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.

Walakpa Zooarchaeology

Last week I went to the Alaska Marine Science Symposium 2017 meetings in Anchorage.  I’ve never gone to those meetings before, but we were presenting two posters on finds from Walakpa.

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At the poster session.  Photo courtesy Raphaela Stimmelmayr.

One was on the results of the necropsy of a mummified seal found in a 1944 ice cellar.  I was excited about it because it was pre-bomb with a pretty tight date and therefore helpful for refining radiocarbon correction factors.  It turns out to be the first mummified seal reported from anywhere outside the Dry Valleys of Antarctica!  Who knew?

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The second was presenting some preliminary results of investigations on a polar bear skull which eroded from Walakpa, and was recovered and turned in by Kenneth Brower.  It turned out to be somewhat unusual in shape, as well as being really big (maybe the 4th largest ever measured).  That bear must have been HUGE!

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Talking with Teachers

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 :-).

Workshop at the World Conservation Congress

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.

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Rainbow on the walk back to the hotel after the workshop.
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Another rainbow from the balcony of the hotel room.

On the other hand, it was nice to get home to Alaska.  The sunsets are better.

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Archaeology at Disney World. Seriously.

I am writing this from Disney World, where I have gone to talk about archaeology, particularly global change threats to the archaeological and paleoecological records.  The Society for American Archaeology is having its 81st Annual Meeting here, so I am sitting on the 11th floor of a hotel with a view across a lot of fairly low lying land.  It might be high enough to survive several meters of sea level rise, but by 20m, the Orlando airport looks like it gets iffy.

I organized a session on, surprise, global change threats to the archaeological and paleoecological records.  It should be good, with people presenting on various aspects of the problem in various part of the world (mostly the North), and some possible solutions being tried as well.  The session is Saturday morning, and we’ve got Ben Fitzhugh from UW as discussant, as well as a 15 minute discussion slot.  I hope we get good attendance, because this is a critical issue for the future of the discipline (and maybe of people in general).  Of course, in their infinite wisdom, the schedulers put us directly opposite the session in honor of Lou Giddings, which deals with coastal Alaska.  I actually have to read a paper for someone because the primary author couldn’t travel and the second author is giving a paper in the Giddings session at the same time!  Meanwhile, I’d already gone to most of the papers I want to see today by 10:30 AM.

Last night I went to the President’s Forum, which was on Climate Change and Archaeology.  Dan Sandweiss had organized a nice set of speakers.  One of them was Paul Mayewski,who specializes in ice cores and their analysis. He talked about some new software they have, and then he described a new instrument they have which can sample cores in tiny increments, so they can actually see individual storms thousands of years ago in the right type of core!  I introduced myself afterwards, and asked if it might work on ice wedges, following up on a suggestion Vlad Romanovsky had made during ASSW.  He thought so, and offered to pay to ship a trial wedge sample to his lab so they could try it.  Now I just have to get a good sample.  Hopefully it works, but either way it will be interesting.

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I’ve got a meeting later today (and another on Saturday for those who can’t make today’s) for folks who want to help with 2016 Walakpa Archaeological Salvage (WASP 2016).  Today we meet at 5PM at registration, and anyone who is interested is free to come along.  Now I have to run off and find the meeting of the newest SAA committee, Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources (CCSAR).

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.

Reports, reports, reports

I’ve spent the last month writing almost non-stop.  However, none of it was posts on here.  We had done a number of CRM projects this summer, and the results had to be written up.  Five reports later, that is more or less done, pending a couple of possible new illustrations.

I’m working on a couple of projects for a client who is in the early stages of planning some big infrastructure projects.  Instead of waiting until the design and site selection is nearly complete and then considering cultural resources, which often leads to unfortunate surprises, unnecessary expenses and project delays (which are then blamed on archaeology instead of poor project planning), they are actually trying to get a handle on what cultural resources might be located in the possible Area of Potential Effect (APE) and what dealing with them appropriately might entail.  This  seems like a way better approach and should be a win-win.

This weekend, I’m working on a paper and a poster for the Arctic Observing Open Science Meeting in Seattle in 2 weeks.  I had hoped to give the paper in a proposed Coastal session, but apparently there weren’t that many coastal papers, so it looks like I’ll be in the Human Dimensions session.  Sort of ironic, given that I’m talking about the paleoenvironmental data that Arctic sites can contain, and how that data is at imminent risk of being destroyed by global change effects, and pretty much taking the human dimension information potential as a given.  That’s pretty much been the basic premise of archaeology since the days of CJ Thomsen & JJA Worsaae.  I’m spending a part of next week in Anchorage, so I want to get it more or less done before I go.

