AJA Recent Research Notes–last call for next issue

The deadline is fast approaching for contributions to the Recent Research Notes column in the Alaska Journal of Anthropology.  These would be brief (1-3 paragraphs maximum) reports on up-coming, on-going or recently completed projects, new C-14 dates or laboratory findings that might be of interest to the Arctic/subarctic research community.  Individuals can submit multiple notes if they have different subjects.   Items already covered in the newsletter are appropriate, as AJA has a broader circulation, and exists in permanent hard copy in libraries.  For more detail, see here.

Submissions can be made to Anne Jensen (amjuics@gmail.com) who edits the column.  Electronic submissions (in AJA style) are strongly preferred.  The AJA Style Guide can be found here.

National Climate Assessment 4 is released

Black Friday wouldn’t seem like the ideal day to release a report as important as this, but there it is.  This report is Part 2, covering Risks, Impacts and Adaptation in the US. It is based on a massive amount of scientific study, as detailed in Part 1, which was released last year.

For those who don’t have time to read it, the short version is that things are going to get really bad soon in many parts of the US if we don’t turn this car around.  Fires, floods, coastal erosion & flooding and declining property values along the coast, climate refugees, heat waves that kill people, infrastructure collapse, agricultural failures with decreasing food security and increasing food prices, and so on.  And the knock-on effects of all that will impact places and industries that maybe aren’t feeling direct effects, so the economy will shrink. Not a pretty picture.

It won’t be just Arctic peoples’ cultural heritage and valuable scientific information that gets lost.  It will be public infrastructure and homes and food sources and drinking water.  The problems that we are seeing here in North Alaska now will most likely be coming to a place near you soon if enough isn’t done to change things.  This really isn’t the sort of thing to be gambling on.

The way it is set up, you can download executive summaries of the whole thing and of each chapter, but not the whole report or whole chapters.  They have to be read online.  Not much thought given to folks who live in rural communities with low bandwidth and/or super expensive internet ($299/month for 5Mb/sec and a 100GB data cap anyone).  If it could be downloaded, costs and the downloaded documents could be shared.



Call for Papers for SAA session on Environmental Change Impacts

I’m back from over a month in the field, and just got the Committee on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR)-sponsored session set up for next spring’s SAA meetings.  The session abstract is here.

We are looking for papers. If you are interested and have a paper you think might fit, contact me!

NB.  The hard deadline is coming up fast (September 6, at 3PM ET) and you will need to be registered and with fees paid to be accepted.  You don’t have to renew/establish your SAA membership right now, but will need to do that by the end of January 2019 to give the paper.

Catching up

It’s been a while since I’ve managed to post.  Lots has been going on, some of it only tangentially related related to archaeology.  I started the year with a partial right knee replacement, which led to lots of PT.  It turned out I had a loose piece of bone the size of an acorn floating around in my knee, according to my surgeon.  Getting that out was a huge improvement, but I had to do a lot of PT to get to a point where I can kneel if necessary for excavation.  I’ve got about 0-132° range of motion, so I can kneel now, although it isn’t pleasant to do it for a long time.

A few weeks later, I gave a paper at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage.  I was able to talk about Patou the mummified seal and the long-headed bear, to an audience largely composed of oceanographers, marine biologists and the like.  It was a great venue to raise awareness of the potential for archaeology to add time depth to research in other disciplines.  Unfortunately, I had to spend most of the meeting in my hotel room icing my knee, so I missed a lot of the other papers.

After that, there were the Alaska Anthropological Association meetings in Anchorage, where I organized a session on Accelerating Environmental Change Threats to Alaskan Cultural Heritage:  Emerging Challenges and Promising Responses, which involved both papers and an open discussion.  I gave a paper in that session and one on Walakpa in a session on Alaskan coastal archaeology.

Next up was the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Washington DC.   I took over as chair of the Committee on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR).  I gave a paper, in the “Burning Libraries” session sponsored by CCSAR, and was also a discussant for a session on climate and cultural heritage.

Once I get the PowerPoints properly annotated I’ll put them up on-line.

A month ago, I also had retinal and cataract surgery, to resolve a retinal pucker that was blurring and warping the center of my visual field in my right eye.  The surgeon says my vision should improve over several months, but it already has improved considerably, since lines now look straight to my right eye!  I just had a one month followup visit and the doctor said I now have a foveal pit (which you are supposed to have, but which had been absent pre-surgery).  Anyway, I can see much better.

