The wind changed, we can boat down, and so we’re going! More when we can or when we get back.
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.
So far it has been pretty busy with Tony here. He’d picked out a number of possible samples in advance, and we’ve been finding them. I’ve also been going through the column samples we took last year at Walakpa, and finding contexts that have 2-3 datable samples of both land and marine animal bone. That way, there will be multiple terrestrial dates to give us both a date on the level and information to use to develop correction factors for marine mammal bones. Marine mammal bones tend to give radiocarbon dates that are too old, but sometimes they are the only thing available to date. People generally don’t run dates in those circumstances, but if there were decent correction factors available it would be possible.
We went over to the Inupiat Heritage Center this morning to look at the material they have from Utkiagvik. It looks like there is enough for a whole project there, although the location of the 1981 field notes was unknown for the moment. Some of the staff came out to the lab later and looked at a couple of sewn objects. The mystery one is made out of gut which has been stitched to form a sort of pointed tube, although it is pretty crumpled up. If we get a conservator to visit, it would be great if they were able to rehydrate it a bit and straighten it out.
Tomorrow we are going to be going through boxes of faunal material from Pingusugruk to find suitable samples. There are hundreds of boxes, so Tony is trying to select some contexts to pull, and then I have to ID appropriate bones. I am really hoping that the intern shows up for work.
On the Walakpa front, I’ve been talking with the UIC Science logistics folks, working on how to handle temporary housing for those transiting in and out of the field, and starting to work on travel arrangements.
I have been really busy the last month, trying to finish several reports and papers, plan for the summer, and get ready for a research visit from Tony Krus of SUERC, who was a member of the 2008 Nuvuk field crew before he headed off to grad school. He is now Dr. Krus, and was able to get a grant to come over and work on Bayesian modeling for Barrow area dates, as well as attempting to improve the value for DeltaR (a correction factor used with radiocarbon dates on marine organisms to compensate for the excess older carbon found in the oceans). Between the massive amount of writing I was doing and smashing a finger getting luggage out of the overhead coming back from a trip, I’ve not been blogging.
I hope to catch up with things a bit; there’s been considerable activity on the DONOP/global change threats to cultural and natural heritage front, as well as planning for Walakpa.
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).
I spent most of the week in Seattle at the Arctic Observing Open Science meeting. Ben Fitzhugh and I were the point persons for the broader GHEA/IHOPE Emerging Knowledge Hub on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past. This is a long and fancy way of talking about the threats that sea level rise, ice retreat, and permafrost warming pose for archaeological sites in the North. Since this was not an archaeological meeting, most of the folks were either natural scientists or resource managers. We focused on the kind of data that archaeological sites contain that are more than relevant to answering the kinds of questions they are asking, while pointing out that the data is vanishing quickly. The library is on fire!
Ben and I each were the lead on a talk (both massively multi-authored), and we also did a poster, with a similarly large number of contributors. Ben’s talk was in the Marine Ecosystems session. It seemed like it interested the audience, which was primarily oceanographers, and related agency and funding folks.
Mine was in the Human Dimensions session, since the Coastal Processes session we had aimed for apparently didn’t get enough papers. I followed a paper on frozen heritage (primarily ice patches and the preliminary stages of development of site evaluation schema) by Martin Callanan and Shelby Anderson, so the issues were thoroughly driven home. The audience included a number of natural scientists (!), and the discussions included the relevance of archaeology to both other fields of research and to developing toolkits for sustainability.
Our hope is we woke some of our colleagues up to both the potential of archaeological sites to provide data, and the need to find a way to get that data that doesn’t rely entirely on Arctic Social Science funding.
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.
We went to Glasgow where the 2014 European Archaeology Association was held, by way of Anchorage and Reykjavik. Because flights from Barrow are disrupted fairly frequently, we went down a bit early, and had a chance to visit with our daughter. There was a pretty amazing double rainbow and a nice lenticular cloud.
