Tacos on the Tundra–up in flames :-(

Thursday, we had an even more exciting trip to Walakpa, which really messed up my back, so I was pretty much flat on my back when not actually working.  I was going to do a post about that this morning, but when I woke up, there was very sad news.  Pepe’s North of the Border burned to the ground last night.

All that's left of Pepe's
All that’s left of Pepe’s
The remains
The remains
Top of the World Hotel in the background
Top of the World Hotel in the background
Burned beams
Burned beams
The bank building almost caught on fire too.  Great save NSBFD!
The bank building almost caught on fire too. Great save NSBFD!

There was some damage to the Top of the World Hotel, including the destruction of the entrance.  As you can see, the bank building nearly caught fire as well.  It’s charred and a lot of windows are broken, but the North Slope Borough Fire Department managed to save it.  Much credit to them.

Fran Tate, who started and owns Pepe’s is quite ill, and in Anchorage for medical treatment.  She’s donated a lot to her adopted hometown (free meals for school sports teams, food for bereaved families, fund-raising for children’s hospitals, just for starters) and here’s hoping some way can be found to help resurrect Pepe’s.  We are going to be hurting for restaurant seats and catering here in Barrow if not.

 

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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!

On the way to Aukureyri

I’m heading to Akureyri, Iceland, to take part in a workshop and a NABO Open Meeting.  It’s a fairly long trip from Barrow to anywhere, but Icelandair is now flying direct Anchorage-Reykjavik, so that’s a help.  Not surprisingly, seats on the July 4th departure were very, very cheap, so it was more cost effective to fly me to Iceland then, and put me up in Reykjavik for a couple of days before I head to Akureyri.

When I left Barrow, the ice had come back in.  I got a good shot of the only operational heavy icebreaker in the US fleet, USCG Polar Star lying off Barrow.  You can see masts belonging to much smaller vessels off her bow.  They are a French group who are trying to take a catamaran to the North Pole (it apparently can move over ice as well as water, or they hope so).  They beat  Polar Star to Barrow by a couple days.

USCG Polar Star off Barrow in the ice.
USCG Polar Star off Barrow in the ice.

The flight from Anchorage leaves at 3:15 PM AKDT, and gets in at 6AM local (GMT) which is before bedtime in Alaska, so I didn’t get much sleep.  I was wiped, so I took a nap, planning to get up and go wandering about Reykjavik.  Alas, the weather didn’t cooperate.  When I got up, it was raining & blowing 25+.

View out the livingroom window of the B&B
View out the living room window of the B&B

So I confined my walking to a trip to the grocery store and bakery.  Lots of nice local vegetables for good prices–geothermal greenhouses can do wonders.

This morning the weather had improved, so I headed out to see some sights.  I had intended to check out a Danish restaurant, but wound up doing something else entirely.  I found a food truck selling grass-fed beef hamburgers, which smelled wonderful.  So that’s what I had.  Then I wound up heading down to the harbor.

Reykjavik harbor
Reykjavik harbor

The green buildings on the left are former (mostly) fishmongers’ stalls that have been converted to shops & restaurants.  I wound up getting a bracelet made of wolfish leather.  There are still the old ladders, presumably for self-rescue by unfortunate fishermen who fell in on the way back to the ship.

Ladder in the old harbor
Ladder in the old harbor
Trawler in Reykjavik harbor.
Trawler in Reykjavik harbor.

There were the expected Icelandic coast guard ships.  There were also a Danish naval ship and a German Fisheries Protection ship tied up.

Icelandic Coast Guard ships.
Icelandic Coast Guard ships.
Danish ship.
Danish naval fisheries inspection ship, probably HDMS Triton.
German Fisheries Protection ship.
German Fisheries Protection ship.

And there were several large fishing vessels out of the water.

Fishing vessel in the yard.
Fishing vessel in the yard, being scraped & painted.

 

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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.

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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Fall storms

I got back to Barrow to find snow on the ground.  It hasn’t been that stormy here, but we  had a coastal flood warning over the weekend, with part of the road to Nuvuk getting washed out, and waves getting over many of the berms.  I am afraid that there may have been significant damage to the site beyond the 20 m we already lost in September.  I would like to get out and take a look, maybe even shoot in the bluff, before I go to Valdez & Seattle, but that is not looking too likely.

Apparently, there is a likelihood of a storm surge from the Chukchi and flooding over the next few days, maybe until the 22nd or so.  The North Slope Borough is quite worried, and sending out info on emergency kits & so forth.  Not a great situation.  The house I live in floated in the last really big storm surge event in 1963, and if it does it again, it could wind up in the NARL sewage lagoon.  Yuck.

We’ll be prepared, but I don’t think it is that likely to get that bad.  However, it most certainly is already damaging Nuvuk more.  It has been blowing from the north and winds are picking up.  It is a bit depressing given that erosion must nearly have reached the GPR returns that we think are Ipiutak features.

Not much to be done about it, so I just push on with writing proposals & papers.  I’m going to a workshop on the Kurils & Aleutians, and am slightly belated working on the conference paper.  Just as I got ready to really check out the other papers prior to doing the serious writing (the outline is done), it was discovered the website had lost the last 3 weeks of updates (explains where my stuff went–I thought they were just being slow getting it up), so I couldn’t get into it.  I hope we don’t lose Internet later this week, and that I have decent connectivity in Valdez.

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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.