Things get a bit exciting…

As is traditional at the end of a field season, things started getting a bit exciting.  The possible burial we found in STPs yesterday proved to be the real thing this morning, and the feature we worked on on Monday also turned out to be a burial. It is the deepest burial I’ve seen at Nuvuk in the fifteen years I’ve worked there.  It appears to contain two children, covered in fur.  We hope to finish it tomorrow.

I had hoped to be done with the DWF today, but fish bones kept coming, along with an arrowpoint, a worked walrus humerus, some worked bird bone, what look like a broken needle, and more lithics.  Recording all that with the transit took time.  We still had the windbreak up, but there wasn’t much wind, and since it was the second warm day in a row, the mosquitos were swarming.  Thank goodness I always have bug dope in my pack, or I don’t think much would have gotten done.

In other good new, the replacement for the Nikon Coolpix S9100 which I had for a week before it stopped working arrived, so I will have a pocket camera for snapshots.  More pictures for here without lugging the D200 home to download the card every night.


Two neat finds

We started investigating the last GPR hit and came down on a jumble of wood.  The excavators were not optimistic, but I kept pushing to go a little further.  Eventually, this appeared:

Feature detected with GPR

The feature (I’m not calling it a burial until there is evidence of human remains) was jumbled because at some time after it was constructed, someone dug a hole in the middle of it.  And right beside where the hole had punched into the feature was this:

Antler arrowpoint

The hole just missed it.

The DWF (Ipiutak) levels had their own surprises.  We found a good bit of fish bone, some lithics (nothing diagnostic) and a lot of broken bone, but the really cool thing, which I found on the edge of the hearth, was a flattened but apparently complete egg!

The remains of the egg

…turns into five…or possibly six (!)

It was fairly windy today, which made it a bit colder.  The GPR sleds are working much better, and even what they got yesterday looks promising without elevation correction.   They used a backpack Trimble GPS unit to get accurate elevations, and will use that to correct the GPR images.

The burial is becoming more complicated.  There are indeed 2 primary individuals, the most recent (a woman, we think) one whose grave cross-cut another smaller person’s grave.  The woman had a couple of leg bones from a smaller person in her “box”, which may or may not come from the smaller person whose grave was cross-cut.  There were also a few cranial fragments from a small child in the box, and a few elements from a sub-adult (but not the small child) turned up today.  There is also a pelvis from a large man, which makes at least 5 individuals.  If the leg bones don’t come from the second grave, it could be six.

We have expanded a bit and aren’t seeing much sign of any grave structures, so we are beginning to wonder if some of these individuals aren’t buried some meters away, with a few parts having been moved by vehicular traffic.  This may wind up being a case for the GPR.

One turns into three…

It was a great day in the field, with really lovely weather.  Dennis O’Rourke got in last night and joined us, as did Rhett Herman, & his student Jared Palmer with the GPR gear.

Crew members at the start of the day

We started excavation of the burial that had been found in the road.  As with most road burials it has suffered some disturbance.  At first it looked like there was a large man (found part of his pelvis), then a neck vertebra from a small person showed up, then one skull, then another, and then the nasal area from a third (!) person.  We still have more to do tomorrow, so this may change, but at the moment it looks like there may have been two burial side by side, and a third burial was dug across one of them at a later date.

Starting excavation of the burial

The GPR  guys had a good workout.  They had set up the units on carts, which had worked well yesterday on the beach near NARL, but something at Nuvuk must be different, because they described it as being like “pushing a shopping cart in sand.”  Naturally, this meant that they got less done than they had hoped, but they saw some things and will have a plan view in the morning.  I saw them this evening, and they’d already changed the configuration to a dragable sled, which seems like it might make tomorrow better for them.

GPR gear ("Eva") in foreground, with flagged survey grid in rear
Jared pushing the GPR lawnmower in a brief foggy period

Choosing the crew

A big part of the past couple weeks has involved choosing the crew for work at Nuvuk.  There are two funding sources for this project.  One is a grant to the North Slope Borough from the Department of Education, through the Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations program (ECHO), and the other is a regular research grant from the Arctic Social Sciences program of the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation.

The ECHO funds are targeted at K-12 education, so they need to be used for pre-college students and those who teach/supervise them.  We’ve been focusing on high school students for those slots.  For one thing, we run the dig for these students as a job.  That way, even if they don’t find their life’s work in archaeology, they’ll have some spending money for the next school year, and will have learned about interviews, resumes, time-sheets, paychecks and good work habits before they are out on their own.  Students who are less than 15 are very restricted in the hours they can work, even in the summer.  The first year, we hired a couple of students that young, only to find that every time we needed to stay late in the field (usually because something exciting was happening) we’d have to send them home or violate child labor laws.  Essentially, they got punished for being young, which was really no fun for anyone :-(.  After that, we only hired students who were older, and could work some OT, so they wouldn’t need to go home just when things got really exciting.

We’ve been doing interviews with students who haven’t worked before, both to assess motivation and to make sure they understand what they are getting into.  It’s really cold at Nuvuk, even compared to Barrow, and the wind comes right off the ice.  With the field season so short, and the erosion ongoing, we don’t take many weather days.

We’ve also been seeing who is returning, and for how much of the season they are available.  Many of the high school students who want to work at Nuvuk are active in many things, including sports (with summer camps), band, Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, Model UN, and Rural Alaska Honors Institute.  Most of these involve some travel, so scheduling is complex.  We need to have a good-size crew, but not more than we have 4-wheelers for (allowing for a couple of folks in the lab or sick).  I actually do that in MS Project, just so I can get a clear picture and spot pinch-points more easily.

Anyway, we’ve got all the high school students selected, and have notified most of them, except for the ones who are out of town on family vacations.  We’ve also got one person on tap for the NSF-funded crew, but it looks like we might have room for 1-2 more, since the planned GPR component fell through.  Rhett Herman, a geophysicist from Radford U. in Virginia who has worked with us at Nuvuk in the past, was going to do some geophysical prospecting for burials, which would save us much time & effort.  He had hoped to run a field school, but funding was not available for this summer, so a couple of interested students were going to come up as participants in the dig and help with the GPR on the side.  Rhett’s wife has come down with some unexplained health problems, and he obviously doesn’t want to travel so far while they are unresolved. Looks like -2 for the crew.  So I need to see if I can find suitable replacements.