Check out my Day of Archaeology Post

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!

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.

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.

Weather day

It rained all night, and is still very windy.  The oceanographers decided that they’d rather wait until it wasn’t pouring to go out to Nuvuk.  We looked at the weather, and small craft advisories are extended to at least Sunday night, but the forecast for Monday suggested they will be extended as soon as we hit the right window in time.  The rain is supposed to let up, though, so tomorrow and Monday are looking much more promising.

I spent some time at the BARC, listening to the Saturday Schoolyard talk and working on the Nuvuk plotting.  It was fun to see the gas field project coming together after working on the cultural resources surveys for the last three years!  They have the drill rig set up in the East Barrow Gas Fields (you can see it from Nuvuk) and are supposed to spud in the well today.

I also looked at the plots from the DWF for this year, to check how the various levels had related to each other.  I hope this will be helpful in trying to recover the rest of the structure.

Now to catch up with laundry, bills, etc.  Hard to keep all that on track if you are working 6 days a week.

18th Arctic Conference–Part 5 (Day 2-PM)

At last!  After a fine lunch, we reassembled in Dalton for the afternoon session.  We moved from Alaska to the North Atlantic, and a variety of Norse sites.  Tom McGovern kicked it off with an overview of what had been accomplished during the most recent IPY.  Much of this is due to the work of various NABO members.  He talked about some really neat school outreach programs, including one issuing GPS and camera to students & teachers to record archaeology and in the case of Iceland, place names.  He also highlighted a very interesting initiative to develop

Konrad Smiarowski talked about zooarchaeology associated with the Vatnahverfi Project, part of the Norse Eastern Settlement, Greenland.  The project involved survey and excavation (following NABO common protocols, which make for great inter-site inter-comparability).  He was looking at how the Norse immigrants adapted to a new environment with new (to them) resources.  He had evidence for the adoption of seal hunting, which the Norse seem not to have done elsewhere, despite the presence of seals, as well as hunting of walrus for ivory and birding.  Bones of harp and hooded seals, both of which are migratory, show up even at more inland sites, so it looks like either people are coming to the outer coast to hunt or the seals are being traded inland.  It looks like they were net or drive hunting.  Things seem to have been going on well, but increasing amounts of ice seem to have changed things, driving people to intensify sealing at the same time as it was affecting the local seal populations.  Things ended badly, as we know.

Ramona Harrison gave an interesting paper on the farm Gásir and its hinterlands, including various types of landscape (hayfields, pastures, etc).  She is working on the zooarchaeology as part of a long-term human eco-dynamics in Eyjafjörður, Northeast Iceland.  Unfortunately, my notes on this appear not to have been saved, so I won’t go into more detail, so as not to mis-report anything Ramona said, but it was quite interesting, and reports should be on the NABO website soon, if they’re not there now.

The final paper was given by Seth Brewington on work in the Faroes, particularly at Undir Junkarinsflotti.  It was abandoned in the 1300s due to repeated sand blows, which were a problem at that time in a number of places on the eastern side of the North Atlantic.  The paper dealt with the zooarchaeology, which is quite unique as bone preservation generally seems to be bad in the Faroes, and the idea of keeping bone is still relatively new.  The inhabitants seem to have been eating lots of birds (mostly puffins), even in comparison to other Norse sites, where the bird consumption seems to drop after the earliest settlement period. 

Streaming URL update

OK, this is the fixed URL for streamed Saturday Schoolyard talks:

It should work whenever they are being streamed.

We’ll be on around 1:30 AKDT today.  No Heather, since she fell on the ice we’ve got covering everything here (they even canceled the evening plane due to an icy runway) and hurt her ankle, so she’s laid up.

Nuvuk Project at Saturday Schoolyard!

I’ve mentioned the Saturday Schoolyard series of talks presented by the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium before.  Tomorrow it’s the Nuvuk Archaeological Project’s turn!  Heather Hopson and Trace Hudson, two of the students working on the project and I are going to be giving the presentation.

If you’re in Barrow, there’s a van leaving the library about 1:15 or so, or you can drive yourself to the BARC at NARL.  The talk starts about 1:30.

If you’re not in Barrow, it will be streamed, technology spirits permitting, starting around 1:30 PM AKDT.  The feed will probably start earlier.  I’ll try to post the URL, but it should be the same as in an earlier post.  They are now archiving the Schoolyard talks as well, and they can be found in iTunes U.

