Education, Culture & the Past

I just got back from the local library, where I went for a talk by Aviâja Egede Lynge on Mental Decolonization in Greenland.  Aviâja is a really great speaker, with a graduate degree in social anthropology, who is working on the process of changing the school system to be truly Greenlandic in nature.  If you ever get a chance to hear her talk, take it.

The talk was about the lingering effects of the Danish colonization of Greenland.  A benign colonization, perhaps, but that brings its own issues.  A very complex problem.  Much of it is probably the same in any area that has been colonized, other aspects are perhaps specific to this particular case.

Sunshine & blue skies…

…and a full crew.  We started work on the burial under the plank.  It took quite a while, as the plank was complex to define.  It was all one piece, in some places up to 9 cm thick, and had obviously required a great deal of work and skill to make.  The top surface looked like the outer surface of the tree.  The bottom surface showed evidence of burning, in some areas completely charcoal.  It should be good for C14 dating.

The remains are those of a large male.  Preservation is a bit variable, but it looks like there might be some ribs that could yield aDNA.  In any event, he will be safely out of the trail.

Many on the crew did STPs.  So far nothing has shown up.  It is beginning to look as if there is a gap in the burials (or at least a much thinner distribution).  I’ve begun to wonder if this could be the result of a village move due to erosion, which brought the village close to the cemetery and made them skip a bit of ground to put the new cemetery at a proper distance from their residences.

At least it was a beautiful day.

Barrow–Anthro 101 comes to life

For a community of 4400 or so souls, perched on the edge of the Arctic Ocean at the very “top of the world” as we like to say (or at least the top of the US), Barrow is astoundingly multi-cultural.  Iñupiaq, as you might expect, and various strands of Euro-American culture, but there are also many residents who originally came from the Philippines, and other Pacific islands.  Then there are members of other Native American groups who often got here by meeting a Barrow person at one of the boarding schools to which the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) used to ship students off for high school (in places like Chemawa, Oregon, or Kansas), marrying them and moving to Barrow.  We not only have four Iñupiat dance groups, but also a Polynesian one.  Pancit shows up at many gatherings.  We have a Mexican restaurant, a Thai restaurant, a sushi bar, two Chinese restaurants (both run by Korean families) and two pizza places, plus Brower’s Cafe, which has a fairly eclectic menu including burgers and Korean food..

In recent weeks, that multicultural aspect of Barrow has meant that one could get more exposure to a variety of cultures than one would in an Anthropology 101 class.  Aside from the Sweden/Denmark/Bavaria travelogue I did as part of the BASC Schoolyard Saturday, there was a presentation on Aspects of Krishna in four styles of four styles of Indian (subcontinental, not American) art given by a whale biologist from the NSB) North Slope Borough) DWM (Department of Wildlife Management), a talk on Papua New Guinea and various tribes given by a pilot for NSB SAR (Search and Rescue) who had spent two years there flying for a missionary group when he was younger, and a talk on the Netherlands, given by a Dutch social anthropology grad student who is in Barrow doing field research.

Yesterday, ConocoPhillips Alaska and Statoil were holding a public meeting in the conference room of the BARC, where my office is.  The folks holding the meeting help with a few things, and came by my office.  Two of the Statoil people were Norwegian, and when they introduced themselves, I automatically introduced myself using the Danish pronunciation of my name.  We chatted a bit with me speaking Danish and them speaking Norwegian.  One of the Barrow people at the meeting had a Norwegian grandfather (I think) and so that was fun.

My “upcoming trip to Fairbanks”–almost ready

As Tripit puts it, I have an “upcoming trip to Fairbanks” for which I very nearly forgot to make travel arrangements.  I remembered last week, and got the travel done, leaving only the paper, the poster, and the proposal I had to get done first.

The poster was finished on Friday, and sent off to Maribeth for final additions and printing.  She had a touch of flu, but has recovered in time to work out the final edits, and will be getting it printed.

