I had a fun morning talking to about 40 elementary school teachers from the North Slope Borough School District. They were having an in-service. The original plan was to take them out to Walakpa by boat, but the weather this weekend features snow, a bit of rain and winds up to 30 mph. So–not boating weather.
Since we knew this a couple of days ago, we were able to get the lab ready for visitors. We (Ashtyn & I) put out several drawers with some of the more interesting artifacts from Walakpa and Nuvuk. I put together a slide show to give them an idea about the project, which we showed before they visit d the lab. I also talked a bit about the history of science in Barrow, and the building of the BARC.
A number of the teachers are interested in bringing their classes out to the lab. A few of them are also interesting in volunteering, either in the lab or as photographers. And I think I probably sold a bunch of the Barrow Science hoodies, given how many people asked how they could buy one :-).
After we got back from Walakpa, we had fieldwork in both Deering and Wainwright, which kept me pretty busy. After that, I had to head to Honolulu for the World Conservation Congress. I had organized a workshop on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past. The timing of the conference was a bit unfortunate, since it overlapped with the World Archaeological Conference in Japan, so the workshop was fairly small. However, the idea was to get some of the people who are active the conservation field to look to the paleoecological data from archaeological sites to help build realistic conservation plans. It was pretty well attended and on top of that, it was live-streamed. The video is now up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.
Honolulu was quite a switch from Alaska, with temperatures in the 80s the whole time. It was beautiful, of course.
On the other hand, it was nice to get home to Alaska. The sunsets are better.
I’ve had a request from Fleur Schinning, a graduate student of Leiden University in the Netherlands. She is doing research on archaeology blogs, and how they can help the public be involved in archaeology, and has a questionnaire she would like to ask readers to fill out. I’ve tried to attach it here: Questionnaire for blog readers. It should also be available at this link:http://goo.gl/forms/z3BAUTyYUL
You can fill out the form anonymously, or if you give her your email she will be holding a drawing for 6 issues of Archaeology magazine.
Yesterday was supposed to be a big day for interviews. One of the Alaska TV stations has someone coming to Barrow who wanted an interview, and Joe Schuldenrein was scheduled to prerecord an interview with me for his internet radio show on archaeology, Indiana Jones: Myth, Reality and 21st Century Archaeology. Unfortunately for them, the TV folks went on a tour of the entire state, except Barrow, courtesy of Alaska Airlines and didn’t get in until after 7 PM. We may reschedule.
The radio interview did happen, and will be broadcast today, 1 PM EDT, 4PM AKDT. I believe you should be able to access the archived version here after the broadcast. If you want to listen live, I think you can log in here and do so, but I don’t know the details, since I have only tried the saved version of the show.
Now for some time in the lab, and maybe another interview…
Wednesday at 3 PM Pacific Time on VoiceAmerica Variety Channel
Indiana Jones: Myth, Reality and 21st Century Archaeology
Imagine that you are an archaeologist carrying your equipment to site only to meet a polar bear along the way! Once you’ve arrived at site, weather conditions may mean the ground is too frozen to dig or you have a chance of getting hypothermia if you try waterscreening. While Indiana Jones is well known for his travels to far off places and harrowing recovery of artifacts, what are the dangers of archaeology in less desirable destinations? Our guest, Dr. Anne Jensen, has over 30 years experience working in Barrow, Alaska, the ninth northernmost city in the world! Although remote, the climate of Alaska’s north coast allows for the recovery of some remarkable items including ivory harpoons, plank floors, and even seal oil. Join our guest, Dr. Anne Jensen, and us as we discuss her archaeological work in this far-flung part of the world and how her findings challenge the idea that such environments are inhospitable for human occupation. Learn More »
Missed the Live Shows? Past Episodes are available On Demand and Podcast Ready.
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
I am currently in Washington, DC, participating in a workshop on Arctic Research and Logistic Support planning. The idea is to get a group of scientists working in the Arctic together to see what we think Arctic research will be like in 10-20 years, and what sort of logistic support will be needed. Then, action steps to get there from here will be formulated. One hopes it is not just an exercise in futility.
As is usual at such gatherings, there are not very many social scientists. There are a lot of physical scientists (marine, terrestrial & atmospheric) and a fair number of biology types. Many of the groups are quite interested in new “toys” (UAVs) and the like, as well as more icebreakers. Better connectivity is also something that is high on most people’s lists, mine included. What I find interesting as an anthropologist is how the cultures of various disciplines vary so widely. One of the breakout sessions was organized more or less by location of research (with social sciences its own group). I actually went to the Coastal group, since I’d just had lunch with Sophia Perdikaris & Genny LeMoine, both of whom are archaeologists, who were going to be in the social science group, and I thought it might be more valuable to get a social science voice into one of the other groups.