EAA 2015 and Glasgow

We went to Glasgow where the 2014 European Archaeology Association was held, by way of Anchorage and Reykjavik.  Because flights from Barrow are disrupted fairly frequently, we went down a bit early, and had a chance to visit with our daughter.  There was a pretty amazing double rainbow and a nice lenticular cloud.

The rainbow
The rainbow
Closer shot of the rainbow
Closer shot of the rainbow
Lenticular cloud over the Church Mts.
Lenticular cloud over the Church Mts.

We flew Icelandair to Reykjavik and then from there to Glasgow.  Glasgow was great.  The people who live there seem really proud of their city.  The cab driver on the way in from the airport was recommending museums, and in particular Christ of Saint John on the Cross by Dali at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Musuem.  Glasgow was once the second most prosperous  city in the UK, and the residents seem to have been very civic-minded.  The Kelvingrove was built to house the collections that were donated by prominent Glaswegians, using funds from an international exposition and public subscriptions.  It houses a fair bit of Charles Rennie Mackintosh material.  We got in a good visit our last day there.  Unfortunately, some of the other Mackintosh venues were under renovation.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Charles Rennie Mackintosh cabinet
Charles Rennie Mackintosh cabinet
Charles Rennie Mackintosh table & chairs.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh table & chairs from one of the famous tea room interiors.

The meetings were held in various venues at the University, including some very old lecture halls and more modern buildings.

University of Glasgow Main Building tower
University of Glasgow Main Building tower
Nuvuk Archaeology Project alum Dr. Tony Krus chairing a session in a centuries-old lecture hall
Nuvuk Archaeology Project alum Dr. Tony Krus chairing a session in a centuries-old lecture hall

We spent most of our time around the University.  There were a number of good restaurants & pubs, particularly along Ashton Lane.  We tried a bunch of them.  We never made it to this one,which was apparently an isolated inn before Glasgow got so big, near a pond where local curlers used to throw rocks.  This is apparently where they went afterwards back then, as curlers are wont to do :-).

Curlers' Rest
Curler’s Rest

Our session (Archaeology and Climate Change) was heavily advertised.  Tom Dawson, the organizer, had managed to get leaflets put up all around campus before the session, so it was very well attended.  As you can see, there were participants from all over.  I talked about the threats to frozen coastal sites from climate change, with an emphasis on the Barrow area.  I was able to incorporate images from the storm that had happened the week before.  There were some other pretty bad situations, but none that were worse.  On the other hand, some people are making strides in dealing with these issues with public help, which is good given the turn-around time for even successful funding applications.

Poster for our session on
Poster for our session on Archaeology and Climate Change.

The conference featured a very nice party, spread across two venues, both within a block of our hotel!  One was Òran Mór, a converted church which now houses performance space and a bar.  The upstairs had been rented for the party.  It had obviously been redone from its days as a church.  The other was the glass house at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, just across the way.

Òran Mór from the outside, with a blue halo on the tower.
Òran Mór from the outside, with a blue halo on the tower.
Interior space at Òran Mór
Interior space at Òran Mór, with a crowd of EAA delegates
Approaching the Glass House at the Glasgow Botanic Garden
Approaching the Glass House at the Glasgow Botanic Garden

The conference banquet was held in the main hall at the Kelvingrove.  It was sponsored by Glenmorangie (the distillery near Glasgow) so there were samples of a couple of their special products.  After the speeches and dinner, there was a fine band and dancing.

Dancing at Kelvingrove. BT Wygal and Katie Krazinski by pillar at center.
Dancing at Kelvingrove. BT Wygal and Katie Krazinski by pillar at center.

A quick recap

This summer was unexpectedly quite on the archaeology front.  The non-profit through which my grants were run had some problems, which meant that work had to stop and I had to move my grants.  This turned into a rather long drawn-out process, with many fits and starts.  In the end, I was appointed as a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College and the three grants on which I am PI (Principal Investigator) were moved.  We are still finalizing moving the purchase orders to allow for work to proceed on the WALRUS grant, but hope to get it done this coming week.

We had hoped to be doing some work at Walakpa, which had survived the winter unscathed, but despite the North Slope Borough asking for UIC Science’s Certificate of Insurance, which usually happens when a contract is about to be awarded (good thing, the insurance company charges to issue those things), nothing was issued.  Then came the first week in September.

