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 :-(.

An update on the child

I’ve more or less recovered from whatever I had, so I’ve actually got some energy to post.  Herewith a quick update on the person in the parka and the skin clothes, etc that accompanied her (I’m no sure the person is a girl, but I need to pick a pronoun.

I was able to get the pantaloons off, although the legs fell apart.  The boot part was apparently made from either leg skins or fawn skins.  The waist seems to be have been made out of something similar, maybe as a waistband.  The main part of the pants is regular caribou hide, which has much longer thicker hair.  Since the waistband was wrapped around a belt made from a piece of hide, perhaps the regular caribou was too thick and inflexible to be suitable.

Fragment of belt, just above the photo scale.

The back of the parka was about 10-15 cm longer (I can’t be more precise since the preservation was not perfect), and looked like it may have had a rounded hem.  As far as I could see, there were no seams.  According to Murdoch (which seems to be out of print again except in print-on-demand), children’s parka didn’t have back seams, but I am waiting on a couple of other books on skin clothing, and a few more experienced skin sewers opinions.

Back of parka. Outside of garment (after it was flipped). Shoulders at top.

It took a bit of doing to get a look at the back, since it was fairly well stuck to the caribou hide underneath.  I ended up getting Shawn to help me.  We got a piece of Visqueen underneath the whole thing, very carefully, put plastic on top of it, and then put a piece of plywood on top to stabilize everything, held the plastic tight to the wood, and flipped everything.  It worked well, and we were able to use the same method for the sewn wolf-skin item (still unidentified).

The wolf-skin has a lot of seams.  Some bits are badly preserved or very badly matted, so it’s not clear what it used to be.  However, a number of the smaller pieces that have been sewn together are still pretty much intact.  I tried putting a picture of it onto my iPad, and opening it with Omnigraffle, so I could try drawing on the seam.  I’m hoping that it will make it easier to understand, and that maybe someone will recognize what those pieces go to.  I know this can work, since Bertha Leavitt was able to identify that the little girl from Ukkuqsi was buried with a kayak cover (among other things) based on the shape of a couple of pieces of sewn boat cover skins.

I’m still working on the drawings a bit to clean them up, and I’ll put them up on a separate page when they’re ready.

I also managed to finish a review today, and to get a bit done on a paper that I owe some folks.  Both are actually for the same journal, different issues.

Folks were out whaling, and Panigeo crew took a whale, which is probably nearly done being butchered by now (judging by Jimmy Nukapigak’s Facebook updates :-)) .  There was supposed to be one or maybe two more possibly struck, but I’m not sure yet.  The weather is supposed to get worse, so I hope they get in soon.

The child is out

Just a short post, because I’m home celebrating my birthday (mostly by coughing–the cold has moved to my chest).

The child is completely out of the parka and pantaloons (Murdoch’s term), and Shawn was able to examine the remains.  No change in the age estimate.

I was able to get some pictures of the boot part of the pantaloons.  They look like they may have been made from leg skin (something with shorter finer hair than the main part of a caribou hide), with separate soles.

Sole of the left boot

There was a seam up the middle of the vamp on each boot.  The boots seem to have been sewn to the pants, which were of caribou hide.

Seam up the vamp

More tomorrow.

Halfway done

I’m about halfway done getting the child out of the parka.  Fannie Akpik came out to look at the stitches.  She agreed with Qaiyaan and me that the stitching on the parka looked like waterproof seams, even though it is clearly caribou, which isn’t normally waterproof.  I took some samples to test for presence of marine mammal oil, which might have helped make it water-resistant anyway.

Stitches on the parka

I’m trying to video the whole “excavation” process, both to document it and to serve as a backup to notes & bag labels.  I’ve reversed the photostand I have, and put it on a lab bench with the camera mount at the tippy top, overhanging the person on the sheet of plywood.  I can just get the camera high enough to get the whole thing in the shot.  I use a stepladder to get up and down to work on it.  The only problem is that there is no low battery warning, so it just dies, which it did a couple of times yesterday.  Today we started setting alarms on our phones to check the camera, so that more or less solved that problem.  I haven’t been able to download the card yet.  The SD card readers at work are getting touchy, and my Mac at home said it couldn’t read the card.  The camera sees files, so maybe I need to hook it up directly.

