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.

Gear list posted

I just put up a new page with the gear list that I’m sending to the folks who are volunteering to help with the archaeological salvage at Walakpa this summer.  I thought it might be interesting to people.

If you have experience camping up here and notice anything you think is missing, please drop me a line :-).

UPDATE 5/29/16:  I added something to the list, thanks to a good suggestion from Randall O.

Walakpa, July 30, 2015

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.

CS 2 after excavation and preparation for detailed profiling.
CS 2 after excavation and preparation for detailed profiling.

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.

Walakpa, July 29, 2015

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.

Bucket brigade in action.
Bucket brigade in action.

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.

Walakpa, July 28, 2015

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.

CS 1 profile
CS 1 profile

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.

The view after dinner.
The view after dinner.

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.

Walakpa–July 27, 2015

We went to work in earnest today.  Owen went to work on recording the stratigraphy of the profile we had chosen for the column sample (CS 1).  I had him marking the bottom of each level so we could continue excavation even after he went to sleep.  Anne Garland and Laura kept working on the tests on the mound with the monument.  The SW quad of the 1×1 came down on a cryoturbated sterile layer.  There was metal throughout the cultural levels.  We expanded northward to examine some wood in that wall.

Owen Mason examining the profile of CS 1.
Owen Mason examining the profile of CS 1.

Meanwhile, I set up the transit and began shooting in the CS 1 profile, as well as the bluff edge.  The NW quad of TU 1 had similar results, so we put some 50x50s closer to the bluff edge to see if we could find datable material and the edge of the  feature.

Mary Beth Timm and I took naps, so we could stay up late and work on the CS 1 profile.  After dinner, we shot in the upper levels of the CS 1 profile, as well as a polar bear jaw that was exposed in Level 12, so that it would not get stepped on.  Mary Beth & I started excavating CS 1.  We are excavating in natural stratigraphic levels, with any level that is more than 5 cm in depth broken into 5 cm sub-levels.   One gallon from each 5 cm is being kept as a bulk sample, and we are screening the remainder.

Midnight double selfie.  Anne & Mary Beth at work on CS 1.
Midnight double selfie. Anne & Mary Beth at work on CS 1.

We kept going until it go so dark that we really couldn’t see the soil colors, which was around 2 AM.  We had accomplished a fair bit, so we headed off to bed.

Results of our labor.
Results of our labor.
Off to bed.
Off to bed.

The weather is often best at night.  It was really beautiful.  A pair of loons was swimming on the lagoon.

Loons on the lagoon.
Loons on the lagoon.

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.

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.

Ramping up in the lab

I have gotten far enough along in getting over the back surgery that I finally have enough energy to do things that are not strictly essential for work or staying fed.  So we are ramping things up in the lab.

We are looking for a few more people to work in the lab here in Barrow, joining the current crew on weekdays or weekends.  Due to the source of funding, these folks will need to be high school or college students.  We are also looking for volunteers.  I will post the announcements on here a static page and also as posts.

We aren’t sure yet if we will have funds available to do fieldwork this summer, but we are hopeful.  If we do get into the field this summer, people who have lab experience will have priority for fieldwork jobs.

If you are interested, please contact me ASAP.  Please pass this on to anyone you know who might be interested.

 

 

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.

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What came before we were so rudely interrupted by Mother Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Winter comes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An exciting commute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Onward & downward!

We made pretty good progress at Walakpa this week.  This, despite a few challenges.

On Tuesday, we had a really small crew, due to a variety of circumstances.  Only Trina, Mary Beth & I made it out.  It was quite a cold day, with  ice on the puddles when we got to Walakpa (or Monument).

Ice on a tundra pond.
Ice on a tundra pond.

We decided to leave the screening for another day and just excavate.  It was cold enough that we actually took advantage of the removable floor in the Arctic Oven tent on site and used the Coleman stove inside, but on the ground.

The Arctic Oven on a cold day
The Arctic Oven on a cold day

The next morning, we had a bigger crew, but there was snow on the ground when we set off.

Snow on the tundra, seen across Middle Salt Lagoon.
Snow on the tundra, seen across Middle Salt Lagoon.

We were not expecting to have a great day, but in fact it was warmer than the day before (no ice), and we started getting down to what seems to be structural wood from the house roof, so that was fairly satisfying.  We got a lot of water screening done, as well.  The beach had really stabilized, so we were able to go the whole way on hard sand, and even most of the lagoons had closed up, with sandbars across the entrances that we could just drive across.  The commute to the site was much quicker.

Thursday did not go well.  We headed  out, only to find that for some reason, the waves were really coming up the beach and running into the lagoons, so that we  were not able to get across the stream by the gravel pit.  We went around and through the gravel pit, but then could not get across the stream by Nunavak.  We did see a polar bear in the water near a dead walrus).  I decided we should try to go around, since it was otherwise a nice day & I hated to lose it, but we didn’t have any extra gas along, and by the time we were half-way around, even cutting across country rather than following the shoreline, it was clear that some of the Polaris’s are sort of gas hogs.  So back we went to the road, with only one minor mishap when the Tubby trailer bounced into a very wet low-centered polygon and dragged the ATV half-way in.  I got my feet wet getting it unstuck, but we still went back down to the beach so that David Pettibone could get a picture of the bear, still in the water, from a safe distance.

Today, despite no major change in wind strength or direction, was very different.  The beach was back to Wednesday’s shape, and we got to the site easily.  It was quite sunny in the morning, and we got right to work.  We had six people, so we started with 4 excavating and 2 screening.

View from the south end of the trench, where I was digging.  L to R:  Mary Beth Timm, JoAnn Akootchook and Michael Berger.
View from the south end of the trench, where I was digging. Pretty well maxed out.      L to R: Mary Beth Timm, JoAnn Akootchook and Michael Berger.

I played around with my iPad mini for taking pictures to supplement field notes & drawings.  I don’t draw all that well, and used to take Polaroids and draw on them, but that technology is gone and wasn’t that stable anyway.  I’ve use a couple of programs to annotate lab photos, but this was the first time I tried it in the field.  I used iAnnotate PDF, which lets you put sound files on the image, associated with notes or drawings.  They open fine in Acrobat.  This will be quite handy.

 

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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!