Cleaning things

Archaeology is, in some respects, a dirty business.  We excavate things out of the dirt, and, in the process, we can get pretty dirty ourselves.  If we are camping, showers and laundry are rare events.  Walakpa is pretty sandy, so …

This past week, the remaining crew have been working to get equipment cleaned & stored.  We dried several tents, dried and hung up jackets, dried and got the sand off a lot of equipment, and sorted the remaining food.  We were going to donate it to the common pool, but there were already 8 bottles of mustard in the refrigerator, so we’ll store that for next year.

I’ve been working on both project equipment and my personal gear. My dishwasher is full of coffeepots & plates, which will get stored for the winter.  I’ve washed the tent and blanket Garrett Knudsen was kind enough to leave, which was used by several other crew members, and will be mailing it on Monday, along with a few souvenirs that crew members didn’t manage to pack.  I’ve also washed a pile of assorted gloves.  I’ve still got a UICS sleeping bag to wash and dry, and some down jackets to drop off at the dry cleaner.

I have been washing field clothes since I got home.  I spent the weekend washing and drying two sleeping bags (one that I used, and a spare that one of the crew members used, cleaning and packing two Thermarests (ditto), and washing and renewing the waterproofing on my tent & fly.  I’ve still got to rewash the chairs I loaned the project.  The crew power washed the crushed mosquitos off them, but they wound up muddy, so I’ve got to wash them again.

Clean gear 🙂
Putting gear away until the next time I head for the field.

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.

A hundred and one (roughly) moving pieces

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.

Beach just south of Hollywood.  We got as far as the snow in the distance.

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.

Sean looking down the beach.



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.

Hints for those thinking of getting into archaeology–Pt 1

For some reason, two of the archaeology blogs I follow had recent posts which were perfect summaries of information for people considering getting into archaeology.  Although the topics were quite different, neither was the sort of thing covered in most classes or textbooks.

On the practical side, GraecoMuse did a nice summation of what an archaeologist needs in the way of personal field equipment.  I’d add a clipboard desk for forms, and certainly most US and Canadian archaeologists would substitute Marshalltown trowels for WHS.

On the other end of the spectrum, what appears to be a new blog gives an extended quote from an L. S. Klijn article in Acta Archaeologica listing 25 Commandments for archaeological researchers. I tend to think that not all archaeologists are quite as individualistic and cutthroat as #5 might imply, and would offer such highly successful collaboratives as NABO and GHEA as counterexamples. The list is a clear description of some very important principles of archaeological logic and epistemology.  Many of the “commandments” are applicable to all scientific endeavor, no matter the discipline.


Trading Skins & Oil

I’ve been working on talks for the session on the Connected Arctic at next week’s Alaska Anthropological Association meeting in Seattle. My family was in Juneau lobbying, so I had some free time.  I’m almost done with the one about the trade networks  which moved large quantities of oil, blubber & baleen from the coast to be exchanged for caribou & sheep products from the interior.  By volume, this greatly exceeded  the amount of metal, jade and similar items that also moved through these networks.  For some reason, the skin & oil trade has received less attention from archaeologists, although it has been documented ethnographically.  In fact, it seems to have been a necessity for sustained interior occupation.  I’ve been trying to make a good visual presentation, which takes a bit of doing.  I think it should be done tomorrow.

I would have been done earlier if I hadn’t had to spend some time on sorting out some safety issues. The local phone company is installing a microwave link to carry  internet for science, and the best spot is on the BARC, apparently on the tower where the radar is.  For some reason, they didn’t think the FOUR signs on the locked door to the tower warning of possible radiation hazards and giving the numbers to contact someone who could  make sure the radar was disabled before they went up on the tower meant THEM.  The locked gate at the bottom of the tower deck stairway didn’t faze them either.  Fortunately the radar was off, so no one got hurt.  However, the radar can be activated remotely, so going up on the tower, even if you think you saw the radar was off when you went by the controls, is a really STUPID idea.  Since they presumably will need to go up there again to finish the setup and for periodic maintenance, it was necessary to impress on them (management, not just the crew) that they need to call and get an OK every time.  The excuse was that they’d talked to the building owner (who I’m sure approved putting stuff up there in concept, but never told them it was OK to ignore warning signs while doing it!)  If people would just read and think….

Packing for the field again

Since we now are ready to salvage the Ipiutak structure, Laura & I were going to pack up a small amount of field gear yesterday.  However, Laura got caught manning a table for Friends of Tuzzy Library, and since she was there when everything was put away, we decided to do it this morning before she caught the plane out for a doctor’s appointment.  So bright and early she picked me up in Daisy II (my old truck, which I think needs a muffler) and we headed over.  All in all it took less than an hour, and we’re all ready for tomorrow.

