This was going to be a good post…

Well, I’ve gotten 3 of the six papers off to the editors, either in final form or waiting for review, and the big one on Late Western Thule (I think that’s what I’m calling it, pending any requests from the editors to change it for consistency in the volume) is coming along.  Right now it’s way too long, still missing a couple of topics, and in need of serious cutting & some illustrations.  So I don’t feel quite so guilty about writing anything not strictly part of the paper.

That was going to be the start of a good (nay, dare I say great) catchup post.  However, it has been very cold in Barrow, the rest of the family is in Juneau, and I have been trying not to use too much water because the trucks that bring it and the trucks that haul the sewage don’t work well below -30°F.  Alas, apparently I used so little water that the bathroom sink drain froze up (there is sort of a design flaw in the drain & I don’t think they ran the heat trace (heated wires along pipes to keep them from freezing) far enough), although thankfully the tub & toilet still are working.  So I think I have to go try to remedy the situation now :-(.

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.

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.

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

First rainy day of the summer…

…which is pretty amazing if you know Barrow.  It was still somewhat windy and actually raining quite hard at times in the morning.  I decided we’d stick to STPs for the day, since drawing and photography would be sort of problematic.  Rhett and Jared were scheduled to be in the lab processing data, and Dennis decided to stay in too.  Several of the students were sick.

There was a half-hour delay due to confusion over who was going out as bear guards, and where they were to get rain gear.  UMIAQ even asked us.  We do have some spare rain gear, but it stays in the field in case someone’s gets wrecked or a student forgets theirs, so that really was no help.  They finally had to go home and get their own.  Then on the way out an ATV, which had been acting up for several days, “failed to proceed”  just past the end of the road, so another half hour delay for me, one of the bear guards and Candace, who was riding the dead machine.  UMIAQ brought another out and we continued.  No huge deal since we were just doing STPs, but if we’d been planning to excavate, everything would have been on hold until the transit and the excavation equipment in the trailer being towed by the dead machine could get to the site.

The crew that was there got a good number of STPs done, although nothing showed up.  At least it doesn’t seem like the GPR is missing anything, although some areas have been driven over so much and have so much refuse in them that nothing short of a whale skull would stick out from the background noise.

More logistics… and Pretty Babies!

The past week has been crazy.  All of the crew except the GPR people and Dennis O’Rourke are here.  We’ve gotten all of the training out of the way except for ATV driving.  We spent a while on Thursday afternoon as scheduled, but the logistics provider still didn’t have all the ATVs (or even know what they would be) so we weren’t able to make sure everyone knew how to ride what they’d be driving.  Since they may be renting a bunch of manual shift models (and a number of people have never driven anything with a manual shift), it seemed safest to let people learn that before taking them off-road, so the start for the field will be delayed :-(.

We have all the gear piled in the Theater, where we’ll be staging, except for the electronics.  They are still in the lab, where they are being charged.  Laura and a rotating crew person will get them and bring them to the Theater each morning, and return them for recharging at the end of the day.  We also have a generator, but we’d really rather not run it.

On Friday, I had to do a survey of a very small area where a surface current radar is being installed on Point Barrow.  We went out a while ago and picked some spots, and after calculations back at the lab, Hank Statscewich picked a spot.  I was supposed to meet up with the logistics providers out there, to show them where the tent was to go, but alas, something came up.  I ran into one of them at the gas station while getting gas for the 4-wheeler (turned out to be more complex than expected because I filled my 5 gallon can only to find out it leaked and had to run next door to the NAPA to buy 2 new 2.5 cans to transfer the gas into), and we arranged to go the next morning.  I did the survey and went home.  The weather alternated between spooky fog and quite nice.

Foggy day on Point Barrow

The next day I met up with the logistics providers and headed back to the Point for what was supposed to be a 2-hour activity.  I was just going to show them where the tents should go and head back in, but it became clear that might not be the best plan.  I made it home 7 hours later.  The tents are all up and in place.  There are a few issues, mostly relating to them not having actually set up the whole tent prior to shipping, but they were going out today to fix most of them, so we hope to find things in working order tomorrow…  At least the weather was nice except when it rained a little bit.

Weatherports going up

Since that shot my Saturday, I spent most of yesterday and today finishing various things that clients need before I get out of the field and dealing with various work-related issues.  As a result, I missed almost all of the 4th of July festivities.  We did get in for the start of the “marathon” in which crew member Emily Button was running, and the Pretty Baby contest, but Glenn hadn’t really dressed for the weather and the wind & drizzle picked up, so we left and I don’t know how either event came out!  Maggie Rose Solomon won Miss Top of the World (thanks to DoeDoe for posting that on FB ).

Runners at the ready. Emily is in the red jacket.

All the Pretty Babies
When the potato chips aren't enough...

Lab and logistics–Pt. 2

The mad rush toward the field continues.  Laura Thomas is back, so it was possible to slip out to attend to things like a staff meeting during the day.  A good thing, since there is only one full work day left in the week for us in Barrow.  Tomorrow and Thursday are half-day holidays for Nalukataqs (celebrations of successful whaling seasons hosted by captains and crews) and the multi-day Fourth of July/NSB Founders’ Day holiday kicks off on Friday, so we get the afternoon off then too.  Monday, July 4th, is a holiday too, and then fieldwork starts, a week from tomorrow!

All of the new NSF crew was here, so we had planned to do the candy eating exercise.  Unfortunately, the two new ECHO crew members, who probably needed it the most, were not in today, but due to the holiday and the fact that the large conference room where we do the exercise is booked on Wednesday, we decided to forge ahead.  We wound up splitting into groups by gender (the first time that has happened, I think) and it was interesting how that turned out.  The HS students were all old hands, so they got to be the actors.  The girls worked collaboratively on a very complicated “site” and had to stop because they ran out of candy.  The guys each more or less did their own thing in parallel.

We did a safety briefing on various hazards that might be encountered in the field (chiefly ATVs, cold, sun, the propane stove, generator, polar bears, and strains & sprains).  Then there was a quiz on skeletal elements, to be repeated on Wednesday in hopes that people will do better.  Actually, everyone seems to know what the elements are, but how the names are spelled is a bit sketchier.   Since I’m tired of having to do global replaces of “humorous” with “humerus” (upper arm bones not being particularly funny), I think this is time well spent.  The afternoon finished with repacking the supplies which had been shipped up from Anchorage priority instead of buying local :-(.  That will complicate the returning of the Tylenol PM that showed up instead of Tylenol.  I’m not sure why the person doing the shopping thought that was appropriate for a job site first aid kit?!  Especially when everyone drives to and from the site…

After the crew went home, I had to work up a proposal for some work to be done later this summer.  I got it all done except for the prices for helicopter time.  Once I get them, I plug them into the spreadsheet and send it off.

Now I’m working on a concept paper for what could be done with a large collection that is here in Barrow at the Inupiat Heritage Center.  I have to finish that this week, as well as get a small survey done of a site on Point Barrow where some researchers want to set up a current radar.  So, back to work…