August 15th at Walakpa–78 years ago and today

Seventy-eight years ago, it was a foggy day at Walakpa.  The Okpeaha family was camping there.  A floatplane descended out of the fog, and two men asked how to get to Barrow, since they had lost their bearings in the fog.  Getting directions, the got back in the plane and took off.  The engine failed, and the nose-heavy aircraft crashed into the lagoon and flipped.  Unable to reach the plane to help the men, Clare Okpeaha ran all the way to Brower’s Trading Post in Barrow, over 12 miles of very rough going, to get help.  When boats got back to Walakpa & they got to the plane, it became clear the men had been killed instantly.  They were Will Rogers, a noted humorist and political commentator, who was traveling around Alaska to get stories for the newspapers, and Wiley Post, probably the most famous American aviator of the time after Charles Lindbergh.

The crash was national news at the time, and a few years later a monument was erected near the site, followed some time later by another one.  These are the monuments that show up in some of the pictures of the site.  For some reason, these are on the National Register of Historic Places, but the archaeological site isn’t.

The first monument , looking out over the lagoon where the crash occurred.
The first monument , looking out over the lagoon where the crash occurred.

Today was a much better day at Walakpa.  We headed down with 7 volunteers, including David Pettibone, Michael Berger, dental extern Temurkin Cucukov, and the entire Von Duyke family, plus Marybeth Timm from the Inupiat Heritage Center.  The stream was running high and fast at Nunavak, but we got across, although not before I got my boot wet.  With that many people, it seemed worth getting the water screening going, so we did, using a small pump to take water out of the lagoon.  Alan & Scott Kerner happened by on an ATV ride and pitched in for a while as well.

Wet screeners in action by the lagoon.
Wet screeners in action by the lagoon.

The rest of us continued with taking down the rather disturbed level under the sod.  It would be a lot easier if we could just shovel it out, but the bluff doesn’t seem that stable & we’re afraid we’ll knock the whole thing down if we shovel, especially since there are still a lot of roots holding things together at this level.

Excavating the disturbed layer. Note the Visqueen.
Excavating the disturbed layer. Note the Visqueen.

A while after we got there, a boat pulled in, and Jeff Rasic from the National Park Service (in town for a meeting at the Inupiat Heritage Center) Patuk Glenn (IHC) and Kunneak Nageak (IHLC) appeared.  They got a good tour, and spent a bit of time wandering around.  Jeff found a big sod with a lot of artifacts in it, including several very nice potsherds, one with residue, which we collected.

Excavation at Walakpa.
Excavation at Walakpa.  L. to R.  Marybeth Timm, Temerkin Cucukov, Michael Berger, Jeff Rasic, David Pettibone & Trina Brower.

The ride home was even more exciting.  Nunavak wasn’t too bad, but they were unloading a barge on the beach, so we took the old Nunavak “road” back to town.  It has pretty much disappeared back into the tundra on the middle section the last few years, and it was a very muddy ride!

On the way to Aukureyri

I’m heading to Akureyri, Iceland, to take part in a workshop and a NABO Open Meeting.  It’s a fairly long trip from Barrow to anywhere, but Icelandair is now flying direct Anchorage-Reykjavik, so that’s a help.  Not surprisingly, seats on the July 4th departure were very, very cheap, so it was more cost effective to fly me to Iceland then, and put me up in Reykjavik for a couple of days before I head to Akureyri.

When I left Barrow, the ice had come back in.  I got a good shot of the only operational heavy icebreaker in the US fleet, USCG Polar Star lying off Barrow.  You can see masts belonging to much smaller vessels off her bow.  They are a French group who are trying to take a catamaran to the North Pole (it apparently can move over ice as well as water, or they hope so).  They beat  Polar Star to Barrow by a couple days.

USCG Polar Star off Barrow in the ice.
USCG Polar Star off Barrow in the ice.

The flight from Anchorage leaves at 3:15 PM AKDT, and gets in at 6AM local (GMT) which is before bedtime in Alaska, so I didn’t get much sleep.  I was wiped, so I took a nap, planning to get up and go wandering about Reykjavik.  Alas, the weather didn’t cooperate.  When I got up, it was raining & blowing 25+.