I started serious work on the proposal earlier in the week, and got the final numbers on Friday to plug in.  It went off to the contracting officer this morning, and now we will see.  Costs keep going up here in the Bush, and it makes it tough all round.

I have the paper (or the PowerPoint for it) almost done.  I need to get a picture of Herman Ahsoak’s shed where he keeps his whaling gear (not in the house, behind it, just like folks have for centuries), and improve the map of the whaling captain’s work area at the Peat Locus at Nuvuk tomorrow, and then it’ll be ready.

I’m trying to get packed tonight, so I don’t have to rush after work tomorrow.  It looks like a good meeting, although for the second year in a row the Alaska Consortium of Zooarchaeologists (ACZ) workshop and the Alaska Heritage Resource Survey (AHRS) workshop conflict.  This is getting a bit old.  It should be possible to schedule them both during the meeting without conflicting, but that would apparently require some forethought and consideration on the part of those organizing the AHRS meeting.  The ACZ meeting was scheduled way in advance…

18th Arctic Conference–Part 2 (Day 1).

Here’s part one on the long-delayed wrap-up of the  18th Arctic Conference.  There were a number of quite interesting papers, as is usually the case.  Since most of this stuff is not yet fully published, it seems worthwhile to put a little update up here.  If anything here sounds interesting, contact the authors.

The first day was mostly earlier material, from Northwest Alaska and the Alaska Range around Denali National Park.  Jeff Rasic gave a paper (coauthored with Bill Hedeman, Ian Buvit and Steve Keuhn) about the Raven’s Bluff site.  This site, about 100 miles north of Kotzebue, not only has fluted points and microblades, but it has a unit (Unit 1) with well-preserved old faunal remains! The 2009 and 2010 work has looked at soils, and there is clearly intact stratigraphy there.  There is an upper ASTt (Arctic Small Tool tradition) component with a date of 2150±40BP, separated from the late Pleistocene materials with a fairly thick sterile layer.  There are 10 C14 dates so far, 9800±60 BP and 10720±50, on the lower component.  Very cool!

John Blong gave a paper on the summer’s work surveying in the uplands of the central Alaska Range, specifically the upper Savage River drainage (Denali NP) and the upper Susitna drainage.  They also found some really old animal bones together with flakes (C14 dates around 10000BP), and excavated at Ewe Creek, where they got cultural material dating to 4500 BP.

Katie Krasinski gave a paper she had done with Gary Haynes on taphonomic analysis of Proboscidean remains.  They had been able to work with fresh African elephant bones and Alaskan mammoth remains to look at how impacts by hammerstones, percussion flaking (this sort of bone can be flaked, as can whalebone) and carnivore chewing modify the bone.  This is important, as groupings of non-intact mammoth (and mastodon in some areas) are often found.  If there are lots of stone tools around, it’s fairly easy to figure out that people butchered them, even if they didn’t kill them in the first place, but otherwise, it’s a lot harder.  This research is aimed at getting data to help figure that out when sites like that are found.  They did gather a fair bit of data.  Biggest surprise: a higher percentage of the animal-gnawed bones had spiral fractures than did the human-modified one.

Brian Wygal talked about survey in Denali NPP.  There has been a several year project to try to get a handle on the prehistory of the park, finishing in 2009.  The talk was a preliminary wrap-up of the project.  He noted that they found the most sites the years they surveyed the fewest acres.  This really points out a problem in Alaska, where the place is so huge and so little has been done.  From the survey results, it also appears that the variations in tool kits which people have been wondering about are more related to seasonal movements and conditions, with microblades (and composite tools in general) perhaps being preferable in colder and snowy conditions.

Heather Smith gave paper on the excavations at the Serpentine Hot Springs site on the Seward Peninsula somewhat north of Nome.  Prior work had found fluted point bases, and 2009 work had located a hearth which yielded a C14 date of around 11,200-11,400BP.  Last summer’s work found more hearth features, which contained a lot of burnt bones and other organics.  Dating is underway.

