ICASS X abstract deadline JANUARY 20, 2020 (EXTENDED)

Do you work with some aspect of people and permafrost?  There is a session on that topic at ICASS X (Arkhangelsk, June 15-20, 2020).  The deadline for abstracts is extended to January 20, 2020!

The session is called “People and Permafrost in a Changing Arctic.”  The session abstract shown on the website is a placeholder that hasn’t been updated yet.  The up-to-date version is below.

Apply here (under the Abstract Submission link) : https://icass.uni.edu

People and Permafrost in a Changing Arctic

For thousands of years, permafrost has been a constant in most of the Arctic.  Communities and lifeways have literally been built on the assumption that it would endure in perpetuity.  Now, in response to recent warming trends, permafrost degradation and its numerous societal and environmental impacts are becoming widespread.  Coastal bluffs eroding into the sea, roads like washboards or washed away, fill collapsing around pilings supporting public infrastructure, archaeological sites and cultural heritage thawing and rotting, and ice cellars thawing and flooding, are only some of the effects becoming commonplace across the Circumpolar North. 

This session will bring together interdisciplinary research focused on changing permafrost and its impacts on people and landscapes as well as human resilience and adaptation in Arctic coastal permafrost areas. We seek to develop synergy between researchers  interested in these topics and expand PerCS-Net (Permafrost Coastal Systems Network), an international network of researchers dealing with permafrost systems in transition. We welcome papers covering various aspects of these issues, from identifying new types of social and environmental disruption to  monitoring to attempts at adaption.  Contributions from community members and holders of Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge and researchers successfully engaging directly with Indigenous communities are particularly welcomed.

Deadline is January 20, 2020.

Apply here (under the Abstract Submission link) : https://icass.uni.edu

Big City TV looks at Utqiaġvik

About a month ago, Tracey Sinclaire and Beth Verge from Anchorage TV station KTUU came to Utqiagvik to do a number of weather/climate-related stories. One was on the effects of coastal erosion. I took them out toward Nuvuk/Point Barrow as far as seemed prudent for the vehicle I had, and got interviewed. The weather was quite challenging while they were here, but they hung in and got stories on the NOAA site, and the blue football field which is endangered by coastal erosion.

Input needed–Microbial Threats in the Arctic

Area near Utqiaġvik with measles graves from early 1900’s epidemic

I’m taking part in a workshop on Health Security Risks from Microbial Threats in the Arctic.  I’m looking for any experiences with such, particularly connected to archaeology.  Also interested in any published references.  Have some, trying to make a better list.  Please DM or email me if you can help.  I’ll be traveling Sunday & Monday.

Talking about Climate Change and Threats to Heritage

I spent most of the day talking about climate change threats to cultural heritage and archaeological resources.  I started off at a fairly conventional session about archaeology at various sites in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, which had a number of interesting papers, many based on analysis of well-preserved faunal remains.

I then went on to the first formal meeting of the newest SAA committee, on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Response (CCSAR).  Dan Sandweiss, who is the SAA board liaison, as well as being one of the earlier people to call attention to the importance of archaeological sites as archives of paleoenvironmental data, as well as the obvious archaeological data.  It seems to be a really great group of people,working in a lot of different places, all of which are having some climate issues.  Most of them are interested not only in saving data, but in what that data can tell us about past climates, and about how people adapted to changes in them.  As one person said, “We really don’t have much data about the Archaic, the last time people lived sustainably in North America.”  This may be a bit of an exaggeration, especially for Alaska, but basically the idea is correct.

After that, I had to go to an appointment in the book room.  We will see what comes of that in due time.

Then there was another interesting session on Heritage Tools for Tackling Climate Change.  This included a variety of talks on ways people are dealing with the effects of climate change.  One had to do with melting ice patches in Glacier National Park, and how the Park Service had dealt with material coming out, in consultation with the local Native American community, as well as studies they were doing so they could be proactive.  Another paper included information on the California Cultural Resource Management (CRM) community’s efforts to get public lands on the coast surveyed completely.

There was some discussion about whether the US ban on revealing any site location data helps or hurts.  Most other countries will reveal that data, although they may wait until very valuable materials have been properly excavated in some cases.  They have found that it decreases looting, if anything.  It also helps people avoid inadvertent damage that happens when people don’t know a site is there, and lets them report on changes in site conditions. So instead of a few archaeologists, lots of people can keep an eye on the sites.  Here they can’t do that.  I suspect, as do many others, that the people who are serious looters already know where the sites are, and have a pretty good idea where to prospect for more.  On the other hand, when the US government shut down for a couple of weeks in 2013, looting exploded in the National Parks.

Tomorrow morning the session I organized on Global Change Threats to the Archaeological and Paleoecological Record (not snappy, but lots of buzzwords for search engines) happens.

