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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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?
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!
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 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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 meetings were held in various venues at the University, including some very old lecture halls and more modern buildings.
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 :-).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.