Running to stand still

No, not on a treadmill, although it would be nice to have a bit of free time for that.  Actually, it’s where I’m at with work.  I’ve been thinking about archaeology and ways that it can inform things besides our knowledge of past lifeways.  For the past week or so, I’ve been running into lots of articles, posts, calls for white papers, and so on that connect to that in various ways.  Today I attended a seminar that brought up a number of issues that archaeology could play a part in addressing in a meaningful way.

However, to take these thoughts further means I need a bit of time to think and read, and then try to put thoughts into sensible words that can communicate with a variety of communities.  But the situation at work is still pretty stressful.  My boss has sent her admin assistant to help me out and get cross-trained on our stuff for a week or two.  Jennifer’s doing great, but it’s a really complex job, so she does have to ask me questions (which she does, instead of grinding to a halt, thank goodness) but I don’t actually know the filing system inside out (we’ve found 2 sets of files for some things where we would only expect one, and aren’t sure what the difference is yet) so sometimes it takes some time.

I am at least making progress on the reports, although ArcMap (the GIS program) decided to get weird this afternoon and refuse to import a bunch of STP (shovel test pit) locations I needed to finish a final map for one of the reports.  It should have taken less than half an hour to do the map, but several hours later, no joy.  Tomorrow (fingers crossed here).

I also have to finish assembling the PowerPoint for the Saturday Schoolyard talk this Saturday.  Trace sent me his  piece this evening (amazingly, he’d picked the same template & color scheme I was already using for my part, so that bit should be pretty easy.  Heather just found out she isn’t leaving for Fairbanks for the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) meetings until Saturday night, so she’s going to talk too.

Sunday and Monday (which is a holiday in Alaska, so we are off work, theoretically) I am making a quick trip to Anchorage.  Maybe I’ll get a little time to think on the plane…


While the dental extern was busy in the lab, Laura was there to help her find things, answer questions, and so forth. I was busy with other things.

A couple of Navy archaeologists (yes, the US Navy has archaeologists) were in Barrow last week to look at a tract that the Navy may be transferring to UIC, the Barrow village corporation, to get an idea of what needs to be done to comply with cultural resource protection laws prior to transferring Federal land. Neither of them has any Arctic experience, and they stopped by my office to pick my brain a bit. The next day they were doing a few STPs on an old beach ridge on the tract, and asked if I’d like to join them. It was a warm sunny day, with not much wind, and therefore many mosquitos. I hiked our from my office building to meet them, we checked out the area a bit & I hiked back. Other than all the bugs, it was great.

Navy archaeologists David Grant and Bruce Larson surveying.

We didn’t find anything cultural that was older than NARL, but we did find a couple very old gravel beaches. We did find some stakes that had probably marked research plots, and a big aluminum object that looked like an aircraft part. It had some cable attached to the front, as if someone had been trying to tow it. Apparently they gave up.  If you happen to recognize this, please let me know and I’ll pass the information on.

Large aluminum mystery object on Navy tract.

The next day I got a call from the City of Barrow. They run the cemeteries, and had been getting reports that a coffin was partially open. They had checked, and indeed a coffin had been frost-heaved and was damaged. They asked if I could come over when they moved the person into a new coffin. We decided to do it the next afternoon, after they got the new coffin built.

Fortunately, the old coffin wasn’t damaged except for a bit of the lid, so we were able to get the dirt off to make it lighter without disturbing the remains. The City crew was able to lift the entire box out and place it in the new larger coffin. It was a tight fit, because the old coffin had been covered with canvas that was nailed on, but that wasn’t clear when they had measured for the new box! Luckily they had left a bit of space, so they were able to pry a bit and get it in. I got the canvas that had frozen in out so it could go along.  I’d mostly been there in case the coffin was fragile and we had to transfer the individual, to make sure that nothing got left, but that wasn’t needed.

Once the coffin was out of the grave, the idea was to dig it a bit deeper, and then rebury the person. The soil profile was pretty interesting. There was clay (which generally is deposited on the bottom of bodies of still water) very close to the surface, despite the fact that the grave was on a mound. Apparently the permafrost has pushed it up a good bit, although it may have been deposited when sea level was higher than today.

Permanently frozen clay exposed in grave in Barrow cemetery.

The crew did what they could with shovels, but thaw was not that deep, as you can see from the picture above, so they were going to get a compressor and jack hammer, to really get the grave deeper, when I left.  If not, frost heaving would just bring the box up again in a few years.