I’ve also been working on a whole bunch of articles, some coauthored with various colleagues and some that I am sole author on.  I’ve also been working on several proposals.  All that made for more than enough writing, which perhaps explains the silence here.

I’m going to be spending a good part of the summer in the community of Kaktovik monitoring the remediation of the old Air Force hangar, which contained some materials now known to be hazardous.  They are being removed as part of the demolition process, and even some of the soil around and under the hangar will be taken away.  That’s where I come in, since the hangar was built before most cultural resources protections were in place, and there is a chance that it was built on top of an old site.  Most likely there will be nothing archaeological there, but at least if there is we should be able to identify it and deal with it properly.

I had hoped to be able to get back out to Walakpa this summer, but that is not looking too promising.  The Kaktovik project falls right into the period when volunteers are available.  Plus the schedule is ever-changing as the remediation progresses.  It might not have worked anyway, since we had a VERY snowy winter, followed by a chilly spring.  As a result, the site is still covered in lots of snow.  People who have been down recently say nothing of our excavation can be seen due to deep snow, and they can’t tell if the site was damaged by the big fall storm that resulted in a disaster declaration for Utqiaġvik (Barrow).  At the rate things are going, if we were planning a field season, we might wind up stuck in the lab for half of it.


Cleaning things

Archaeology is, in some respects, a dirty business.  We excavate things out of the dirt, and, in the process, we can get pretty dirty ourselves.  If we are camping, showers and laundry are rare events.  Walakpa is pretty sandy, so …

This past week, the remaining crew have been working to get equipment cleaned & stored.  We dried several tents, dried and hung up jackets, dried and got the sand off a lot of equipment, and sorted the remaining food.  We were going to donate it to the common pool, but there were already 8 bottles of mustard in the refrigerator, so we’ll store that for next year.

I’ve been working on both project equipment and my personal gear. My dishwasher is full of coffeepots & plates, which will get stored for the winter.  I’ve washed the tent and blanket Garrett Knudsen was kind enough to leave, which was used by several other crew members, and will be mailing it on Monday, along with a few souvenirs that crew members didn’t manage to pack.  I’ve also washed a pile of assorted gloves.  I’ve still got a UICS sleeping bag to wash and dry, and some down jackets to drop off at the dry cleaner.

I have been washing field clothes since I got home.  I spent the weekend washing and drying two sleeping bags (one that I used, and a spare that one of the crew members used, cleaning and packing two Thermarests (ditto), and washing and renewing the waterproofing on my tent & fly.  I’ve still got to rewash the chairs I loaned the project.  The crew power washed the crushed mosquitos off them, but they wound up muddy, so I’ve got to wash them again.

Clean gear 🙂

Putting gear away until the next time I head for the field.

Getting ready for Walakpa, round 4

We are getting ready for another season at Walakpa, in which we hope to find out more about the house connected to the tunnel we found, and if it is connected to the two house visible in the erosion face, as well as the house that turned out to be beside the monument that got moved.  I’ve been scanning field notes, writing proposals, coordinating travel schedules, replacing camera lenses, rounding up tents, and trying to get a fund set up to accept donations.

We’ve got a volunteer crew lined up, including several folks from last year, including Ben Fitzhugh, Caelie Butler, Glenys Ong Echavarri and Becky DeAngelo.  We’re going to be joined for a short while by several other archaeologists and students from Barrow, elsewhere in Alaska, the Lower 48, France and possibly Poland.  There is also a small field school run through University of Alaska Fairbanks (which still has room for a couple more people–if you have tried to register & failed, contact me–there was apparently a computer glitch that was blocking people for a while), and some folks who are volunteering in other ways.  One of my co-workers can’t get away to go into the field, since summer is the busy season, but is scanning all of last year’s field notebooks.

Getting to the field may be a challenge.  The ocean is still ice-covered, and there is still snow and ice on the beach.  We just had a pouring rainstorm, with thunder & lightning, so the land trail is probably now really awful.

Getting a bit cross-eyed…

I’ve been working on dating the various samples from the WALRUS project.  Since walruses are marine mammals, direct C14 dating is problematic.  In fact, that is one of the things we are looking at with the project.  We ran a number of sample pairs of walrus  and terrestrial material and compared the offsets.  The bad news, there is not just one offset.

