Talking with Teachers

I had a fun morning talking to about 40 elementary school teachers from the North Slope Borough School District.  They were having an in-service.  The original plan was to take them out to Walakpa by boat, but the weather this weekend features snow, a bit of rain and winds up to 30 mph.  So–not boating weather.

Since we knew this a couple of days ago, we were able to get the lab ready for visitors.  We (Ashtyn & I) put out several drawers with some of the more interesting artifacts from Walakpa and Nuvuk.  I put together a slide show to give them an idea about the project, which we showed before they visit d the lab.  I also talked a bit about the history of science in Barrow, and the building of the BARC.

A number of the teachers are interested in bringing their classes out to the lab.  A few of them are also interesting in volunteering, either in the lab or as photographers.  And I think I probably sold a bunch of the Barrow Science hoodies, given how many people asked how they could buy one :-).

Looking for scrap lumber

We’re in need of a bit of scrap lumber (1x2s and 2x4s), to complete construction of a water screening device.  Alas, Barrow no longer has a lumberyard, so it is a real problem when it turns out you need a bit more lumber.  If anyone has some excess lumber they would be willing to contribute to the Walakpa salvage effort, please let me know.

Getting closer

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.

Lab work

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.

Radiocarbon dates

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.

A busy autumn

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.

Videos, and reports of more erosion

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!

Yet More Erosion

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.

View of Ukkuqsi from the north side.
View of Ukkuqsi from the north side.

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.

Closeup of eroding structure from the beach.
Closeup of eroding structure from the beach.

Hope to get some video or at least frame grabs available soon.

Today, back in Barrow

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?

Sun on water at Birnirk.
Sun on water at Birnirk.
Part of the crew visiting one of the mounds at Birnirk.
Part of the crew visiting one of the mounds at Birnirk.

Walakpa–July 26, 2015

The crew (Owen Mason, Anne Garland, Mary Beth Timm, Laura Crawford and myself) gathered out at NARL, at a small yellow warehouse.  We were using UIC Science archaeological gear.  IHLC & Ilisagvik College let us use some tents, sleeping pads & kitchen gear.  We managed to get everything packed into side-by-sides and trailers and headed off to Walakpa with Sean Gunnells, Oona Edwardsen and Ray Kious of the UICS logistics staff who weren’t otherwise occupied.

Loading up to head to Walakpa
Loading up to head to Walakpa

We got to Walakpa around 2PM.  We got camp set up, with a slight hitch because  some of the tents had not been repacked properly when last used.  However, the logistics staff dealt with it, and headed back to town.

We uncovered portions of the bluff so that we could examine the profiles and decide where we want to take the column sample.  While walking the beach examining the bluff profiles, we noticed that there was a cultural layer exposed in the mound with one of the two monuments on it.  Anne Garland laid out a 1×1 meter test, well back from the edge of the bluff, to see if it continued across the mound.

Laura Crawford excavating the SW quadrant of a 1x1 while Mary Beth Timm looks on.
Laura Crawford excavating the SW quadrant of a 1×1 while Mary Beth Timm looks on.  View NE along the coast toward Barrow.

It was clear that we couldn’t safely do a profile in the central area where the meat cache had been, since there was still an overhang.  In addition, some of the geotextile fabric protecting the site was pinned by collapse of bluffs, preventing its removal.  Eventually, after cleaning profiles on either side of the overhang, we picked a spot and Owen went to work on a detailed drawing.

We had visitors in the early morning, a young couple whose ATV had a flat, and were hoping that we had a tire pump.  Unfortunately, we didn’t, so they headed on up the coast with both of them on one side of the ATV.

DNA results from the North Slope published!

When we first started archaeological work at Nuvuk, it took a while to find a physical anthropologist who was willing to work with the human remains here in Barrow.  Dennis O’ Rourke and his team were willing to do that.  Dennis came up to Barrow to speak to the community and the Elders to get their permission.  His lab works with genetic studies as well as skeletal material, and he asked if they would be interested in allowing ancient DNA studies on the remains from Nuvuk.  The Elders were not only interested in those studies, they suggested that the group undertake a program of modern DNA studies across the North Slope as well.   They developed a proposal to do just that, and once it was funded, research got underway, with resident of all seven North Slope communities contributing samples.

The analysis took a while.  The team traveled to all the villages to collect the data and returned to present the results to North Slope residents before they were published.  Finally, the first paper based on the project is published!  It is based on looking at mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from your mother.  It is present in many more copies than the more familiar (to most people) nuclear DNA, and therefore is often studied in archaeological situations, since all the extra copies make it more likely that some of it will survive.