Gravel moving accomplished, & then football

Friday we got the gravel moved.  If you remember, the site looked like this:

Gravel pile on the Ipiutak structure

Not exactly conducive to a quick recovery excavation, especially since it’s mostly going to be volunteer labor, the students being back at school and all.  It had been looking pretty grim on the heavy equipment front, but Ilisaġvik College came through with a reasonable rental on their new Case loader, and Walter Brower & I headed out around 9AM.

Getting there took a while, but shortly after 10 we were at work.  The loader has extra wide tires, and reputedly is not very good in snow, but it did fine in the gravel.

Starting work



Backdragging proved effective and minimized the need to drive on top of the feature.  We were able to take it down to less than 1 foot above the surface, so it will be a lot less work this week & next weekend.

Finishing touches.
Walter checking the results.
Final result--a great improvement.

All in all, a great improvement.

The next day Barrow played Nikiski in football. Both schools are in the Greatland Conference, and Nikiski is a perennial football powerhouse.  Barrow had never beaten them.

Cathy Parker Field
Football beside the Arctic Ocean. Whalers #24 (in motion to the left of the frame) is Trace Hudson, who works on the Nuvuk Project when he's not playing football.

Barrow fixed that.

Final score. No, I have no idea why there is 3:24 on the clock; the game was over.

Further adventures

I have been majorly busy since the last post.  I had two days to get a RAPID proposal in to NSF for funds to salvage the remaining portion of the Ipiutak structure.

The Ipiutak structure excavation and the sea

I was scheduled to go to Cape Espenberg to take part in a project there under the direction of John Hoffecker of INSTAAR, and had to get on a plane on July 28.   I wasn’t due back in Barrow until August 13th, and NSF had to process all grants before then, so if the proposal didn’t get in then, they wouldn’t be able to get the money out if it was successful.  Since the house could go in a storm, I spent 2 days writing & submitting the proposal, threw my stuff in a dry bag & my day pack and left for Cape Espenberg.

I had a great time there, with interesting archaeology, which will be a post for another day.  From Cape Espenberg, I flew to Kotzebue and then on to Point Hope for the North Slope Borough Elders/Youth Conference.  It was a great conference, and I had a great time, despite finding out that the workshop I thought I was giving was actually a talk to the entire conference (which I had no PowerPoint for).  Another post for another day.  While there, I found out that the RAPID was successful.

I got back to Barrow after some weather and plane repair delays, to find that the surveyors who I was supposed to work with had done their thing and left town.  I’ve been extracting info from them and trying to get that survey set up, since the report needs to get done, the helicopter needs to head south & I have a 4-day  trip to New York State scheduled on the 25th.  Meanwhile, it turns out that most if not all of the heavy equipment in Barrow is either committed to a job or broken, so we’re having trouble getting a bulldozer to move the 100 yards of gravel piled on top of the rest of the Ipiutak structure.

If that’s not enough, a human skull was found in Wainwright by surveyors (actually the same surveyors) who were doing preliminary work for a possible road project.  The client decided that it would be a good idea to get an archaeologist to come down and see if the skull was an isolated find or if there might be more, and give them suggestions for how to proceed with the road design, as well as make sure the proper reports and documentation were done.  I leave for Wainwright tomorrow afternoon, and hope to be back Friday night, weather permitting.

On top of that, there’s a teleconference & a meeting in the morning.  I just finished an interview with Pat Yack of Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN), who won a ticket to anywhere ERA flies and used it to come to Barrow.   It was quite enjoyable, since he’d done some homework, and asked intelligent questions.  Turns out he’s next-door neighbors with Max Brewer, the long-time NARL science director who lived in the house we now live in.  Small world.

Pat Yack, APRN, at work in the Nuvuk lab
Pat Yack, APRN, at work in the Nuvuk lab

The tale of an osteometric board

I recently contributed a post about a field-made osteometric board to ThenDig, a blog about archaeology which has been doing a theme month on tools and archaeology.  There are a number of interesting posts over there, and it’s worth checking out.

What a day!

The weather was not pleasant.  It rained all day, and was pretty cold.  My fingers are swollen up like sausages.  The rain also took out the track pad on the computer for the transit, so we couldn’t back up the files in the field.  We were able to use a mouse in the lab, and got the files backed up and transferred to the other laptop, so if the track pad doesn’t perk up, we’re OK.  My Nikon Coolpix S9100, which I just got last night to replace one that failed after a week, died the same way today.  Nikon won’t issue a refund for 15 days, which is truly ridiculous under the circumstances.  I’ve been committed to Nikon, loved all the SLRs I’ve had (FM, 4 FEs, 4 N70s, D200) and liked everything about this camera, too, except it won’t work.  Epic fail.  So don’t buy one!

