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.

Radiocarbon dates

I have been really busy the last month, trying to finish several reports and papers, plan for the summer, and get ready for a research visit from Tony Krus of SUERC, who was a member of the 2008 Nuvuk field crew before he headed off to grad school.  He is now Dr. Krus, and was able to get a grant to come over and work on Bayesian modeling for Barrow area dates, as well as attempting to improve the value for DeltaR (a correction factor used with radiocarbon dates on marine organisms to compensate for the excess older carbon found in the oceans).  Between the massive amount of writing I was doing and smashing a finger getting luggage out of the overhead coming back from a trip, I’ve not been blogging.

I hope to catch up with things a bit; there’s been considerable activity on the DONOP/global change threats to cultural and natural heritage front, as well as planning for Walakpa.

Talking about Climate Change and Threats to Heritage

I spent most of the day talking about climate change threats to cultural heritage and archaeological resources.  I started off at a fairly conventional session about archaeology at various sites in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, which had a number of interesting papers, many based on analysis of well-preserved faunal remains.

I then went on to the first formal meeting of the newest SAA committee, on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Response (CCSAR).  Dan Sandweiss, who is the SAA board liaison, as well as being one of the earlier people to call attention to the importance of archaeological sites as archives of paleoenvironmental data, as well as the obvious archaeological data.  It seems to be a really great group of people,working in a lot of different places, all of which are having some climate issues.  Most of them are interested not only in saving data, but in what that data can tell us about past climates, and about how people adapted to changes in them.  As one person said, “We really don’t have much data about the Archaic, the last time people lived sustainably in North America.”  This may be a bit of an exaggeration, especially for Alaska, but basically the idea is correct.

After that, I had to go to an appointment in the book room.  We will see what comes of that in due time.

Then there was another interesting session on Heritage Tools for Tackling Climate Change.  This included a variety of talks on ways people are dealing with the effects of climate change.  One had to do with melting ice patches in Glacier National Park, and how the Park Service had dealt with material coming out, in consultation with the local Native American community, as well as studies they were doing so they could be proactive.  Another paper included information on the California Cultural Resource Management (CRM) community’s efforts to get public lands on the coast surveyed completely.

There was some discussion about whether the US ban on revealing any site location data helps or hurts.  Most other countries will reveal that data, although they may wait until very valuable materials have been properly excavated in some cases.  They have found that it decreases looting, if anything.  It also helps people avoid inadvertent damage that happens when people don’t know a site is there, and lets them report on changes in site conditions. So instead of a few archaeologists, lots of people can keep an eye on the sites.  Here they can’t do that.  I suspect, as do many others, that the people who are serious looters already know where the sites are, and have a pretty good idea where to prospect for more.  On the other hand, when the US government shut down for a couple of weeks in 2013, looting exploded in the National Parks.

Tomorrow morning the session I organized on Global Change Threats to the Archaeological and Paleoecological Record (not snappy, but lots of buzzwords for search engines) happens.

EAA 2015 and Glasgow

We went to Glasgow where the 2014 European Archaeology Association was held, by way of Anchorage and Reykjavik.  Because flights from Barrow are disrupted fairly frequently, we went down a bit early, and had a chance to visit with our daughter.  There was a pretty amazing double rainbow and a nice lenticular cloud.

The rainbow
The rainbow
Closer shot of the rainbow
Closer shot of the rainbow
Lenticular cloud over the Church Mts.
Lenticular cloud over the Church Mts.

We flew Icelandair to Reykjavik and then from there to Glasgow.  Glasgow was great.  The people who live there seem really proud of their city.  The cab driver on the way in from the airport was recommending museums, and in particular Christ of Saint John on the Cross by Dali at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Musuem.  Glasgow was once the second most prosperous  city in the UK, and the residents seem to have been very civic-minded.  The Kelvingrove was built to house the collections that were donated by prominent Glaswegians, using funds from an international exposition and public subscriptions.  It houses a fair bit of Charles Rennie Mackintosh material.  We got in a good visit our last day there.  Unfortunately, some of the other Mackintosh venues were under renovation.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Charles Rennie Mackintosh cabinet
Charles Rennie Mackintosh cabinet
Charles Rennie Mackintosh table & chairs.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh table & chairs from one of the famous tea room interiors.