We flew Icelandair to Reykjavik and then from there to Glasgow. Glasgow was great. The people who live there seem really proud of their city. The cab driver on the way in from the airport was recommending museums, and in particular Christ of Saint John on the Cross by Dali at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Musuem. Glasgow was once the second most prosperous city in the UK, and the residents seem to have been very civic-minded. The Kelvingrove was built to house the collections that were donated by prominent Glaswegians, using funds from an international exposition and public subscriptions. It houses a fair bit of Charles Rennie Mackintosh material. We got in a good visit our last day there. Unfortunately, some of the other Mackintosh venues were under renovation.
The meetings were held in various venues at the University, including some very old lecture halls and more modern buildings.
We spent most of our time around the University. There were a number of good restaurants & pubs, particularly along Ashton Lane. We tried a bunch of them. We never made it to this one,which was apparently an isolated inn before Glasgow got so big, near a pond where local curlers used to throw rocks. This is apparently where they went afterwards back then, as curlers are wont to do :-).
Our session (Archaeology and Climate Change) was heavily advertised. Tom Dawson, the organizer, had managed to get leaflets put up all around campus before the session, so it was very well attended. As you can see, there were participants from all over. I talked about the threats to frozen coastal sites from climate change, with an emphasis on the Barrow area. I was able to incorporate images from the storm that had happened the week before. There were some other pretty bad situations, but none that were worse. On the other hand, some people are making strides in dealing with these issues with public help, which is good given the turn-around time for even successful funding applications.
The conference featured a very nice party, spread across two venues, both within a block of our hotel! One was Òran Mór, a converted church which now houses performance space and a bar. The upstairs had been rented for the party. It had obviously been redone from its days as a church. The other was the glass house at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, just across the way.
The conference banquet was held in the main hall at the Kelvingrove. It was sponsored by Glenmorangie (the distillery near Glasgow) so there were samples of a couple of their special products. After the speeches and dinner, there was a fine band and dancing.
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.
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!
There is a very large storm, with winds up to 50 mph and big waves from the west battering the Chukchi coastline from Barrow south. It has created a major storm surge, with big waves and coastal erosion. An emergency has been declared in Barrow due to flooding and road damage.
I flew back from Wainwright yesterday evening, and even through the storm was just building, the waves were already hitting Walakpa. I couldn’t get pictures but it did not look good.
Today was much worse. Late this afternoon, I got a series of calls about something washing out at Ukkuqsi, where the little frozen girl Aġnaiyaaq was found. Aqamak Okpik from IHLC got things organized, with Morrie Lemen coming out to NARL in a bigger truck than mine to take me in to take a look. The North Slope Borough Fire Department came over, and two firefighters suited up and tied a rope onto me so I could go down and take a look.
The big concern was that a burial was eroding out, since there have been several in that area. In the end, it looked like part of a house (maybe two superimposed) with a whalebone and a baleen toboggan. We retrieved a few bones and a piece of structural wood that were going to fall in any minute, and hope to be able to get a radiocarbon date or two. I only got hit by one big wave.
Hope to get some video or at least frame grabs available soon.
We got up with the goal of getting packed up. It wasn’t clear if the UICS logistics staff would be able to come and get us today, but we decided to finish all the field work, and pack up as much as possible. We got right on the screening, and recording of the edges of the midden and the units on the Pipe Monument mound. Owen went to work on a detailed profile of CS 2.
Once that was well in hand, it still wasn’t clear if we would be able to get home. I needed to go in to Barrow to make sure everything was progressing with the other project, so we decided I could take trailer load of field gear, samples and some of my gear back to town. That way, we would need less help getting back, and if the pickup wasn’t going to happen until tomorrow, I could bring back my sleeping bag and sleep in the mess tent.
Once I got to town, I unloaded and did some more work on the other project. It turned out that some logistics folks were available, so I went back down with them, and we managed to get everything back to town, and into the UICS yellow building. Everybody got to sleep in a real bed.
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.