Arctic Observing Open Science Meeting

I spent most of the week in Seattle at the Arctic Observing Open Science meeting.  Ben Fitzhugh and I were the point persons for the broader GHEA/IHOPE Emerging Knowledge Hub on Global Environmental Change Threats to Heritage and Long Term Observing Networks of the Past.  This is a long and fancy way of talking about the threats that sea level rise, ice retreat, and permafrost warming pose for archaeological sites in the North.  Since this was not an archaeological meeting, most of the folks were either natural scientists or resource managers.  We focused on the kind of data that archaeological sites contain that are more than relevant to answering the kinds of questions they are asking, while pointing out that the data is vanishing quickly.  The library is on fire!

Waves eat at the Utqiaġvik bluffs.
Waves eat at the Utqiaġvik bluffs.

Ben and I each were the lead on a talk (both massively multi-authored), and we also did a poster, with a similarly large number of contributors.  Ben’s talk was in the Marine Ecosystems session.  It seemed like it interested the audience, which was primarily oceanographers, and related agency and funding folks.

Mine was in the Human Dimensions session, since the Coastal Processes session we had aimed for apparently didn’t get enough papers.  I followed a paper on frozen heritage (primarily ice patches and the preliminary stages of development of site evaluation schema) by Martin Callanan and Shelby Anderson, so the issues were thoroughly driven home.  The audience included a number of natural scientists (!), and the discussions included the relevance of archaeology to both other fields of research and to developing toolkits for sustainability.

Our hope is we woke some of our colleagues up to both the potential of archaeological sites to provide data, and the need to find a way to get that data that doesn’t rely entirely on Arctic Social Science funding.

My talk and the poster are up on both my Academia.edu and ResearchGate pages, if you would like to see them.

Looks like it’s a hearth

We were a small crew today since the high school students weren’t working, so we concentrated on the Ipiutak area. It was fairly tricky to excavate, since there is unconsolidated gravel under the Wood/sand/gravel layer that covers the Ipiutak surface, and a large pile of unconsolidated gravel uphill from the features.  Plus the hearth ash is covered with a mushy skin of peat, and both the hearth surface and the peat undulate.  Despite that, we recovered 2 fin rays, some burnt bone, a pot-lidded flake (probably rhyolite), a grey chert flake, and a black biface fragment from the hearth.  We also got some large ungulate (species in dispute at the moment–probably caribou) bone, and a small fragment of decorated ivory, plus several interesting pieces of wood, which appear to be worked.

It was quite cold.  Even though we had a windbreak, the levels are just thawing, and the ground is cold and wet.  My hands are still stiff, so more will have to wait until tomorrow.

Much gravel is moved

We spent most of the day with shovel testing, shooting in pits and moving gravel.  The gravel moving was in aid of getting a better look at the worked wood protruding from the erosion face at what appears to be the Ipiutak level.  So far, there seems to have been a fire and a lot of ash in association with one of the wood features, and it’s not clear if it was a hearth or a structure that burned accidentally.  Opening it up a bit more would help, but it is under a lot of gravel.

Structural timbers with possible hearth in Ipiutak level

The crew did yeoman work, and much gravel was moved, so we can get a look tomorrow.  There is actually a frozen layer under where most of them are standing, which will have thawed by tomorrow if we are lucky.

Flying gravel! L to R: Adam, Trace, Laura, Candace, Dennis, Tom

Actual incremental progress on several fronts!

Now that the storms have passed for the moment, and I can once again get to the office, I’ve actually gotten a few things done.  I managed to take the few comments on the mission statements for the GHEA working groups and finalize them.  That done, I set up, not one, but two (!), working groups.  The first is focused on coastal erosion, and the second on global change effects on the archaeological and paleoecological records.   They are now open for members (a few have already joined).

Monday’s time-sheet approvals were particularly onerous, because a change of user ID in the time-sheet system didn’t work quite right, and not only detached users from approvers until they logged in again on Monday, it also rescinded submitted and approved time-sheets from last week which were done before the update!  Much confusion and a royal pain for us and for the IT/accounting folks, I can assure you.  But we persevered and everyone should get paid on time!  There were a few other accounting and proposal related details to deal with today, but they’re pretty well in hand, and I just need a few more numbers to get the proposal out the door.

That done, I moved on to drafting a summary for newsletters (several paragraphs) of the Polar Archaeological Network meeting in Tromsø, which somewhat coincidentally (since I am the only overlap between the two groups at the moment) was all about global change and threats to the Polar archaeological and paleoecological records.  That’s been circulated and I’ve made several revisions based on comments.  I’ve gotten one more set from Maribeth Murray at UAF, which actually suggests two versions, one for social science audiences and one speaking more to the paleoecology/global change folks, so I should have that ready for final circulation to the attendees tomorrow, and then it should be ready to go to out.  Maribeth and I (and the other meeting attendees) are also doing a poster at the Alaska Anthropological Association annual meeting in Fairbanks next week.  PAN had a preliminary poster, which I am majorly rewriting and putting Alaska-specific images on (since this version is for an Alaska meeting).  I’ve got to get that finished, circulated, and down to Maribeth in Fairbanks so she can get it printed up (since large-format printers are almost as scarce as hen’s teeth in Barrow).