The meetings were held in various venues at the University, including some very old lecture halls and more modern buildings.

University of Glasgow Main Building tower
University of Glasgow Main Building tower
Nuvuk Archaeology Project alum Dr. Tony Krus chairing a session in a centuries-old lecture hall
Nuvuk Archaeology Project alum Dr. Tony Krus chairing a session in a centuries-old lecture hall

We spent most of our time around the University.  There were a number of good restaurants & pubs, particularly along Ashton Lane.  We tried a bunch of them.  We never made it to this one,which was apparently an isolated inn before Glasgow got so big, near a pond where local curlers used to throw rocks.  This is apparently where they went afterwards back then, as curlers are wont to do :-).

Curlers' Rest
Curler’s Rest

Our session (Archaeology and Climate Change) was heavily advertised.  Tom Dawson, the organizer, had managed to get leaflets put up all around campus before the session, so it was very well attended.  As you can see, there were participants from all over.  I talked about the threats to frozen coastal sites from climate change, with an emphasis on the Barrow area.  I was able to incorporate images from the storm that had happened the week before.  There were some other pretty bad situations, but none that were worse.  On the other hand, some people are making strides in dealing with these issues with public help, which is good given the turn-around time for even successful funding applications.

Poster for our session on
Poster for our session on Archaeology and Climate Change.

The conference featured a very nice party, spread across two venues, both within a block of our hotel!  One was Òran Mór, a converted church which now houses performance space and a bar.  The upstairs had been rented for the party.  It had obviously been redone from its days as a church.  The other was the glass house at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, just across the way.

Òran Mór from the outside, with a blue halo on the tower.
Òran Mór from the outside, with a blue halo on the tower.
Interior space at Òran Mór
Interior space at Òran Mór, with a crowd of EAA delegates
Approaching the Glass House at the Glasgow Botanic Garden
Approaching the Glass House at the Glasgow Botanic Garden

The conference banquet was held in the main hall at the Kelvingrove.  It was sponsored by Glenmorangie (the distillery near Glasgow) so there were samples of a couple of their special products.  After the speeches and dinner, there was a fine band and dancing.

Dancing at Kelvingrove. BT Wygal and Katie Krazinski by pillar at center.
Dancing at Kelvingrove. BT Wygal and Katie Krazinski by pillar at center.

A busy autumn

When I last posted I had just left for a trip to two conferences in Europe.  Since then, I’ve been in 4 countries, given two papers (at EAA 2015 in Glasgow and CHAGS 11 in Vienna), submitted an organized SAA session for next spring, come home, gone to Fairbanks for shotgun qualification, come back home, had two of the WALRUS project participants up here to cut samples from the bones that the interns have been finding in the collections, written part of two reports, drafted two abstracts for a meeting in November, and started on a proposal for an edited volume dealing with climate change & archaeology.  I haven’t managed to post at all.

Last week was a tough week for Barrow in many ways, with the deaths of several community members, including long-time mayor Nate Olemaun Jr..  On a brighter note, Barrow took three whales on Friday, and another three today.

Videos, and reports of more erosion

I managed to get a couple of videos of the evaluation of things exposed by erosion at Ukkuqsi on Thursday uploaded to YouTube.  You can see them here,  and here.

Unfortunately, the erosion continued, and additional items were exposed after I left for a trip to two conferences in Europe, possibly including human remains (this is the site where the little frozen girl was found in 1994).  The North Slope Borough is taking care of the situation at the moment.

Things have eroded out elsewhere in the Barrow area as well.  At one point I was on the phone with someone from the North Slope Borough about one site, when someone else called about something found at another location entirely.  And I now have a voicemail about yet another location!

Yet More Erosion

There is a very large storm, with winds up to 50 mph and big waves from the west battering the Chukchi coastline from Barrow south.  It has created a major storm surge, with big waves and coastal erosion.  An emergency has been declared in Barrow due to flooding and road damage.