View out the livingroom window of the B&B
View out the living room window of the B&B

So I confined my walking to a trip to the grocery store and bakery.  Lots of nice local vegetables for good prices–geothermal greenhouses can do wonders.

This morning the weather had improved, so I headed out to see some sights.  I had intended to check out a Danish restaurant, but wound up doing something else entirely.  I found a food truck selling grass-fed beef hamburgers, which smelled wonderful.  So that’s what I had.  Then I wound up heading down to the harbor.

Reykjavik harbor
Reykjavik harbor

The green buildings on the left are former (mostly) fishmongers’ stalls that have been converted to shops & restaurants.  I wound up getting a bracelet made of wolfish leather.  There are still the old ladders, presumably for self-rescue by unfortunate fishermen who fell in on the way back to the ship.

Ladder in the old harbor
Ladder in the old harbor
Trawler in Reykjavik harbor.
Trawler in Reykjavik harbor.

There were the expected Icelandic coast guard ships.  There were also a Danish naval ship and a German Fisheries Protection ship tied up.

Icelandic Coast Guard ships.
Icelandic Coast Guard ships.
Danish ship.
Danish naval fisheries inspection ship, probably HDMS Triton.
German Fisheries Protection ship.
German Fisheries Protection ship.

And there were several large fishing vessels out of the water.

Fishing vessel in the yard.
Fishing vessel in the yard, being scraped & painted.


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A trip to the nation’s capitol

Last week I went to Washington, DC.  I went for the 18th Inuit Studies Conference.  The Inuit Studies Conference happens somewhere every two years, and this year it was hosted by the Smithsonian.  I was a co-author on a paper on aDNA from the North Slope (I provided the archaeological background), and I wanted to hear it, as well as a couple of other Arctic genetics papers.  I also wanted to get together with several folks I collaborate with who were going to be there.  Sometimes face-to-face is better than Skype between Europe & Alaska.

Because of the Smithsonian hosting, it was a bit of an odd conference.  There was no main conference hotel.  Events & sessions took place at three different venues distributed around the mall, which in many cases made it logistically impossible to catch a paper in one session and hop over to another session.  The program didn’t have times set for papers, so it was tough to know when folks were talking even if the sessions were next door to one another.  And of course there was the usual problem of all the papers on a topic being scheduled in sessions which were opposite each other!  Despite the challenges, there was a very interesting Paleoeskimo session, which I was able to go to 2/3rds of.  I had to miss the end to go over the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to hear the paper on Nuvuk (given by Justin Tackney) and one on the North Slope modern genetics given by Jenny Raff.  They were in a session with papers on 1) Unangan myth and magic, 2) theriomorphic imagery in the Liangzhu culture of China and Old Bering Sea, and 3) the Sealstone (a large petroglyph which was probably from Shemya in the Aleutian Islands, although it had been removed to a garden in California and the folks who were trying to return it to its home weren’t quite sure.  It was a bit incoherent.

All this happened opposite what looked like a very interesting session on ethnology and one on education with a number of my friends from the North Slope in it.  The next day I went to a session to hear a couple of archaeology papers, which were in a session with a paper on Greenlandic theater and a paper about a novel about Greenland.

I arrived to find my registration had gotten scrambled, so that there was no banquet ticket (and they were sold out).  A 1-day registration was $100, and the full conference was $325.  Even though I was only able to stay for 2 days, I had to pay the full conference fee!  It didn’t seem quite right, but there was supposed to be a free book included.  Unfortunately, they were out of all the books that I didn’t already own, and even though they kept saying more copies would come, they never did…  Hauling an extra copy of a book back to Alaska in my carry-on didn’t seem that attractive.

While I was there, it became clear that Sandy was going to play havoc with my planned return to Alaska (by way of my Mom’s in upstate NY).  That in turn would mess up plans for a trip to Valdez for an Arctic Visiting Scholars speaking tour and Seattle for a workshop.  I had to spend some time on the phone moving the travel up a day, and changing the routing out of Albany to head Alaska by going west to Minneapolis instead of south to Atlanta.