On the plus side, the very deep burial turned out to be a person wearing a fur parka and wrapped in hide!  You can even see traces of the stitching.  We aren’t sure how well-preserved the person is (we found a few finger bones and a nail inside the cuff).  We decided to take it out en bloc (complete) and take it back to the lab to excavate in controlled conditions so we can document the garment better, since it is very fragile.  We had some plywood brought out and managed to slide it through the gravel under the entire burial and lift the whole thing.  This required the digging of a very large hole, which we’ll now need to backfill.  Many thanks to Brower Frantz and his crew for bringing out the plywood and transporting the individual back to the lab while we kept on in the field.

Right arm and side of the fur parka, lying on a hide.
Close-up of stitching on parka

The DWF keeps yielding more artifacts, some of which are quite nice.  We’re trying to get to a reasonable stopping point and figure out a way to protect the exposed feature in case we can get funds to work on it in September.

Artifacts from DWF.

More logistics… and Pretty Babies!

The past week has been crazy.  All of the crew except the GPR people and Dennis O’Rourke are here.  We’ve gotten all of the training out of the way except for ATV driving.  We spent a while on Thursday afternoon as scheduled, but the logistics provider still didn’t have all the ATVs (or even know what they would be) so we weren’t able to make sure everyone knew how to ride what they’d be driving.  Since they may be renting a bunch of manual shift models (and a number of people have never driven anything with a manual shift), it seemed safest to let people learn that before taking them off-road, so the start for the field will be delayed :-(.

We have all the gear piled in the Theater, where we’ll be staging, except for the electronics.  They are still in the lab, where they are being charged.  Laura and a rotating crew person will get them and bring them to the Theater each morning, and return them for recharging at the end of the day.  We also have a generator, but we’d really rather not run it.

On Friday, I had to do a survey of a very small area where a surface current radar is being installed on Point Barrow.  We went out a while ago and picked some spots, and after calculations back at the lab, Hank Statscewich picked a spot.  I was supposed to meet up with the logistics providers out there, to show them where the tent was to go, but alas, something came up.  I ran into one of them at the gas station while getting gas for the 4-wheeler (turned out to be more complex than expected because I filled my 5 gallon can only to find out it leaked and had to run next door to the NAPA to buy 2 new 2.5 cans to transfer the gas into), and we arranged to go the next morning.  I did the survey and went home.  The weather alternated between spooky fog and quite nice.

Foggy day on Point Barrow

The next day I met up with the logistics providers and headed back to the Point for what was supposed to be a 2-hour activity.  I was just going to show them where the tents should go and head back in, but it became clear that might not be the best plan.  I made it home 7 hours later.  The tents are all up and in place.  There are a few issues, mostly relating to them not having actually set up the whole tent prior to shipping, but they were going out today to fix most of them, so we hope to find things in working order tomorrow…  At least the weather was nice except when it rained a little bit.

Weatherports going up

Since that shot my Saturday, I spent most of yesterday and today finishing various things that clients need before I get out of the field and dealing with various work-related issues.  As a result, I missed almost all of the 4th of July festivities.  We did get in for the start of the “marathon” in which crew member Emily Button was running, and the Pretty Baby contest, but Glenn hadn’t really dressed for the weather and the wind & drizzle picked up, so we left and I don’t know how either event came out!  Maggie Rose Solomon won Miss Top of the World (thanks to DoeDoe for posting that on FB ).

Runners at the ready. Emily is in the red jacket.

All the Pretty Babies
When the potato chips aren't enough...

Snow and wind, wind and snow

That’s the forecast, and tomorrow more of the same. The wind is supposed to drop a bit, although that was supposed to happen today too. Not so much.

Unfortunately for me, and the two guys who are going to be helping me. I have to stake out the locations for the heating elements for the tundra warming prototype experiment. We are going to have to lug the total station, tripod, computer, batteries, and a whole action packer full of stakes out the boardwalk to the area on the BEO where this thing is supposed to be located. No 4-wheelers are allowed, so we’ll have to use a wheelbarrow to drag it out there. I figure we can leave the stakes & such overnight if we don’t finish, but everything else will have to come back in.

The array is hexagonal, so it’s more complex than just laying out a grid. Actually, it’s sort of two offset grids, except that the boxes are rectangular, not square, so there are a lot of weird angles. In some cases, I’m just going to have to move the transit, rather than accumulate error, since the total station I’m using is only accurate to 5 sec of arc. Anyway, it will make the math simpler, and should probably be faster. I hope.

Now we’re waiting for equipment…

Shawn made it in on Friday, but some of his digitizing equipment, which had been shipped in advance with a promise from UPS that it would be here last Tuesday or Wednesday, didn’t.  He had to start with analyses that didn’t need the equipment, and we’re hoping it gets here in time for him to use it before he travels back to Utah on Wednesday.