I flew back from Wainwright yesterday evening, and even through the storm was just building, the waves were already hitting Walakpa.  I couldn’t get pictures but it did not look good.

Today was much worse.  Late this afternoon, I got a series of calls about something washing out at Ukkuqsi, where the little frozen girl Aġnaiyaaq was found.  Aqamak Okpik from IHLC got things organized, with Morrie Lemen coming out to NARL in a bigger truck than mine to take me in to take a look.  The North Slope Borough Fire Department came over, and two firefighters suited up and tied a rope onto me so I could go down and take a look.

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

The big concern was that a burial was eroding out, since there have been several in that area.  In the end, it looked like part of a house (maybe two superimposed) with a whalebone and a baleen toboggan.  We retrieved a few bones and a piece of structural wood that were going to fall in any minute, and hope to be able to get a radiocarbon date or two.  I only got hit by one big wave.

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

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

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.

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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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 not so quick trip to Nuvuk

I got out to Nuvuk today for the first time today. The ARM project that we support want to put a flux tower at the Point to measure flux off the ocean during the open water season.  The thing is that the ideal spot for the tower is on the ridge where the Nuvuk site is.

In the past, other folks wanted to put flux towers there, but there simply wasn’t room for a tower in an area where we had already tested and recovered all the burials, and we didn’t want to chance disturbance to a burial.  Now we’ve gotten a good way ahead of the erosion, so it seemed that it might be possible.  However, I didn’t want the tower to be on top of the possible Ipiutaq structures, just in case funding for their excavation is available.  Since the tower installation involved moving a little gravel, it was important for me to be there just in case something showed up.

It took a while to get out there, since the ARM Kubota is on tracks and can only go about 15 miles an hour.  We quickly got a spot picked for the tower.  After that, I spent most of my time looking around for bears while the others started putting the tower together.  I spotted 2, a mom and a cub, who were heading to the bone pile.

Polar bears heading for a meal.
Assembling the base for the tower.
Putting the tower together.
Putting the instruments on the tower.

We decided to use sandbags for the guy-wires and then added some more on top the tracks on the base plate.  To minimize disturbance to the site, we decided fill the “sand”bags with beach gravel, and bring them up with a four-wheeler.

“Sand”bags on the Honda.

After the tower was assembled and the instruments were on, the instruments needed to be wired up.  That took a while, but I had to sick around since one of them needed to look down are gravel, so we needed to cover the plywood base plate, which meant more digging.

That gave me time to check out the area where we salvaged the Ipiutak structure last fall.  Good thing we did that last fall, because that area is gone.  There is a big notch in the bluff there, and that’s it.  It would have been a pity to lose that, because we found some very interesting things in the field and in the lab.

Where the Ipiutak structure was…

While I was getting to play, the crew was working away in the lab.  They have finished floating and sorting the materials from the fall salvage, and are moving on.  Over the winter, we’ve had several sets of visitors on short notice, which required some materials to be cleaned off benches fairly quickly.  As a result, there were a lot of miscellaneous boxes around the lab.  The crew has reorganized several cabinets and gotten most of the boxes emptied. There is plenty of bench space, so we are moving on to cataloging and marking.

Part of the hard-working lab crew (l. to r. Victoria, Trina & Trace) working on faunal remains.

A doozy of a field trip

Wednesday was a fun and productive day.  There is a group of middle-school students from a Fairbanks charter school who are in Barrow for about a week on a class trip.  (I think the best we got in middle school was a one (loooong) day bus trip to New York City).  They are going to all sorts of places in the community, including my lab & the ARM site.  They came over to the BARC, and I gave them an archaeological tour of Barrow via PowerPoint, since some of the sites are hard to get to in the winter and don’t look like much right now if you do get there.   I also spent a bit of time on the various ways sites are endangered in Alaska (erosion, permafrost melting, etc.)  and why that matters.  They asked a lot of good questions.  Some of them (maybe all) have been helping in the archaeological collections at the UAF Museum of the North, so they had a bit of background.

