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.

Here’s hoping the plane makes it in tonight…

…because Shawn Miller, the physical anthropologist who will be documenting the human remains excavated at Nuvuk this summer, is supposed to be on it. The weather has been rather unfortunate of late, and a number of flights have tried to land, only to be turned back by visibility below minimums, thanks to the fact that the folks who sited the Will Rogers-Wiley Post Memorial Airport seem to have picked the foggiest spot they could find. A lot of folks have gone back and forth between Anchorage or Fairbanks and Barrow a couple of times by now (and you don’t get frequent flier miles for that).

We’ve got the lab all ready, and Laura is getting Shawn’s equipment (various digital measuring devices) out in case he wants to get an early start.  Once he’s done, we can arrange the reburial.

We can break equipment too!

One of my colleagues, Matthew Betts, who has done Arctic work for years, is currently excavating a large shell midden at Port Joli, Nova Scotia.  He also has a project blog, and in a recent post on trowels, there was news of the sad demise of a Marshalltown trowel.  Marshalltowns are great trowels, and I’ve never seen one break the way this one did.  They usually wind up being discarded after being resharpened so many times they are nubs.

However, in the spirit of friendly competition (?) I’d like to point out that we have broken a larger piece of excavation equipment this season; to whit, a Sear Craftsman shovel (the yellow-handled kind).  The evidence is below:

Laura, Jenny and Rochelle with the remains of the late shovel.

To be fair, I’ve seen these things break before, but it involved heavy equipment.  We’re not sure what happened with this one.  These are great shovels (maybe only archaeologists and landscapers can get so enthusiastic about shovels), but have to be special ordered to Barrow, which is sometimes a very convoluted process.  That is why it has the pink and green duct tape rings on the handle.  That way, we can recognize our shovels when they get “borrowed” and borrow them back.

Care and feeding of the Total Station

You’ve probably seen pictures of archaeological digs with grids made of strings. Much of what we can learn from a site comes not just from what artifacts are found there, but from where particular artifacts are found in relation to each other.  The string grids are there to make it easier to record where each artifact is found (what archaeologists call “provenience”). I rarely use them.

Many years ago, my husband Glenn Sheehan (also an archaeologist) went to a talk at the Engineers’ Club in Philadelphia, where Harold Dibble & Shannon McPherron demonstrated a system to record provenience in 3 dimensions using an electronic total station (used by surveyors) connected to a palmtop computer (back then, an HP 95) to record not only the place each artifact was found, very precisely and with no transcription or data entry errors, but also some information about it. It automatically assigned an individual artifact number. There was even a little thermal printer that made tags to put in the baggie with the artifact! I left determined to get one.

We did, and took the system to places it had never been. Harold and Shannon had developed it for work on French Paleolithic sites, which tend to be very small. We wanted to use it on bigger sites. Fortunately, they kept improving the program, and it’s now really flexible. You can define what data is collected, set up menus, and use it on really huge sites.

Figuring out how to make everything work in the Arctic, where cold kills batteries and you can’t just plug into a wall socket was another adventure. A combination of generators, chargers, adaptors, and gel cell motorcycle batteries solved that problem. I got pretty good at repairing wires on adaptors, since the original stuff couldn’t take cold.  Over the years, the HP95s have been replaced with rugged laptops, and the thermal printers died. We haven’t found a good replacement for printing bag tags, but old-school marking the bags with a Sharpie works fine.

The GTS201D and all its equipment at Nuvuk.

Of course, the whole system depends on the total station. I’ve got 2, a Topcon GTS3B and a Topcon GTS201D, which is supposed to be waterproof. Total stations are surveyors’ instruments, so they are built to be moved around a lot without loosing accuracy, but they do need to be recalibrated on occasion. That time came for the 201D after last season.

Now, the only place in the state of Alaska that this can be done is in Anchorage. The 201D came in a case with really fragile fasteners, which have not held up well, and I haven’t been able to find a replacement, so we actually lash the case closed like a birthday present.   Needless to say, I wasn’t interested in shipping or mailing the total station down to get calibrated. But Laura and her husband Brian were going to Anchorage, and I was going down several weeks later. I called the shop, and they said the work could be done in the time between the trips, so they hand-carried it down and Brian dropped it off. They assured Brian the work would only take a week or so.

I went down for the Alaska Anthropological Association meetings & medical appointments a few weeks later and stopped by to get it, only to find it wasn’t done. What they had forgotten to tell Brian when he dropped it off was that one repair tech was on vacation and the other was out-of-state for two weeks of training, which had backed things up at bit. They couldn’t get it done in time for that trip. A few weeks later, I went to the Society for American Archaeology meetings in St. Louis.  Since you can’t get anywhere in the Lower 48 from Barrow without going through Anchorage, I was able to pick the total station up on the way home!  It’s now safe and sound in the lab, waiting for the fieldwork to start.