The short version is that the modern DNA results support the North Slope as the source for the populations that migrated to the eastern Arctic, both the Neoeskimo (ancestors of today’s Inuit/Inupiat people) and the earlier Paleoeskimo.  This fits well with the picture from the archaeological data.

Jennifer Raff is senior author, with Margarita RzhetskayaJustin Tackney and Geoff Hayes as co-authors.

This paper has gotten picked up by a number of science news sources.

 

Edit:  4/30/15  Fixed a link that WP had put an ellipsis in the middle of the link.  It should work now.

Help wanted!

Crew members wanted

Nuvuk Archaeology Project

Walakpa Archaeological Salvage Project

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, anne.jensen@uicscience.org as soon as possible.  You can use the contact form below for questions.

The smell of old seal oil in the afternoon…

… can be a bit overpowering.  I chose one of the bags of frozen samples from Utiqiaġvik to thaw out for the lab tour after the Saturday Schoolyard talk.

The talk went well, with a very large turn out.  Afterwards, a fair number of them came by the lab for a tour.  And then I opened the bag.  It was from Mound 8, and was described as containing fish bones and perhaps artifacts embedded in seal oil.

Provenience tag from the bag.
Provenience tag from the bag.

It was rather smelly to say the least.  The oil made up most of the matrix, with a consistency like cold greasy peanut butter.  Not only that, the most obvious contents were wood chips and hair, which weren’t too exciting.  Most folks didn’t feel like hanging around too long.  Since it was my birthday & there was a party at my house, I didn’t finish the bag.

Today I got back to work on it for an hour or so.  It still smelled, I guess, but I think the smell of old seal oil is sort of nice.  It’s the smell of archaeological sites, and they are places I like to be.  The couple of extra days had let the oil warm up and it was a little easier to work with.

Contents of the bag.
Contents of the bag.

I found a number of interesting things, including a fish vertebra, some fish scales, a number of hairs, some bone fragments, and of course, wood chips.  When I was labeling the bags, I realized it had been excavated by none other than Kevin Smith, now at the Haffenreffer, exactly 32 years and 3 months ago.

Fish vertebra
Fish vertebra
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Grass?
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Bone fragments

Tomorrow I’ll do some more.

A book about Nuvuk

I made it back from DC on Thursday night.  Friday was the usual scramble after being out of town.  Saturday night was the annual meeting of the Friends of the Library.  There was a business meeting, and a potluck dinner.  But the highlight of the meeting was the guest speaker, none other than Daniel Inulak Lum, author of the book Nuvuk, the Northernmost: Altered Land, Altered Lives in Barrow, Alaska.

Dan Lum showing slides of the photos in his book
Dan Lum showing slides of the photos in his book

Dan’s family is Nuvukmiut (that’s how it is spelled in Nuvuk dialect–it would be Nuvugmiut in Barrow dialect), originally from Nuvuk.  He ran a tour company which took tourists to Nuvuk for much of the time the Nuvuk Archaeological Project was active.  While doing that, he wound up taking a whole lot of pictures.  He has some really great animal photos, particularly of bears, as well as some really beautiful landscapes shots.  His family had to move to Fairbanks for a while for reasons connected to health of a family member, so he isn’t running the tour company any more, but it gave him an opportunity to look through his pictures and he wound up writing a book about Nuvuk and life in Barrow.

When he was running the tour company, Dan gave great tours.  He really wanted to pass on accurate information to his clients, and would stop at our excavations and talk to us, so he had the latest news.  As he said in his talk, the village is no longer there (due to erosion) so all the Nuvukmiut have to remember it by is information from oral history and archaeology.  He’d always check to see if it was OK to bring the tourists over (not if we were excavating human remains), and was always willing to bring things back and forth for us in his van.  When the Ipiutak sled runners were uncovered, Dan  stood by until we had them out of the ground around 2AM (despite having had tours all day) and then drove them very slowly back to the lab at NARL, making sure that they weren’t bounced around.  It took over an hour to go the five or so miles.  He also brought pop out for the crew on warm days.

Dan showed slides of many of the photos from the book, and talked about how he came to write a book in the first place.  He was very encouraging to audience members about writing and publishing their own books.

Dan takes questions from the audience.
Dan takes questions from the audience.

I’m going to be spending a good bit of time getting ready for International Archaeology Day, which is Saturday.

IMG_0841

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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