Walakpa, July 28, 2015

Owen and Laura got up early and screened what we had dug last night.  Owen worked to finish the profile.  There is an apparent marine level at Level 13.

CS 1 profile
CS 1 profile

We had problems with both transit and radio batteries.  Despite that, I showed Laura how to run the transit, so I don’t have to be awake all the time.  We shot in the remaining levels of CS 1, as well as the new test units on the mound.

Laura and Owen continued taking CS 1 down.  Unfortunately, after the dinner break, they returned to find that the bottom of the profile had collapsed.

The view after dinner.
The view after dinner.

It was a pretty depressing situation.  It left an overhang, so there was no way to just continue safely.  It mean that we would have to start over again in the morning.

Walakpa–July 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loons on the lagoon.
Loons on the lagoon.

Today, back in Barrow

Jeff Rasic from the National Park Service, along with Rebekah DeAngelo from Yale and her grad student Brooke Luokkala are in town to do some work, along with Laura Crawford, at the Birnirk National Historic Landmark site, which is on UIC lands (and yes, the actual name of the place is Piġniq, but the site has been written about as Birnirk, so I’m using that name for the site).  Becky and Brooke got in Sunday, after travel from the east coast, and Jeff got in yesterday.  However, the weather was pretty bad, so we postponed real fieldwork until today.

I did see them in the field briefly yesterday.  I had to take a quick trip to the point to check on something for UIC Lands.  On the way back, I met them near the Birnirk site, unfortunately a bit stuck in gravel.  They were successfully extracted and continued their tour of Barrow.

Today we went out to Birnirk.  We looked at all the mounds, Jeff got GPS points on mounds and other reference points, and Laura did quite a bit of coring.  I flagged the perimeter of a “box” that we hope to have some of Craig Tweedie’s crew do detailed DGPS measurements on.  That data can be used to make a contour map of the site, which can then be compared to the map James Ford made in the early 1950s, when he was there with Carter.  It should be interesting to see how much sea level has changed.  It clearly has risen since the earliest houses were occupied, and even since the early aerial photos, but the question is, how much?

Sun on water at Birnirk.
Sun on water at Birnirk.
Part of the crew visiting one of the mounds at Birnirk.
Part of the crew visiting one of the mounds at Birnirk.

Walakpa–July 26, 2015

The crew (Owen Mason, Anne Garland, Mary Beth Timm, Laura Crawford and myself) gathered out at NARL, at a small yellow warehouse.  We were using UIC Science archaeological gear.  IHLC & Ilisagvik College let us use some tents, sleeping pads & kitchen gear.  We managed to get everything packed into side-by-sides and trailers and headed off to Walakpa with Sean Gunnells, Oona Edwardsen and Ray Kious of the UICS logistics staff who weren’t otherwise occupied.

Loading up to head to Walakpa
Loading up to head to Walakpa

We got to Walakpa around 2PM.  We got camp set up, with a slight hitch because  some of the tents had not been repacked properly when last used.  However, the logistics staff dealt with it, and headed back to town.

We uncovered portions of the bluff so that we could examine the profiles and decide where we want to take the column sample.  While walking the beach examining the bluff profiles, we noticed that there was a cultural layer exposed in the mound with one of the two monuments on it.  Anne Garland laid out a 1×1 meter test, well back from the edge of the bluff, to see if it continued across the mound.

Laura Crawford excavating the SW quadrant of a 1x1 while Mary Beth Timm looks on.
Laura Crawford excavating the SW quadrant of a 1×1 while Mary Beth Timm looks on.  View NE along the coast toward Barrow.

It was clear that we couldn’t safely do a profile in the central area where the meat cache had been, since there was still an overhang.  In addition, some of the geotextile fabric protecting the site was pinned by collapse of bluffs, preventing its removal.  Eventually, after cleaning profiles on either side of the overhang, we picked a spot and Owen went to work on a detailed drawing.

We had visitors in the early morning, a young couple whose ATV had a flat, and were hoping that we had a tire pump.  Unfortunately, we didn’t, so they headed on up the coast with both of them on one side of the ATV.

