Ramping up in the lab

I have gotten far enough along in getting over the back surgery that I finally have enough energy to do things that are not strictly essential for work or staying fed.  So we are ramping things up in the lab.

We are looking for a few more people to work in the lab here in Barrow, joining the current crew on weekdays or weekends.  Due to the source of funding, these folks will need to be high school or college students.  We are also looking for volunteers.  I will post the announcements on here a static page and also as posts.

We aren’t sure yet if we will have funds available to do fieldwork this summer, but we are hopeful.  If we do get into the field this summer, people who have lab experience will have priority for fieldwork jobs.

If you are interested, please contact me ASAP.  Please pass this on to anyone you know who might be interested.

 

 

The smell of old seal oil in the afternoon…

… can be a bit overpowering.  I chose one of the bags of frozen samples from Utiqiaġvik to thaw out for the lab tour after the Saturday Schoolyard talk.

The talk went well, with a very large turn out.  Afterwards, a fair number of them came by the lab for a tour.  And then I opened the bag.  It was from Mound 8, and was described as containing fish bones and perhaps artifacts embedded in seal oil.

Provenience tag from the bag.
Provenience tag from the bag.

It was rather smelly to say the least.  The oil made up most of the matrix, with a consistency like cold greasy peanut butter.  Not only that, the most obvious contents were wood chips and hair, which weren’t too exciting.  Most folks didn’t feel like hanging around too long.  Since it was my birthday & there was a party at my house, I didn’t finish the bag.

Today I got back to work on it for an hour or so.  It still smelled, I guess, but I think the smell of old seal oil is sort of nice.  It’s the smell of archaeological sites, and they are places I like to be.  The couple of extra days had let the oil warm up and it was a little easier to work with.

Contents of the bag.
Contents of the bag.

I found a number of interesting things, including a fish vertebra, some fish scales, a number of hairs, some bone fragments, and of course, wood chips.  When I was labeling the bags, I realized it had been excavated by none other than Kevin Smith, now at the Haffenreffer, exactly 32 years and 3 months ago.

Fish vertebra
Fish vertebra
IMG_0852
Grass?
IMG_0853
Bone fragments

Tomorrow I’ll do some more.

A day of taking pictures

This Saturday, I’m giving a Saturday Schoolyard talk about the Walakpa salvage project.  That means I need a lot of pictures.  So I spent the last couple of days in the lab taking pictures of the artifacts from we recovered.

Just a few of the results:

Rim sherd
Rim sherd
Fragments of arrowheads.
Fragments of arrowheads.
Very thin ivory harpoon head.  Note the shadow of the finger showing through the artifact.
Very thin ivory harpoon head. Note the shadow of the finger showing through the artifact.

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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A bit of interior decoration

We’ve added a couple of new student hire for the summer, but still have room for one or two more, so if you are interested, get in touch ASAP!

With the larger crew, we have been working on getting some of the Pingusugruk collection sorted and in proper archival boxes.  We need to move the container it was in, so we’d have to move the boxes anyway, and this way we can not only record which bag is in which numbered box, but also sort the “Tamis” bags, which are the 25% random sample drawn at time of excavation from the rest, to make future analysis easier, and find the rest of the bags from the column sample that Rebecca Connor & Angelique Neffe started on, so I can finish that analysis.  Most of this work is being done by our adult volunteers.

The students worked on this a little, mostly to get it set up so the volunteers can work easily, and also to get more room on the lab benches, so that they can work on the Nuvuk materials with no chance of things getting mixed up.  In the process, we had a number of animal bones that were collected on the beach or tundra and donated to us.  Some of them have been labeled as to species and element, and are being used to help with the preliminary sort and cataloging of the materials from Nuvuk Locus 6 midden.

There were a few things which were sort of superfluous, like a caribou skull.  The students really wanted to use it as a decoration, so with a little glue to keep the teeth in, it was suspended outside the door (using peel-off hangers of course to avoid damaging the wall.

The caribou skull
The caribou skull

Apparently, they found something else they felt was not necessary to include in the comparative collection, either because we haven’t found any (we haven’t) or because they figure everyone already knows what it is.  The next day, this is what the door looked like.

A addition to the decor
A addition to the decor
The new addition is a walrus baculum, often known as an oosik.  I doubt some of the visiting scientists know what they are looking at :-).

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A visit from the media

The important but not overly exciting routine of proposal preparation & writing on my part, and cataloging on Coby’s part was broken on Friday.  KTUU TV, the Anchorage NBS affiliate, sent a crew to Barrow for a few days.  They were covering the football team, and wanted to get some practice footage, but that left them with lots of free time, so they had to get as many other stories as possible, and they decided to go for science stories.

I know they did an interview with George Divoky, who had just made it in off Cooper Island (the weather has been really awful–not boating weather at all).  They also shot some footage about Nuvuk and coastal erosion.

First they stopped into my lab for an hour or so.  They shot a fair bit of footage of Coby Hatcher (who is going to HS on-line and therefore was working in the lab when they were there) doing various things one does in an archaeology lab, including re-bagging cataloged artifacts and entering storage locations for artifacts in the catalog database so they can be found again.

Coby updating storage locations in the catalog

With a big collection, this is pretty important, since otherwise it can be very hard to retrieve things.  It actually came up because I was trying to find the bird bone from the Ipiutaq levels that had been used to make needle blanks.  A number of folks think it looks like it is an albatross bone, which is interesting if true, since there aren’t many albatross around here.  One of them is involved in a project which is doing ancient DNA work, and offered to run some of this bone to see if it really is albatross.  There was no storage location in the catalog, so we had to look a bit.  We found it and I’ll mail it out, and Coby put updates in the catalog.

Then they shot some footage of me showing some of the artifacts, and some of me doing an interview about the project and what one can learn through archaeology.  That lead into what gets lots when sites are lost to coastal erosion and/or warming and permafrost thawing.

Dan Carpenter shooting video. He really liked this fox skull.
Dan Carpenter, KTUU, interviewing me in the lab. Photo by Coby Hatcher.

After that, they headed off to do something else.  In the late afternoon, we headed out to Point Barrow for them to get some shots of the site and, as it turned out, coastal erosion in action.  That’s a story in itself, so that will be the next post.

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.

Tires shrink

It’s been pretty cold the last few days.  My vehicle has tire pressure sensors, and every time if goes below about -27, it shows low tire pressure, which  resolves as soon as the temperature goes up.  I guess I should add a bit of air, but it’s been a busy week.

I’m still working on papers.  Only a couple more to submit, plus whatever revision need to be done!

I spent a bit of the afternoon straightening up the lab a bit, before a group from the US Coast Guard and RAND Corporation came by to tour the BARC.  Naturally, they wanted to see the lab (there isn’t much happening just now in any of the other labs anyway).  I gave them a nice tour, which they seemed to enjoy, before the headed off to look at the rest of the building.  The lab humidifier seems to have gone belly up, so it looks like we’ll need another one.

Tomorrow is another lab day.  We’re pulling some more items for C14 dating as well as working our way through the Ipiutak house floor. The new Mac is getting set up too!