The variation in the visions of the groups when they reported back was quite striking. Although there were some things all agreed on, one group saw research in 10-20 years as being done remotely. They even thought that maybe social science could be conducted through social media. Unfortunately they didn’t describe how they imagined one could excavate a site that way; I’m sure it would be a lot warmer than what I was doing last month!
While all that was going on, the Alaska Dispatch picked up Abra’s Arctic Sounder story. Then Archaeology magazine added it to their website news, even asking if they could use a specific picture from this blog. Then they used another one… Oh, well. And I got another interview request.
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.
On Friday afternoon we headed to Point Barrow. I’d gotten KTUU set up with Aarigaa Tours, who picked them up in town at Top of the World Hotel, and then picked me up at my house at NARL on the way out to the point. I’d run home from work to change into my warm gear. A good thing, too, as will become clear later.
We’d been having a pretty strong blow from the NNW, and waves had actually been coming up onto the road. The road to the point had actually been closed right by Piġniq (Birnirk), because the waves had been breaking over the road and had done some significant damage. We were in a van equipped for off-road travel, so we were OK, but we had to detour through the cabin area. Once past there, the road was still in pretty good shape, but we could see water seeping in under the gravel berm. Once we got out a bit farther we could see a number of vessels & barges that had come into Elson Lagoon to anchor up and wait out the rough weather.
Once we got to Nuvuk and got a look at the site, it was a bit depressing. However, it made a perfect example of coastal erosion in action, and made it really easy to illustrate how information about the past, which could have application to understanding what directions to take to have a sustainable future, is being lost. At least 10 feet (3 m) of the site had been lost to the ocean since couple weeks ago. The gravel slump that had been protecting the face was gone, and thawing permafrost was sticking out and undercut.
And in that permafrost was the same strandline debris that has proven to be a marker for the Ipiutak occupation. There was a large patch of what looked like fur or peat (which often seems to be found on the floors of Ipiutak structures) and an area where the wood seemed to be far more aligned and level than is normal for a strandline, but would be quite typical for an Ipiutak floor. I tried to get decent pictures, but in the end decided I needed to try to get a sample. I tried walking down on the permafrost, but it was angled, and I couldn’t get close enough without falling off. There were big waves, and the bluff was undercut. If a really big one came at the wrong time, it could wash me off my feet.
Finally, I asked Ricky Bodfish, who was driving the tour van & giving the tour except for the archaeology part, if they had a rope. He did, so he dangled it down the bluff by me, we waited until right after big waves when it looked like a lull and I went down to check it out and try to get close-ups and a sample.
The patch of material turned out to be peat, which I was able to sample, and will send out for dating. My camera got some spray on it, but there was not way or time to clean the lens, so I just kept shooting. Unfortunately a pretty big wave came and dumped gravel on the surfaces just before I got a shot off of the wood, (I managed to turn so I caught it on the side where KTUU’s microphone pack wasn’t) and I could hear the next one was even louder. I ran, and made it into an area above the waves before the big one broke.
Fortunately, nothing soaked through the Carhartts so I just took them off for the rest of the trip.
We had been monitoring the tower we’d put out in June, and just a few days earlier had thought it would be fine. However, the storm had taken out a lot of the bluff, and I wound up calling & texting the guys who work on the ARM project for UICS. They wound up going out later that evening and hauling the whole thing about 50 feet (15m) farther back from the edge. Just in time, since by the time they got out there, they figured it was 2-3 feet (< 1m) from the edge.
After that, the KTUU fellow wanted to see the farthest North point and go to the bone pile to see if there were any bears. We set off, and almost immediately had to detour. The trail we normally use to get to the site, which is always dry, had water all over it from the storm surge.
We made it to the farthest North point, which was a bit less far North than previously. The storm surge had made it to the tip of one of the whale jawbones, and about 10 feet was missing here too. However, we did get some nice light, and the KTUU guys got busy.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been busily writing away at a couple of overdue papers, and the students have been going great guns processing and cataloging artifacts in the lab. While all this work is important, it doesn’t make for the most exciting blog posts, so I’ve been focusing on the papers.
Last week I wound up doing a couple of outreach events. The first was a public talk at the Murie Science and Learning Center at Denali National Park. Since I don’t live anywhere near Denali NP, this was no small undertaking. I flew to Anchorage, rented a car and went to the Apple store to pick up some video adapters for my Mac Air on Sunday, picked up my daughter Justine on Monday morning, and we made some sandwiches and set out. It is a 240 mile (more or less) north out of Anchorage, up the Parks Highway to the Park and the MSLC. I was speaking at 7 PM, but wanted to get there a bit early to make sure I found the place and my computer worked with their projector & so forth.