A quick recap

This summer was unexpectedly quite on the archaeology front.  The non-profit through which my grants were run had some problems, which meant that work had to stop and I had to move my grants.  This turned into a rather long drawn-out process, with many fits and starts.  In the end, I was appointed as a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College and the three grants on which I am PI (Principal Investigator) were moved.  We are still finalizing moving the purchase orders to allow for work to proceed on the WALRUS grant, but hope to get it done this coming week.

We had hoped to be doing some work at Walakpa, which had survived the winter unscathed, but despite the North Slope Borough asking for UIC Science’s Certificate of Insurance, which usually happens when a contract is about to be awarded (good thing, the insurance company charges to issue those things), nothing was issued.  Then came the first week in September.

I was in Point Hope monitoring the drilling of a geotechnical test hole for a possible fiber project.  It took an extra day to get there from Kotzebue, because the weather was so stormy that planes couldn’t land in Point Hope.  We didn’t find anything during the drilling, but the extra day gave me a chance to visit with Molly Odell and some other colleagues who had been working in Kotzebue and look at some of what they had recovered during their field season.  That was fun, but unfortunately the same storm really did some damage at Walakpa.

The site was undermined by high surf.  Mark Ahsoak Jr. kept me posted (Taikuu Mark) via Facebook message, and it was pretty depressing.   In the end, the house we were working on last year seem to have been entirely obliterated.  A big slump block broke off and is resting on the beach.

Slump block on the right, intact strata on the left. Notice the Visqueen on both sides.

I went down with a crew from UIC Science Logistics to evaluate it.  We found that there had been a lot more Visqueen under the surface than we had thought.   The stratigraphy is very complex, with a very large feature containing solidified marine mammal oil, some artifacts and what appears to be maqtaq at the landward edge of the slump block.

Marine mammal oil feature.
Marine mammal oil feature.

Unfortunately, the marine mammal oil feature is starting to break loose from the  main slump block and tip back into the crack between the block and the intact site.  We put driftwood props under it, and then stopped all work under the overhang, since it could easily kill someone.

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Side view of overhanging block of marine mammal oil. Note crack on the left.

We didn’t find any loose artifacts, although there were a number of visible artifacts that were frozen in.   Some folks had been collecting them and turning them in, which is great.  I’d really like to thank everyone who has been helping in this way.  Unfortunately, some other people have just been collecting them.  Several of the artifacts that we saw the first day were gone by the time we returned.

After we headed home, the next day was spent in getting a crew and material to do some stabilization.  Several of the Barrow-based UIC subsidiaries pitched in with materials, crew and transport, and we went back to put some temporary protection on the site.  We were able to cover almost all the eroding surfaces with  geotextile fabric , secured with some cutdown metal support fasteners and sandbags.

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Panorama of the site after the initial covering.

We made another trip down with the theodolite to map the new boundaries of the site.  This let us document the loss of over 33 feet (11+ m) in that storm alone.  We also put a lot more sandbags on the site, and so far it has resisted the weather.

A book about Nuvuk

I made it back from DC on Thursday night.  Friday was the usual scramble after being out of town.  Saturday night was the annual meeting of the Friends of the Library.  There was a business meeting, and a potluck dinner.  But the highlight of the meeting was the guest speaker, none other than Daniel Inulak Lum, author of the book Nuvuk, the Northernmost: Altered Land, Altered Lives in Barrow, Alaska.

Dan Lum showing slides of the photos in his book
Dan Lum showing slides of the photos in his book

Dan’s family is Nuvukmiut (that’s how it is spelled in Nuvuk dialect–it would be Nuvugmiut in Barrow dialect), originally from Nuvuk.  He ran a tour company which took tourists to Nuvuk for much of the time the Nuvuk Archaeological Project was active.  While doing that, he wound up taking a whole lot of pictures.  He has some really great animal photos, particularly of bears, as well as some really beautiful landscapes shots.  His family had to move to Fairbanks for a while for reasons connected to health of a family member, so he isn’t running the tour company any more, but it gave him an opportunity to look through his pictures and he wound up writing a book about Nuvuk and life in Barrow.