Also needing finishing and polishing is my paper/PowerPoint for the meeting.  I am in a session in honor of Ernest S. “Tiger” Burch Jr., one of the most renowned ethnologists who ever worked in the North, who passed away unexpectedly last September.  He was a brilliant and meticulous researcher, widely admired among Iñupiaq people, particularly those of Kivalina, where he and his wife lived for some time, and an all-around good person.  I was proud to have him as a friend, as was my husband, Glenn Sheehan, and it’s an honor to be asked to be in this session.

I had somehow lost track of when the meeting was, and had rather a jolt today when I opened an email about a side meeting, which mentioned the attached agenda for next week’s meeting!  A mad dash to make travel plans ensued, so I now have a room, a car, a plane ticket and am registered for the meeting.  All told–1.5 hours.  Practice makes perfect (or at least faster).

18th Arctic conference–Part 4 (Day 2-AM)

This penultimate chapter is a bit belated, to say the least, due to holidays, much travel and associated presentations, and proposal preparation.  However, there were some very interesting papers on the final day as well, and I decided I needed to get this written before yet another conference happened.  And I needed a break from final tweaking of the PowerPoint for said conference.

The first paper was by Molly Odell, on economic change at  Mitksqaaq Angayuk between 3400-100BP.  The site, on Kodiak, seems to have had discontinuous occupations from Early Katchemak to the Russian occupation.  Molly focused on the fauna from a midden associated with an Alutiiq house.  The house seemed to have been occupied primarily by men, based on the artifacts.  The midden showed a change from a pre-contact mixed fishery (primarily cod but with significant amounts of salmon and small amounts of other locally available fish) to a fishery focused almost entirely on cod in the historic period.  Molly interprets this as a shift from a winter settlement to a cod-fishing camp, presumably staffed by men.

Jennifer Raff gave a paper on mitochondrial aDNA (ancient DNA) from the Lower Alaska Peninsula & Eastern Aleutians.  This is interesting, as there are disagreements about how/when various cultures in that area appeared, and whether or not they represent in situ (in place) developments or population replacements.  This work may help settle some of those questions.  Not to spoil any surprises, as this paper is being published, but both haplotypes A & D are well represented, and there is B from one site!

Rick Knecht, a fellow Bryn Mawr College PhD, gave a “just out of the field” talk about excavations at Nunalleq, a Yup’ik site in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta.  The Yup’ik culture is quite well-known ethnographically, but almost no archaeology has been done in the area.  Nunalleq, for which there is a date of 1300BP (not sure if that’s calibrated or what it’s on or associated with) has extraordinary organic preservation at the moment, but is suffering erosion, which is accelerating due to permafrost melting and sea level rise.  The local community actually contacted the archaeologists in concern.  The 2010 season excavated a house, with lots of organic artifacts (rye grass matting, for example) present on the floor.  They think it might have been a men’s house, which are known for the Yup’ik from the ethnographic record, based on the low numbers of women’s artifacts recovered.  There was a burnt side room, with a large number of arrowheads present, which is possibly a result of conflict.  More work is planned.

Chistyann Darwent followed with a report on the 2010 work at Cape Espenberg, a beach ridge complex which is located near Kotzebue in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.  This project has been doing survey there for a couple of years and has surveyed and mapped extensively, especially the more recent periods.  They have actually been able to excavate several houses (one on each of the 3 Thule-age ridges) to a considerable extent.  One thing they discovered was that the surface mapping did not necessarily give a good picture of what was under the ground in terms of houses, side rooms and so forth.  One of the houses seems to have burned, although why is not yet clear.  They excavated an outdoor ceramic manufacturing area (inadvertently–it looked like part of the house from the surface).  The houses on the oldest and middle Thule ridges had Thule 2 harpoon heads associated with them, suggesting that they were fairly early.  The also found a copper eyed needle, slat armor.  The tunnel floor was lined with baleen.  The youngest house was of a type that was familiar to the project’s elder consultant, who had been in the US Army during the Korean War, since he’d grown up in a similar house.  It had lots of evidence for fishing.  The dates were a bit later than prior testing had led them to expect, the oldest around 1260-1400BP, the middle 1450-1650BP.

Justin Tackney gave a paper on mDNA (mitochondrial DNA) from Nuvuk, as well as presenting the new direct dates that Joan Coltrane has for the human remains. The results show a number of haplogroups hypothesized to be founders to modern Inuit populations all in one area, which is new.  In general, this supports a Thule expansion from North Alaska.

I got the slot before lunch, and gave a paper looking at the material culture of modern Iñupiat whaling.  I am using this as a way to approach what sort of evidence might be expected in archaeological sites of whalers, and where that evidence might be found.  Essentially, the modern case has a number of artifacts that are needed for whaling and nothing else, most of which have pre-contact equivalents.  The interesting thing is that they are generally not stored in the house, which implies that excavations focused on houses may not be able to address presence/absence whaling too well.