We had a pretty nice drive. The weather was sunny, but since I was driving north that was no problem. The drive is beautiful, although there were clouds around Denali (the mountain some call Mt. McKinley) so it wasn’t out.We stopped at a couple of viewing areas, but no luck. There are actually mountains between Denali and the Parks Highway, but Denali is so big it would have been visible anyway except for the clouds.
We made good time to Denali. It is very beautiful country, to my way of thinking, and gets prettier as you climb away from sea level and taiga forests with tundra on the mountains. It took a bit of doing to find the MSLC, but we succeeded.
I am participating in the Day of Archaeology 2012. The Day of Archaeology consists of blog posts from people who are doing archaeology. The idea is that the posts somehow describe what was happening on July 29, and that together they give a world-wide snapshot of archaeology. Given that people may be in the field or otherwise occupied, new posts can be added until July 9. I got my post about the Nuvuk Archaeology Project up late last night. There were 28 pages and counting when it went up.
So go check it out, and while you are there, check out some of the other posts. There is something for everyone!
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.
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 :-).
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.
I’ve been chipping away at a bunch of things. The main ones are the big Late Western Thule chapter and an associated project which involve evaluating every Birnirk & later C14 date I can get hold from Alaska, to see which ones hold up (a number that are cited a lot are really early solid carbon dates!) and what exactly was dated. In some cases, what was dated was in a different house from the “diagnostic” which is purportedly being dated, and there is no a priori reason to think the houses are contemporaneous. It may have been the best that could be done at the time, but some revision is needed here. Once those are done, I can finish the two other papers I am working on.
We got the symposium for the Alaska Anthropological Association meeting more or less put together, pending any additional papers submitted as general papers that the organizers may send us, and next week we’ll just have to decide on an order so the conference organizers can get their materials to the printer in good time.
I’ve also been invited to be a speaker at a small conference on Sustainability and Heritage in Kirkwall, Orkney which is sort of the main kick-off for a Research Coordination Network (RCN) on Global Long-Term Ecodynamics in which I am fortunate enough to be involved. I’ve never been to Orkney, but I love the Shetlands, so I’m looking forward to it. There are some great people involved, and we’re trying to do some really interesting things involving the use of archaeological data to illuminate questions about long-term sustainability. I actually owe them an abstract by tomorrow (which it actually is in Orkney), so I better get to it.
I thought it was bad enough yesterday, when I got in the car to drive to work, looked over and saw this:
But I went to work and went on about the business of getting travel arrangements made for the crew and ordering field supplies and whatnot. It snowed off and on all day, and was so windy that the crew waiting to install a radar on the roof of the BARC had to call off the lift with the crane due to high winds.
Last night the winds were still in the 20+mph range, gusting higher. The surface of the lagoon next to my house, which started to have patches of open water in the warm weather of a couple of weeks ago, were showing some chop, and it was rather grim-looking all around.
Apparently it kept snowing during the night, because in the morning the TundraGarden looked like this:
I spent the morning in a training Webinar for the Alaska Heritage Resource Survey (AHRS) remote web access system, and the first part of the afternoon taking some officials from the US Department of the Interior on a tour of Nuvuk (many thanks to Scott Oyagak for driving us in his truck, because the wind was pretty nasty) and the Nuvuk lab. Apparently one of their staffers had been on a site tour I gave in the last couple seasons and really liked it, so they wanted a tour too. They got to see a lot of ice and gravel, the Birnirk National Historic Landmark (NHL), Nuvuk, Plover Point, and get their pictures taken at the Top of the World, but no bears.
I then got to spend the rest of the day dealing with the aftermath of someone having sideswiped the UICS Ranger while it was parked beside the BARC. It was on the passenger side, facing away from the building entrance, and we hadn’t driven it for a couple of days, but there was no dust on the new dent, so it was recent. Looks like someone was backing out of their parking space and hit it. They didn’t bother to leave a note, or call (the truck has decals). Pretty lame. No way they could have done that much damage and not noticed. Fortunately, it seems like they just made a huge dent in the side of the bed, but the door opens fine & it doesn’t seem to have affecting the driving, as far as Tammy could tell on the way to and from the body shop trying to get an estimate.
Almost all of the travel is arranged, and tomorrow I can update the logistics calendar. Just hope it warms up a bit for the fieldwork…