When he was running the tour company, Dan gave great tours.  He really wanted to pass on accurate information to his clients, and would stop at our excavations and talk to us, so he had the latest news.  As he said in his talk, the village is no longer there (due to erosion) so all the Nuvukmiut have to remember it by is information from oral history and archaeology.  He’d always check to see if it was OK to bring the tourists over (not if we were excavating human remains), and was always willing to bring things back and forth for us in his van.  When the Ipiutak sled runners were uncovered, Dan  stood by until we had them out of the ground around 2AM (despite having had tours all day) and then drove them very slowly back to the lab at NARL, making sure that they weren’t bounced around.  It took over an hour to go the five or so miles.  He also brought pop out for the crew on warm days.

Dan showed slides of many of the photos from the book, and talked about how he came to write a book in the first place.  He was very encouraging to audience members about writing and publishing their own books.

Dan takes questions from the audience.
Dan takes questions from the audience.

I’m going to be spending a good bit of time getting ready for International Archaeology Day, which is Saturday.

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Thinking about logistics & links

I am currently in Washington, DC, participating in a workshop on Arctic Research and Logistic Support planning.  The idea is to get a group of scientists working in the Arctic together to see what we think Arctic research will be like in 10-20 years, and what sort of logistic support will be needed.  Then, action steps to get there from here will be formulated.  One hopes it is not just an exercise in futility.

As is usual at such gatherings, there are not very many social scientists.  There are a lot of physical scientists (marine, terrestrial & atmospheric) and a fair number of biology types.  Many of the groups are quite interested in new “toys” (UAVs) and the like, as well as more icebreakers.  Better connectivity is also something that is high on most people’s lists, mine included.  What I find interesting as an anthropologist is how the cultures of various disciplines vary so widely.  One of the breakout sessions was organized more or less by location of research (with social sciences its own group).  I actually went to the Coastal group, since I’d just had lunch with Sophia Perdikaris & Genny LeMoine, both of whom are archaeologists, who were going to be in the social science group, and I thought it might be more valuable to get a social science voice into one of the other groups.

The variation in the visions of the groups when they reported back was quite striking.  Although there were some things all agreed on, one group saw research in 10-20 years as being done remotely.  They even thought that maybe social science could be conducted through social media.  Unfortunately they didn’t describe how they imagined one could excavate a site that way; I’m sure it would be a lot warmer than what I was doing last month!

While all that was going on, the Alaska Dispatch picked up Abra’s Arctic Sounder story.  Then Archaeology magazine added it to their website news, even asking if they could use a specific picture from this blog.  Then they used another one…  Oh, well.  And I got another interview request.

Some media attention, and why it can be a double-deged sword

For some reason, this year there has been quite a bit of media interest in Barrow and archaeology.  To begin with, there were several film crews in Barrow while we were working at Walakpa, two of which actually came out to the site and filmed as well as filming in the lab.  Only one of them has anything out yet.  PBS filmed for several both in the field and in the lab, and a little bit of it made it into this piece,  and a shot in the slideshow that they put up on the web in conjunction with the series on sea ice change. It was a very buggy day in the field, and it was quite the challenge not to be swatting mosquitoes all the time.

Oh, and the buoy experiment that Ignatius Rigor is working on in the film clip is supported by UIC Science staff (not that they have to do much, the idea is to see how the buoys do with no servicing). Their data can be compared to data from ARM’s established serviced meteorological instruments.   That way, when scientists get buoy data, they have an idea how reliable it is, and if there are any special considerations in interpretation (becoming uncalibrated over time, etc.)

We’ve also gotten interest from the press. Abra Stolte-Patkotak, one of our volunteers writes for the Arctic Sounder, and did a piece on the Walakpa excavations, which is on-line here.  For some reason, they don’t have the picture that was published up on-line, but I will ask Abra if I can put it up here & add it if so.

I am currently working with a free-lancer who has interviewed me and asked me to fact check the article before he goes further.  A very good idea, as many years ago I was interviewed by a reporter who mis-heard my answer to the question of how far back in time human occupation of the Barrow area was archaeologically demonstrated to extend.  I said “maybe 4 to 5 thousand years” which was what people thought reasonable for Denbigh at the time.  He refused fact-checking help, and published an article in which I was directly quoted as saying “45,000 years”.  Although Glenn & I could never get the Arctic Sounder to mail our subscription to us in Pennsylvania, apparently Tiger Burch could.  I got a very puzzled email from him after the article came out, in which I believe he was politely trying to ask me if I’d lost my mind.  Fortunately, he had enough experience with the press that he believed the explanation.

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