One of the pluses of the various venues was getting to see a special exhibition at NMAI of the sculpture of Abraham Anghik Reuben.  His work was using aspects of the lives of the ancient Norse and the Thule whalers.  There is a Flickr photo stream with professional pictures here, but I took some too.  My favorite of all was Silent Drum: Death of the Shaman.

This piece is so powerful.
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The artist captured the way it would look in amazing fashion, given that he is working in stone, not with soft material.
This blind shaman’s eyes are astounding. You can see the cataracts (at least in person).
Odin, his ravens, & other Norse being.

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.

2000+ miles of outreach–part 1

I’ve been busily writing away at a couple of overdue papers, and the students have been going great guns processing and cataloging artifacts in the lab.  While all this work is important, it doesn’t make for the most exciting blog posts, so I’ve been focusing on the papers.

Last week I wound up doing a couple of outreach events.  The first was a public talk at the Murie Science and Learning Center at Denali National Park.  Since I don’t live anywhere near Denali NP, this was no small undertaking.  I flew to Anchorage, rented a car  and went to the Apple store to pick up some video adapters for my Mac Air on Sunday, picked up my daughter Justine on Monday morning, and we made some sandwiches and set out.  It is a 240 mile (more or less) north out of Anchorage, up the Parks Highway to the Park and the MSLC.  I was speaking at 7 PM, but wanted to get there a bit early to make sure I found the place and my computer worked with their projector & so forth.

We had a pretty nice drive.  The weather was sunny, but since I was driving north that was no problem.  The drive is beautiful, although there were clouds around Denali (the mountain some call Mt. McKinley) so it wasn’t out.We stopped at a couple of viewing areas, but no luck.  There are actually mountains between Denali and the Parks Highway, but Denali is so big it would have been visible anyway except for the clouds.

Alaska Range from Parks Highway

We made good time to Denali.  It is very beautiful country, to my way of thinking, and gets prettier as you climb away from sea level and taiga forests with tundra on the mountains.  It took a bit of doing to find the MSLC, but we succeeded.

Pathway to Murie Science and Learning Center. The white dinosaur footprints lead to the MSLC from the Denali NP Visitors’ Center.

Closer view of MSLC.
Justine indicating where we are for the photographic record of the trip.
Main room of the MSLC, with a couple of park visitors and an interpreter.

We got in touch with NJ Gates, who runs the speakers’ program and she got us settled.  I made sure my computer worked with their projector.  Although this was not a paying gig, they were kind enough to put us up in a yurt that they have for visiting researchers.  Since there weren’t many around, we each got our own room.  I had brought down sleeping bags & a Thermarest (since we thought one of us would be sleeping on the floor) from Barrow.  The Park has wagons, and we used one to pull our gear to the yurt.  I somehow didn’t manage to get a picture of the outside or the bear-proof box into which all food and toiletries went.  The interior was divided into 3 rooms, 2 of which shared an entryway.  We got those two.

Bed in yurt, strewn with gear.
Interior view of yurt & skylight.

After we got settled, we went to the grill at the visitors’ center for a quick dinner, and headed back to give the talk.  We got a decent crowd for a Monday night, I thought.  It went well, except for the earthquake in the middle of it.  It was big enough to really shake the screen, and given that the MSLC is a heavy timber-frame building, I waited a few seconds to see if it would get bigger.  It didn’t, so on we went.  Some folks had a lot of questions, but we were all done, and in bed in the yurt by about 9:30.

This was important, because Justine had a doctor’s appointment in Anchorage at 11AM the next day.  We got up at 4:15, grabbed a couple of sandwiches & a drink and were on the road a little after 5AM.  The weather wants quite as nice, but it didn’t rain until we were nearly to Wasilla (yeah, that Wasilla), but stopped quickly a little later.  Still no sight of Denali, but the drive was beautiful.

Mountains along the Parks Highway.

We made it to the doctor’s office around 10AM, I dropped Justine off, met my husband for lunch (he was in Anchorage on his way back from Ketchikan to Barrow), and caught a plane back to Barrow on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, we got ready for a visit by kids from the City of Barrow summer program.  More about that in the next post.