an extra copy of a book back to Alaska in my carry-on didn’t seem that attractive.

While I was there, it became clear that Sandy was going to play havoc with my planned return to Alaska (by way of my Mom’s in upstate NY).  That in turn would mess up plans for a trip to Valdez for an Arctic Visiting Scholars speaking tour and Seattle for a workshop.  I had to spend some time on the phone moving the travel up a day, and changing the routing out of Albany to head Alaska by going west to Minneapolis instead of south to Atlanta.

One of the pluses of the various venues was getting to see a special exhibition at NMAI of the sculpture of Abraham Anghik Reuben.  His work was using aspects of the lives of the ancient Norse and the Thule whalers.  There is a Flickr photo stream with professional pictures here, but I took some too.  My favorite of all was Silent Drum: Death of the Shaman.

This piece is so powerful.
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The artist captured the way it would look in amazing fashion, given that he is working in stone, not with soft material.
This blind shaman’s eyes are astounding. You can see the cataracts (at least in person).
Odin, his ravens, & other Norse being.

So today is my birthday…

And it’s been great so far!  The weather has been gorgeous, not too cold or windy.  The light this morning was amazing, golden reflecting off the clouds & snow.  Unfortunately no pictures from when it was best because I was trying to get stuff done before I start a series of back-to-back trips, although I did look out the window a lot when I was making phone calls.  I did get some a bit later, and it is still pretty great.

View out my office window
Looking south around 3 PM (local noon).
Clouds over Barrow & the Chukchi

Last year I got to finish unwrapping the child on my birthday.  This year was not nearly as exciting, but then archaeology really isn’t like Indiana Jones… much.  I finished and sent the quarterly report to the client on our activities supporting the ARM site.  It is good to look back and see what has been done, and I’m using a format that asks for lessons learned, so it forces one to think and track, which is not a bad thing and easy to skip when things get busy.

I made the final corrections on the encyclopedia entry on frozen sites, and am just waiting for one image to upload it to the publisher.  The Point Hope chapter is being read (quickly, I hope) by a couple of friends, and then will get sent to the editors for review.  I still need to recalibrate C14 dates for Northern Archaic and Palearctic, but that can get added to the final.

One of the things I’m involved in as part of the GHEA/Long-Term Sustainability RCN is a workshop on the Kurils & Aleutian Islands.  I’m a participant, not a discussant, which is a bit odd since I’ve never stepped foot in either one of them, or even worked on a collection from either area.  The workshop involves putting up some articles and a conference paper ahead of time, and some on-line discussion, in hopes that we will all be up to speed by the time we get to Seattle, and can hit the ground running.  I got put in a group looking at Ecological Dynamics and Paleoecological Histories, which is very cool.  I definitely have some catching up in the literature to do here, so I spent a chunk of the afternoon downloading the various papers & such folks in my group (and others) had put up.  I have put them into my Dropbox and synced my iPad, so I can read them while traveling.  It turns out I am not the only one who doesn’t have a conference paper done, and some of those that are there are not that formal :-).

I also need to find a way to get a paper I wrote on bearded seals in Greenland up.  I don’t have an electronic copy, but it seems pertinent.  One topic that seems to be coming up is possible sea ice extension into the region and folks seem to be making a few unwarranted assumptions about how species that are not now present in the area behave.  That would of course skew any climatic interpretations one might be trying to derive from faunal data.  I think the bearded seal paper covers that and provides a good example of some issues that are counter-intuitive.
And Barrow caught their final whale of the 2012 season!  Hey hey hey Anagi Crew!

View leaving the office.

Shortly after I got home there was a know at the door & flowers & balloons arrived! That was quite the surprise, since Glenn had already bought me a huge arrangement of flowers (and a Kindle Paperwhite, which is supposedly in transit).  I unwrapped them, and they turned out to be from the entire staff at UICS (arranged in secret by Tammy).  The flower arrangement is gargantuan!

Flowers & Balloons, with me for scale.
The flowers in close-up.

Now I am going to have cake.

Self-explanatory.
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A trip to the Point

On Friday afternoon we headed to Point Barrow.  I’d gotten KTUU set up with Aarigaa Tours, who picked them up in town at Top of the World Hotel, and then picked me up at my house at NARL on the way out to the point.  I’d run home from work to change into my warm gear.  A good thing, too, as will become clear later.