I was in Point Hope monitoring the drilling of a geotechnical test hole for a possible fiber project.  It took an extra day to get there from Kotzebue, because the weather was so stormy that planes couldn’t land in Point Hope.  We didn’t find anything during the drilling, but the extra day gave me a chance to visit with Molly Odell and some other colleagues who had been working in Kotzebue and look at some of what they had recovered during their field season.  That was fun, but unfortunately the same storm really did some damage at Walakpa.

The site was undermined by high surf.  Mark Ahsoak Jr. kept me posted (Taikuu Mark) via Facebook message, and it was pretty depressing.   In the end, the house we were working on last year seem to have been entirely obliterated.  A big slump block broke off and is resting on the beach.

Slump block on the right, intact strata on the left. Notice the Visqueen on both sides.

I went down with a crew from UIC Science Logistics to evaluate it.  We found that there had been a lot more Visqueen under the surface than we had thought.   The stratigraphy is very complex, with a very large feature containing solidified marine mammal oil, some artifacts and what appears to be maqtaq at the landward edge of the slump block.

Marine mammal oil feature.
Marine mammal oil feature.

Unfortunately, the marine mammal oil feature is starting to break loose from the  main slump block and tip back into the crack between the block and the intact site.  We put driftwood props under it, and then stopped all work under the overhang, since it could easily kill someone.

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Side view of overhanging block of marine mammal oil. Note crack on the left.

We didn’t find any loose artifacts, although there were a number of visible artifacts that were frozen in.   Some folks had been collecting them and turning them in, which is great.  I’d really like to thank everyone who has been helping in this way.  Unfortunately, some other people have just been collecting them.  Several of the artifacts that we saw the first day were gone by the time we returned.

After we headed home, the next day was spent in getting a crew and material to do some stabilization.  Several of the Barrow-based UIC subsidiaries pitched in with materials, crew and transport, and we went back to put some temporary protection on the site.  We were able to cover almost all the eroding surfaces with  geotextile fabric , secured with some cutdown metal support fasteners and sandbags.

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Panorama of the site after the initial covering.

We made another trip down with the theodolite to map the new boundaries of the site.  This let us document the loss of over 33 feet (11+ m) in that storm alone.  We also put a lot more sandbags on the site, and so far it has resisted the weather.

Thinking about logistics & links

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.

I did eat cake

Quite a bit of it, in fact.  Also for breakfast.  I was planning on spending the weekend reading a pile of articles, but life intervened. Since I’m going to be traveling so much, there were a bunch of things I just had to get taken care of before Tuesday morning. And I did need a little down time.

For one thing, I had a thawed goose I had to deal with.  The meat  became a very nice stew with apples & gooseberries ( and a bit of apple brandy) and the carcase made some nice goose stock.  The bones are now reposing in the qanitchaq (arctic entryway) to become a lab exercise.

Then we had to put the slipcover back on the sofa.  What a job!  But it does look a lot nicer after being washed.  Got caught up with the laundry, figured out what I need to pack for the next trip, started some no-knead bread, watered the flowers (the big ones need it several times a day) and then got started on the reading.

This morning I was contacted by folks from Ilisaġvik who were trying to finalize the catalog for spring.  Assuming there are enough students (courses taught by adjuncts don’t go unless there are at least 5), I’ll be doing a Fundamentals of Archaeology and a Lab Methods course.  The idea is to do them as distance-delivered, with a lab that is in-person for the lab course.  People in Barrow can take the lab during the semester, and it can also be offered as a summer camp for those who are outside of Barrow.  Today it became clear the lab needed to be a separate course to fit into the catalog format, so I had to hurry up and do a course description for  the lab and a new one for the course leaving out the lab components.  Then the bread had to be baked & now back to reading articles.

A trip to the Point

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.

Barges in Elson Lagoon, seen from the trail by the marked graves.

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.

Exposed thawing Ipiutak level at Nuvuk.

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.

Sampled peat in Ipiutak layer. My finger for scale.

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.

Edge of eroding Ipiutak layer showing some of the aligned wood. The white is the foam on the wave that is going under this layer into the bluff.

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.

Getting close to 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.

Trail covered by 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.

Crew and van near Farthest North Point
Dan Carpenter gets ready to shoot at the Farthest North Point.

KTUU crew at Farthest North Point.

Unfortunately, the trip to the bone pile did not come off.  The storm surge had caused it to nearly become an island.  Ricky was not sure how solid the ground was, and we did not want to get stuck there, so we gave it a miss.  On the way back to the road, it was really clear how much of the Chukchi side of the Point Barrow spit had been eaten.  The ocean was almost up to the berm along the road, and there used to be a fairly wide strip of gravel there.

Bone Pile surrounded by water.