Lunch was in the Dorothy Vernon Room, a rather interesting room in the modern Louis Kahn dormitory Haffner Hall which includes much of the original Dorothy Vernon Room from the old Deanery.  The afternoon was taken up by a visit to the collections at the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania.

18th Arctic Conference–Part 1 (the scenic view of Bryn Mawr College).

I’m back from the 18th Arctic Conference in Bryn Mawr.  It was really busy, and the Wi-Fi at Wyndham, where I was staying and had downtime, was amazingly slow, so I didn’t try posting from there.  I’m pretty busy, since I’m only here for a week before we go on a family vacation in Hawaii, so I’m going to break this into small chunks.

We were really lucky to have great weather the whole time.  Apparently the weather has been rather awful this fall in SE Pennsylvania, but last weekend it was perfect.  Bluebird days, still some leaves on the trees, not too hot or muggy.  The campus looked lovely.


Taylor Hall, first building built at Bryn Mawr College, from Thomas Library steps.
Thomas Library

I went inside Thomas, which was the original College library.  It is a bit Hogwarts looking, I suppose.  There used to be a free coffee hour every day in Thomas Great Hall, where just about everyone on campus showed up.  It was very handy.

Thomas Great Hall (apparently set up for some sort of event)
Athena (actually a replica because the original was kidnapped and damaged) surrounded by offerings, holding what appears to be invitations to Lantern Night teas.
Cloisters of Thomas Library.
Back of Thomas Great Hall from the Cloisters.
Dalton Hall. The "lantern" was a recent addition to hold a staircase that met modern code.

Dalton Hall is where the meeting was held.  It is the home of the Anthropology Department, and other social sciences.  Dalton was built in 1892 as the first science laboratory dedicated to academics.  It underwent a major rehab, which came out really well.  The old building had central stairs, which weren’t up to code, so the “lantern” got stuck on to put the new stairs in.  The labs and lecture spaces are just great, way nicer than when I was doing my AB and my PhD coursework there.


A gorgeous fall day at Bryn Mawr

I’m in Bryn Mawr, PA for the 18th Arctic Conference.  The trip went well, with the biggest problem the 30+ minute taxi from the runway to the terminal here in Philadelphia.  I’m staying in Wyndham, the Bryn Mawr College Alumnae House, replete with antiques, oriental rugs, etc.  Rick Davis pretty much had everything in hand, so I had some free time to check out the 125th Anniversary exhibit in the Rare Book Room at Canaday Library, which was really pretty neat.  A First Folio (Shakespeare), a Nuremberg Chronicle, a Maria Martinez black-on-black pot, Ansel Adams prints, Northwest Coast basketry, Mary Cassatt, Japanese woodblock prints, some lovely Greek pottery (including a plate by the Bryn Mawr Painter!) all in the same small room.

Had a nice dinner with Rick and Rick Knecht, and now off to bed to try & catch up on sleep so I can get up at what my body thinks is 3:45 AM.

Two abstracts submitted!

I still don’t have an admin assistant, and I’m getting stretched pretty thin.  The other day I had to print some checks, and got interrupted by something else before I got the check stock out of the printer.  The first five pages of an interesting white paper by Tom McGovern wound up on check stock.  I didn’t even notice until I got home and started to read the thing…  So there were some checks to void.

But I did manage to do a good bit of work yesterday on the maps for the ice road corridor for the Barrow Gas field project.  Still not report ready, but I was able to talk with the woman who is the main GIS person for the project, and mark up a map so she could constrict the cleared corridor a bit where it got close to some possible hunting stand locations.  It’s still plenty wide, although apparently the engineers were worried that if they can’t go exactly there, they’ll have to go through lots of polygonized ground, which is more expensive to build ice roads on.  The thing is the well pad the ice road is going to is on polygonized ground, and surrounded by lots more of it, so I don’t think they’re going to avoid much that way.  I can always test it next summer if they really want to go just there.

