Going through the Ipiutak floor

I was traveling the last couple weeks to the Alaska Anthropological Association conference in Seattle, and then stopping in Anchorage on the way home to help  my daughter get settled there. The conference and the session went well.  I’ll try to put something up on the highlights, when I get a little more free time.  I’ve still got papers and also homework for an on-line class I’m taking.

Yesterday, we got back to going through the Ipiutak floor material from the summer and the fall salvage excavation.  Trace Hudson, Jacob Harris & Frieda Kaleak all came in, along with Laura Thomas, and we got going on the screening, floating and picking over the heavy and light fractions.

It’s a slow process, but a couple of things were found yesterday that may be interesting.  A couple of very small fragments of rock crystal (probably clear quartz) showed up.  This is interesting because of some of the properties of quartz crystals and the finds of larger quartz crystals at some Ipiutak sites.

We got so into that process that we didn’t actually get much straightening up done.  I’ll have to do that later this week, since some visitors are being brought to the lab on a tour late in the week, and it’s a bit messy there now :-(.

Ipiutak structure done!

We managed to finish with the Ipiutak structure today. As is customary in archaeological excavations, something interesting showed up at the last minute.

My computer at home seems to be dead, which is why I haven’t been posting and why there will be no pictures until tomorrow. It’s hard to get photos off a Nikon D200 onto an iPad. So, more tomorrow…

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.

Windbreaker up!

The possible large labor force to shovel off the gravel didn’t pan out due to scheduling difficulties, so we went out after lunch to do it ourselves.  We = Michael  Donovan, Scott Oyagak, Courtney Hammond (all from BASC) and me.  Mike rode out on an ATV, and the rest of us rode in style in Scott’s truck.   It was a beautiful day, perfect for shoveling.

Out at Nuvuk on a bluebird day
Beautiful day at Nuvuk

We used flat shovels to uncover the blue tarp and driftwood that had been buried to try to protect the structure (remember, we didn’t know if we would get funding to do this) and then to get about another foot  (30 cm) of gravel off the surface we want to get to.  The surface had been covered with trash bags to protect it, and we didn’t quite go down to that level, although they could be seen.

Putting up the windbreak

Then we set up the windbreak.  It is long enough to shield the entire area we want to work in, and has small wings on either end, so it should be good for a variety of wind directions.   We added a couple of supports to the front, so it should be OK unless we get a huge storm, which it doesn’t look like we will for a couple of days, if the NWS isn’t lying.  We may need to add props to the ocean side on Friday, though.

Finished windbreak.
Area to be excavated

Tomorrow four of us will head out to start the actual excavation.

Packing for the field again

Since we now are ready to salvage the Ipiutak structure, Laura & I were going to pack up a small amount of field gear yesterday.  However, Laura got caught manning a table for Friends of Tuzzy Library, and since she was there when everything was put away, we decided to do it this morning before she caught the plane out for a doctor’s appointment.  So bright and early she picked me up in Daisy II (my old truck, which I think needs a muffler) and we headed over.  All in all it took less than an hour, and we’re all ready for tomorrow.

Gravel moving accomplished, & then football

Friday we got the gravel moved.  If you remember, the site looked like this:

Gravel pile on the Ipiutak structure

Not exactly conducive to a quick recovery excavation, especially since it’s mostly going to be volunteer labor, the students being back at school and all.  It had been looking pretty grim on the heavy equipment front, but Ilisaġvik College came through with a reasonable rental on their new Case loader, and Walter Brower & I headed out around 9AM.

Getting there took a while, but shortly after 10 we were at work.  The loader has extra wide tires, and reputedly is not very good in snow, but it did fine in the gravel.

Starting work



Backdragging proved effective and minimized the need to drive on top of the feature.  We were able to take it down to less than 1 foot above the surface, so it will be a lot less work this week & next weekend.

Finishing touches.
Walter checking the results.
Final result--a great improvement.

All in all, a great improvement.

The next day Barrow played Nikiski in football. Both schools are in the Greatland Conference, and Nikiski is a perennial football powerhouse.  Barrow had never beaten them.

Cathy Parker Field
Football beside the Arctic Ocean. Whalers #24 (in motion to the left of the frame) is Trace Hudson, who works on the Nuvuk Project when he's not playing football.

Barrow fixed that.

Final score. No, I have no idea why there is 3:24 on the clock; the game was over.

Good news on the heavy equipment front!

It looks like Ilisagvik College is going to be able to help us out.  So tomorrow we should be able to get the giant mound of gravel off the house.  And then the fun begins.

The weather is supposed to be in the low 40s with not too much wind, so that should be good.  Not so good for getting rid of the fog and not having flights canceled into Barrow, but for what we’re trying to it, it’ll be fine.

Pictures from the Ipiutak structure

I promised to put up a few pictures, so here they are:

Two chert artifacts, in situ
Biface fragment
Ground slate

And for the piece de resistance:

Composite labret in situ: jet outer part at upper left, ivory inner piece just right of center.

Pretty cool.  And you should see all the micoflakes the students managed to get out of the matrix in the lab!  Truly heroic effort on their parts.

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