We’d been having a pretty strong blow from the NNW, and waves had actually been coming up onto the road.  The road to the point had actually been closed right by Piġniq (Birnirk), because the waves had been breaking over the road and had done some significant damage.  We were in a van equipped for off-road travel, so we were OK, but we had to detour through the cabin area. Once past there, the road was still in pretty good shape, but we could see water seeping in under the gravel berm.  Once we got out a bit farther we could see a number of vessels & barges that had come into Elson Lagoon to anchor up and wait out the rough weather.

Barges in Elson Lagoon, seen from the trail by the marked graves.

Once we got to Nuvuk and got a look at the site, it was a bit depressing.  However, it made a perfect example of coastal erosion in action, and made it really easy to illustrate how information about the past, which could have application to understanding what directions to take to have a sustainable future, is being lost.  At least 10 feet (3 m) of the site had been lost to the ocean since couple weeks ago.  The gravel slump that had been protecting the face was gone, and thawing permafrost was sticking out and undercut.

Exposed thawing Ipiutak level at Nuvuk.

And in that permafrost was the same strandline debris that has proven to be a marker for the Ipiutak occupation.  There was a large patch of what looked like fur or peat (which often seems to be found on the floors of Ipiutak structures) and an area where the wood seemed to be far more aligned and level than is normal for a strandline, but would be quite typical for an Ipiutak floor.  I tried to get decent pictures, but in the end decided I needed to try to get a sample.  I tried walking down on the permafrost, but it was angled, and I couldn’t get close enough without falling off. There were big waves, and the bluff was undercut.  If a really big one came at the wrong time, it could wash me off my feet.

Finally, I asked Ricky Bodfish, who was driving the tour van & giving the tour except for the archaeology part, if they had a rope.  He did, so he dangled it down the bluff by me, we waited until right after big waves when it looked like a lull and I went down to check it out and try to get close-ups and a sample.

Sampled peat in Ipiutak layer. My finger for scale.

The patch of material turned out to be peat, which I was able to sample, and will send out for dating.  My camera got some spray on it, but there was not way or time to clean the lens, so I just kept shooting.  Unfortunately a pretty big wave came and dumped gravel on the surfaces just before I got a shot off of the wood, (I managed to turn so I caught it on the side where KTUU’s microphone pack wasn’t) and I could hear the next one was even louder.  I ran, and made it into an area above the waves before the big one broke.

Edge of eroding Ipiutak layer showing some of the aligned wood. The white is the foam on the wave that is going under this layer into the bluff.

Fortunately, nothing soaked through the Carhartts so I just took them off for the rest of the trip.

We had been monitoring the tower we’d put out in June, and just a few days earlier had thought it would be fine.  However, the storm had taken out a lot of the bluff, and I wound up calling & texting the guys who work on the ARM project for UICS.  They wound up going out later that evening and hauling the whole thing about 50 feet (15m) farther back from the edge.  Just in time, since by the time they got out there, they figured it was 2-3 feet (< 1m) from the edge.

Getting close to the edge.

After that, the KTUU fellow wanted to see the farthest North point and go to the bone pile to see if there were any bears.  We set off, and almost immediately had to detour.  The trail we normally use to get to the site, which is always dry, had water all over it from the storm surge.

Trail covered by storm surge.

We made it to the farthest North point, which was a bit less far North than previously.  The storm surge had made it to the tip of one of the whale jawbones, and about 10 feet was missing here too.  However, we did get some nice light, and the KTUU guys got busy.

Crew and van near Farthest North Point
Dan Carpenter gets ready to shoot at the Farthest North Point.

KTUU crew at Farthest North Point.

Unfortunately, the trip to the bone pile did not come off.  The storm surge had caused it to nearly become an island.  Ricky was not sure how solid the ground was, and we did not want to get stuck there, so we gave it a miss.  On the way back to the road, it was really clear how much of the Chukchi side of the Point Barrow spit had been eaten.  The ocean was almost up to the berm along the road, and there used to be a fairly wide strip of gravel there.

Bone Pile surrounded by water.