Today I managed to get two different abstracts for talks in, which is pretty amazing.  One was for the Saturday Schoolyard talk that Trace Hudson, one of the Barrow HS students from this summer, and I are giving on the 16th (gotta get my part done before then…) and the other was for the 18th Arctic Conference, which is being held at Bryn Mawr College this year.  Since I’d been implicated in talking Rick Davis and the BMC Anthro department into hosting this (the fact that I hosted it in Barrow, with 2 HS students for assistance, while writing my dissertation and working full-time so how hard can it be did figure prominently in my arguments), it really was incumbent on me to give a paper.  I’m talking about the material culture of modern whaling (the stuff that a whaling captain and his wife and crew members need to have specifically for whaling) and where those things get used and stored.

So folks, especially East Coast Arctic types, the registration/paper/poster deadline is Friday, October 15.  So get a move on!

The deceased see a dentist

This week, the individuals we excavated this summer saw a dentist.  This is not as silly as it may sound.

The various individuals whose burials we excavate at Nuvuk are not kept in a museum somewhere for future study.  That is the way things were done in the past, but nowadays that is not acceptable to most descendant communities (people who consider themselves descended from the individuals whose remains are in question).  There are laws specifically to protect Native American graves, as well as laws which protect all graves regardless of the ethnic origin of the occupant.  This is a good thing, but it does mean that either research has to be completed very quickly, or new ways to save data for future research need to be found.

The current residents of Barrow, some of whom are the children of people who grew up at Nuvuk, generally think people should be left where they were buried, absent a pressing reason to move them.  In general, I agree.  My primary research interests don’t involve digging up burials, which makes it odd that I’ve been involved in excavating over 70 of them at Nuvuk over the years.  The thing is, the point is eroding, and if the graves aren’t excavated and moved, their occupants will wind up in the ocean.  So there is an urgent reason to be doing these excavations.

Since they are happening, most folks in Barrow agree that it makes sense to learn as much as we can about the individuals, prior to reburying them in the Barrow cemetery.   I’ve mentioned that a rib is saved for aDNA extraction, which takes place in Dennis O’Rourke’s lab at the University of Utah.  Everything else happens in Barrow.  For a number of years, the Dental Clinic at Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital has sent one or more dental externs (dental students who have come to Barrow to get practical experience in the clinic) to work with the Nuvuk Archaeology Project for a day or two at a time.  Sometimes they have come to the field with us, but their primary role has been in the lab, where they examined the teeth of the various individuals whose remains we have recovered.  In addition to recording the teeth on standard dental charts, including information on disease and anomalies, they have made casts of the teeth, just like the ones dentists make of live patients in their offices.  The idea came Amanda Gaynor-Ashley, DDS, until recently head of the dental clinic, who was visiting the lab a few years ago and noticed that some of the skulls had unusual dental patterns that looked just like those she was seeing on patients in the chairs at the clinic.  Dentition (shape and arrangement of the teeth) is highly heritable (it runs in families).  Since the individuals we were looking at were going to be reburied, Mandy suggested trying to cast their teeth.  It worked well, and each since the externs have done it for the individuals excavated that year.  Even after they are buried, we will have an accurate representation of their teeth for future researchers.

Casts of upper and lower jaws of 10A927
Cast of all that remained of 10A928's tooth rows

Since we started doing this, I stumbled across a mention of a collection of dental casts of living Barrow residents which was made by a researcher in the 1950s.  It apparently still exists, so the casts we are making as part of the NAP may well have an important place in a future research project.

Some of the casts from previous years.
More of the casts.

Later this week, Shawn Miller, the physical anthropologist from the University of Utah will arrive.  We will have to get the casts put away before that to give him maximum space to work.