Lab setup for documentation. Camera at upper right center. The child is under the plastic on the lab bench.

While looking at the wolf, we noticed that some of the pieces were cut with a rounded edge, and Fannie, who is Nuvukmuit (that’s the preferred spelling in their dialect, not Nuvugmiut) herself, thought it could be related to the rounded tail on the atikłuks they make for their dance group today.  Later I found another seam where wolf had been sewn to caribou.

Fur side of the wolf. Amazingly well-preserved!
Backside of the wolf, showing the stitching. It's a regular whip stitch. The sinew is still preserved.

It’s amazing how nice the stitching is, especially since they were done with a bone needle.

Starting to take the person out of the parka

If you remember, last summer we excavated a burial which had some well-reserved fur and hide, including a parka.  We put in a freezer (thanks to NSB Wildlife Department and Cyd Hanns in particular), and late last week we brought it to the lab.  It took a bit longer to thaw than I thought, so we were only able to start today.  Some of the folks I’d hoped could look at the skin sewing since the furs aren’t in great shape and some of the sinew thread (ivalu) has dissolved are out-of-town for the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Annual Meeting and related event, but Shawn is here, and it wouldn’t be right to keep the person around just to study.

So I set up a video camera, and am using two other cameras, one with a macro lens to record stitching and so forth, and another for overall shots.  Plus I’m taking a lot of samples, and notes as well.

The bundle of furs before we started.

I got started, with a bit of help from Shawn.  He still had one other person to deal with, so I went on without him for a bit.  Qaiyaan Harcharek, and Lottie Jones, from the Inupiat History, Language and Culture Commission staff came by.  Lottie had to get back to the office, but Qaiyaan, who has a degree in Anthropology, came back and we worked on the person until after 5:30.

The first bit of the caribou hide wrapping unfolded at lower left.

What we were able to figure out so far is that the person was laid on a caribou hide, so of which was wrapped up around the lower legs and over the left side.  It’s possible that it may also have been over the right side and decayed so badly it wasn’t recoverable.  I’ve got to go back and look at the pictures and notes from the excavation.  Once we got part of the hide unwrapped, it was clear there was another kind of hair present.  Caribou have long, fairly straight hollow hairs that don’t taper very much.  There was a lot of much finer, tapering hair, which had matted down.  We were discussing what this might be, and had guessed at maybe wolf when Qaiyaan and Lottie had to head back to town.

Further unfolded, with what turns out to be wolf beside the photo scale.

I kept unfolding layers of furry hide, and all of a sudden, there were long dark guard hairs showing.  One more fold, and there was a very well-preserved patch of what is obviously wolf (if you’ve seen wolf skins, anyway).  It actually feels very much like my wolf ruff, which was probably running around 5 years ago, even though this one must have been dead for hundreds of years.  We don’t have a date yet, but wolf should be good for dating.  So that mystery was solved.

Shawn was able to look at the remains of the cranium, which had not been as well-preserved, and the person seems to be a child of 4-6 years or so.  We all have kids, and it made us sad to think how this child’s parents must have felt.

We still don’t know what the wolf was.  It has stitching, but it seems to just be wrapped around the legs.  The child is wearing what appear to be skin-in caribou boots, which may actually go all the way to the waist, sort of like hip-waders.  The wolf doesn’t seem to be over-pants, especially as the hair side is in.  Maybe we can figure that out tomorrow.

Physical anthroplogy underway

Shawn Miller, the physical anthropology PhD student (and University of Utah anatomy instructor) who examines and records the data on the human remains from Nuvuk prior to their reburial, is here.  He has been working on the multiple burial with an intact box that we excavated in early July.  It is looking like there were two primary individuals, probably both men.  The juvenile elements could all have come from the same individual, Shawn thinks, so there may have only been three people in this burial.

