About a month ago, Tracey Sinclaire and Beth Verge from Anchorage TV station KTUU came to Utqiagvik to do a number of weather/climate-related stories. One was on the effects of coastal erosion. I took them out toward Nuvuk/Point Barrow as far as seemed prudent for the vehicle I had, and got interviewed. The weather was quite challenging while they were here, but they hung in and got stories on the NOAA site, and the blue football field which is endangered by coastal erosion.
As usual, things have been busy. One of the things I’ve been busy with was an online seminar for the Society of American Archaeology on “Climate Change and Cultural Resources.” Despite some connectivity issues, it went off well. SAA records these seminars, and you can watch them if you are a current member. You will need to be logged in to the SAA web site member section to access the archive. The climate change one is here.
I’m back from over a month in the field, and just got the Committee on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR)-sponsored session set up for next spring’s SAA meetings. The session abstract is here.
We are looking for papers. If you are interested and have a paper you think might fit, contact me!
NB. The hard deadline is coming up fast (September 6, at 3PM ET) and you will need to be registered and with fees paid to be accepted. You don’t have to renew/establish your SAA membership right now, but will need to do that by the end of January 2019 to give the paper.
A group of us have been working on an article on climate change and the effects it is having on archaeological sites and the cultural heritage and environmental information they contain. It has finally been published in the journal Antiquity. It is open access, so you can read it here. Local sites, especially Walakpa, make an appearance.
SO late last year I submitted a session proposal on Environmental Change Threats to Alaskan Cultural Heritage. I never heard anything, so I assumed the session wasn’t accepted and what with the holidays & the knee replacement, I didn’t try to solicit papers.
I just learned that the session was accepted, so I am looking for participants. The organizers are being kind enough to give us a couple of extra days past tomorrow’s deadline, but this has a pretty short fuse. The abstract is linked here, but in short, I want to get a conversation started about this issue. In many ways, Alaska has more at risk, sooner, than most of the rest of the US or most of the rest of the world, but we seem to be responding more slowly than places like Scotland or Florida or California. I am hoping for papers that either highlight sites that are being or have been destroyed (you don’t need to have completed excavation & analysis), or showcase specific ways that communities, agencies and/or archaeologists have tried to deal with the issue. We should have time after the papers to actually start a discussion on ways to deal with this problem beyond simply noticing it exists.
Please send abstracts to me (email@example.com) and to Andy Tremayne (Andrew_Tremayne@nps.gov).
Contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 meetings were held in various venues at the University, including some very old lecture halls and more modern buildings.
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 :-).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Hope to get some video or at least frame grabs available soon.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.