Half of the students from Fairbanks in the lab looking at artifacts.

After that, we split them into two groups.  Half of them went out to the ARM site, where Mark Ivey of Sandia National Labs & Jimmy & Josh Ivanoff  gave them a tour, while the other half came to the lab, and then the groups switched.  Since we’re working on weekends, there are samples in various stages of processing, so I was able to show them the process we are using on the Ipiutak floor samples from this fall.  Then we looked at the Ipiutak sled runners, which I’d shown in situ (in place in the ground) in the PowerPoint.  After that, we looked at the items from the Nuvuk-01 hunter’s tool kit.  As usual, the little owl fastener was the star :-).

The little owl toggle from the Nuvuk-01 tool kit.

In the afternoon, I got two contract reports in for last year, and moved on to calibrating radiocarbon dates for the big project I’ve been doing.  I’m using CALIB, since it reportedly may be a bit more accurate, but it’s output format means that you can’t just cut and paste columns.  The only way to keep track was to do about 30 at a time.  I got several hundred done, and finally gave up when it simply kept ignoring two dates. I couldn’t see any problem with the input formating, but it just didn’t make any output.  Oh well, there is tomorrow.

Actually, there wasn’t, since I was home with a fever and sore throat.  We have a half-day holiday for Barrow employees for Piuraagiaqta (Spring Festival), which starts today and runs all weekend.   I’m actually taking the time off, since the Internet at the office is sketchy at the moment.  There is a switchover from one connection to the earth station to another in progress, and it is not going as well as hoped.

Excavation progress

We got to the field yesterday.  Bryan Thomas and Scott Oyagak (bear guard) from BASC, and Courtney Hammond, the new BASC intern, were joined by dental extern Audrey Navarro.  We got the site uncovered, removing all the trash bags that had been pinned in place to help protect the actual surface.  It had suffered some damage, so we laid out a gird of 1/4 m square units, took surface elevations, and started slowly removing and bagging the entire matrix of the first 1/4 meter in, in 5 cm levels.  This was the most disturbed, and I could not find the floor level.  If I couldn’t, it’s not surprising that the volunteers, two of whom were excavating for the first time, couldn’t do it.  Bryan was mostly running the transit, since he’s done that a bit and is fine with the program (just needs more practice aiming the theodolite to get really fast–it’s harder for him since he’s a lefty and it is totally built for right-handed people).  By the end of the day, there were a couple of hints of where the floor was, although one was much higher than the other.

There were hints of two levels of floor earlier this summer as we moved away from the hearth, perhaps due to a renovation of the structure which involved adding gravel to the floor/bench, so that might be what is showing up.  It certainly doesn’t make figuring out where the floor is from a profile (I use the term very loosely, since we are talking about unconsolidated gravel here).

Today, I went out with Glenn Sheehan, from BASC, who is also an archaeologist by profession (also my husband), since I really needed someone else who could dig without direct supervision if I needed to run the transit, and Bryan and Scott. As it turned out, Glenn was able to find a small chert flake and then an ivory flake and follow out a level from there.  Pieces of wood are turning up as well.  Mike and Patsy Aamodt stopped by after checking their net and we chatted for a bit.  They just came back from their cabin, where they had both nanuqs (polar bears) and brown bears hanging around.  Amazingly, we’ve seen none yet this season, which is a first.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be very windy, and we were having trouble getting local volunteers since it is the Homecoming game for the Whalers football team.  However, Nok Acker from BASC arrived to spell Scott so he could get home in time for his babysitter to go home, and had heard that a team of oceanographers who are in town want to go out tomorrow (probably because there is a small craft advisory so they can’t go boating 🙂 ), so we may go out anyway.  Rain/snow/30 knot winds may mean a short day, but so be it.  There is a bit of gravel that can be moved even if it’s too windy to excavate (or even expose the surface).

Anyway, now that we have the surface, we can follow it, record visible artifacts, and bring the matrix back for screening & flotation in the lab.  Given the macro-fossil stuff and the micro-flakes, it’s the only way to get the structure excavated enough to find the edge before it gets wiped out by a storm.