It is looking like one of the adults has signs of porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia.  These have generally been considered as signs of iron-deficiency anemia and a diet lacking in animal food-sources, but recently it has been suggested that this may be incorrect (Walker et al. 2009).  Certainly that would seem unlikely for someone living at Nuvuk, as there really was almost nothing available there but animal food.  It will be interesting to get the dates for the individual, who was apparently more recent, since there was reportedly considerable starvation after Yankee whalers decimated the bowhead stocks.

I went to get the coffins that we had in stock.  UIC RE Maintenance folks had made us a bunch, since it is easiest to cut a whole lot of standard size pieces at once.  Unfortunately, things seem to have been moved around in the warehouse where they were stored, and we seem to be short a few boxes and quite a few lids.  The ones I found were scattered in several locations.  I was able to find enough for the individuals in the burial, and will see about getting some new lids made later this week.

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.

Sometimes science produces unexpected results…

Much of today went trying to find freezer space for the person in the parka.  We were able to get X-rays done by the North Slope Borough vet clinic (they needed a bit of practice with a new machine anyway), and there are skeletal elements in the parka.  I talked to a conservator and it seems possible that the garments might be able to be preserved if the community chooses. We need to have a discussion with the Elders about that.

At least we need to document them really well, as they are being removed so the person can be examined and reburied.  To do that we need not only a good videographer, but also a group of experience skin sewers, since the sinew has decayed, and it may only be possible to figure out what stitch was use by skilled sewers looking at the ghosts they left.  We need to get the funds for that work, which probably won’t be available until October or so.  That means that we need a freezer to keep the person in a stable environment until the examination can happen.

CPS/UMIAQ couldn’t really offer anything right now, except to note that it hadn’t been requested in the program plan last year (sadly, I’m not clairvoyant–if I were, we could skip all the pesky shovel testing).  Fortunately, North Slope Borough Wildlife Management also has a freezer, and they were kind enough to step up and help out in this urgent situation.  Many thanks to DWM!  One UMIAQ fellow later thought of a freezer that might be a possible fallback, although it’s got stuff in it at the moment.

Next step, grant applications for that work and for the Ipiutak structure that remains at the bluff in the DWF, waiting for the next big storm to take it out.

What a day!

The weather was not pleasant.  It rained all day, and was pretty cold.  My fingers are swollen up like sausages.  The rain also took out the track pad on the computer for the transit, so we couldn’t back up the files in the field.  We were able to use a mouse in the lab, and got the files backed up and transferred to the other laptop, so if the track pad doesn’t perk up, we’re OK.  My Nikon Coolpix S9100, which I just got last night to replace one that failed after a week, died the same way today.  Nikon won’t issue a refund for 15 days, which is truly ridiculous under the circumstances.  I’ve been committed to Nikon, loved all the SLRs I’ve had (FM, 4 FEs, 4 N70s, D200) and liked everything about this camera, too, except it won’t work.  Epic fail.  So don’t buy one!

On the plus side, the very deep burial turned out to be a person wearing a fur parka and wrapped in hide!  You can even see traces of the stitching.  We aren’t sure how well-preserved the person is (we found a few finger bones and a nail inside the cuff).  We decided to take it out en bloc (complete) and take it back to the lab to excavate in controlled conditions so we can document the garment better, since it is very fragile.  We had some plywood brought out and managed to slide it through the gravel under the entire burial and lift the whole thing.  This required the digging of a very large hole, which we’ll now need to backfill.  Many thanks to Brower Frantz and his crew for bringing out the plywood and transporting the individual back to the lab while we kept on in the field.

Right arm and side of the fur parka, lying on a hide.
Close-up of stitching on parka

The DWF keeps yielding more artifacts, some of which are quite nice.  We’re trying to get to a reasonable stopping point and figure out a way to protect the exposed feature in case we can get funds to work on it in September.

Artifacts from DWF.