That meant that we couldn’t just use that to correct walrus dates.  So, we are reliant on construction of chronologies using the caribou dates we have run, as well as other available dates, to figure out how old the walrus samples are.  This is simple when we have a terrestrial sample from the same context.  When we don’t we need to see if we have dates from earlier and/or later levels (both is better) which gives us boundaries for the context we are trying to date.  To do that, we need to understand how the layers were arranged.  I’ve been using

For some sites, we have very little information beyond the mound or midden square from which the samples came, or the depth of the arbitrary level they were excavated from.  For others, we have more detailed stratigraphic information.  I’ve been developing schematic descriptions of stratigraphy for the sites from which we have samples , using the Harris Matrix as a means of representation.  Some of these are relatively easy to do and others are more complex.  For simplicity’s sake I have only been including sampled contexts in the Harris matrices, although someday I can add other excavated units.  The  one on the left below is from a site where we have little information on most mounds (we have samples from six), and those we do have info on were apparently dug in arbitrary levels, as far as can be told from the field notes.  The one on the right shows the two sampled  mounds from a site where I have extremely detailed provenience information.


These help me check that the dates we have are consistent with the stratigraphy, and are helpful in construction of more complex dating models in OxCal.   The process helps me think about how the models should be built, and also serves as a bit of a check, since having a crude model with some dates makes it easier to spot cases where a complex model may have been specified incorrectly (and therefore is giving incorrect results).

Vancouver for the SAA meetings

I’m in Vancouver for the Society for American Archaeology’s 82nd Annual Meeting.  I’ve got a schedule that is looking pretty insane.  I’m giving a paper (tomorrow morning at 8:15 in a session on When Disaster Strike, organized by Heather Thakar), co-chairing a session on Arctic and Subarctic Coasts that Chris Wolff & I put together (tomorrow night at 6PM) and being a discussant along with Alice Kelley in the Burning Libraries session that Tom McGovern organized on Friday afternoon.  I’ve also got a committee meeting (CCSAR) after that.  Yikes!

I’m also supposed to meet up with several different folks to discuss things we are writing or planning to write, and have a few papers in other sessions that I hope to get to listen to as well.  Not to mention, I’ve got friends here that I need to catch up with!


Alaska Anthropological Association–Day 1

I’m in Fairbanks on a combined trip to do some work on the WALRUS project and to give a couple of papers at the Alaska Anthropological Association’s 44th Annual Meeting.  I was supposed to come down on Sunday and got to a zooarchaeological workshop on teeth, but alas there was a blizzard in Utqiaġvik, and that didn’t happen.

Last night, there was the opening reception.  Jenny Blanchard had organized 2-minute talks, which went well.  I did 2 minutes on Walakpa 2016, with a plug for Walakpa 2017.  We didn’t get quite as many people as we’d hoped, since we were in a room at the end of the main entry hall, and people had to pass the bar with free beer to get there, so some folks got sidetracked.

The day started early with a paper on Arctic genetics by Jennifer Raff, Justin Tackney, Margarita Rzhetskaya, Geoff Hayes and Dennis O’Rourke, in a session on the Seward Peninsula.   All of them except for Margarita had worked on the Nuvuk people as part of a big project, also involving modern that was at least in part done at the request of Utqiaġvik Elders (although they didn’t have to twist Dennis & Geoff’s arms too hard).  That project contributed to this paper, and as results continue to come out, it is only getting more interesting.  Now that the North Slope is somewhat understood, the Seward Peninsula is the next gap.

The rest of the session focussed largely on the first field season of a project at Cape Espenberg spearheaded by Claire Alix and Owen Mason.  They are working on a couple of Birnirk houses, one of which was started by an earlier project there that I spent a couple of weeks on.  Very interesting material coming out, and very interesting geomorphological and paleoenvironmental work in progress.  Their dates for Birnirk seem to be running a bit later than what we are seeing at Walakpa, up into the range I would call Early Thule at Nuvuk.  Of course, we aren’t really talking about two different groups of people here, bur rather a change through time, but it is still interesting.  They aren’t nearly done with one of the houses, so it will be interesting to see if they get some earlier dates.

Spent the afternoon polishing my PowerPoints for tomorrow, and now I’m going to try to catch up on sleep.