Six days ago I opened my computer to be greeted by news of Dennis Stanford’s passing. Dennis was a giant in North American archaeology. Before he went to the Smithsonian and became famous, he was a graduate student. His dissertation was based on his excavations at none other than Walakpa, covered in one of his books.
I can’t remember when I first met Dennis, but it was in the late 1970s or early 1980s. I remember hearing about the elephant butchery experiment from folks who had been lucky enough to play a small part. As someone who was involved in Arctic archaeology, I was aware of his work at Walakpa, but never really thought about working there. When I first started working in North Alaska, I bought a copy of the Walakpa monograph, which turned out have once belonged to Chief Justice Warren Burger, of all people. It was for reference when I was writing about other sites.
Then in 2013 the Walakpa site started eroding. We started salvage work there. Based on the Walakpa volume, I was able to tie our site grid into the grid Dennis had established in the 1960s. I contacted Dennis, and he was kind enough to share copies of the field notes (still sorted by which chapter of his dissertation they related to), and was always willing to answer any questions I had that weren’t covered in the notes. We planned on getting him to come to Walakpa when we had an excavation open, but we didn’t manage that before his health problems started. We talked about it the last time I saw him in person. I’m sorry that will never happen now. I think he would have enjoyed it.
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 got into town late last Thursday. The field season went pretty well, after a slow start due to ice preventing us from getting out. We lost a few days to major storms, but we had a great crew and accomplished a lot.
Breaking camp was a bit of a challenge, since we were down to seven people in the field. The big boat was scheduled to arrive at 9AM, so we broke everything down the day before except for the mess tent and the latrine, plus our sleeping tents. Then we got up at 6 AM and took down all the sleeping tents, and started ferrying gear to the beach with the ATV & trailer.
It turned out the boat ramp wasn’t in the water back in town, so the boat didn’t make it until nearly 1PM, after having to launch into Elson Lagoon and go around Point Barrow. It was a cold morning, and once we had stuff packed, it was hard to stay warm, especially since we’d dressed for hard work and packed up everything else. At one point, several of the crew were napping in a ditch.
The boat had to make two trips, so we sent 3 people up with the first load, and then 3 more with the second. I drove the ATV & Tubby back to town, so I was the last one in. I left before the boat, but Doctor Island is pretty fast, and I was riding into a north wind and kept meeting people and stopping to chat, so they beat me home.
Our first day back was the last day of the UIC Science Fair, and the archaeology lab was featured tour. Also I had a presentation scheduled. Everyone was really tired, but we managed to pull things together for a good tour, and in fact had visitors well past the scheduled end of tours. The presentation was well attended.
As I write this, another early storm with winds from the West is brewing, with predictions of coastal erosion.
Almost the entire crew has made it out to the site. Some of them went down in the morning and set up a lot of things. Half of them came back and took some more people and gear down, and should be heading back soon.
Meanwhile back in town Katrina Watson got the electronics packed up and into the yellow shed, while I got both lab computers back on the network, connected them to the project dropbox and put all the necessary files on them. I reviewed the workflow with Katrina, who will be cycling in and of town, since she’s from here and her family and kids are here for the summer. That means she can provide a bit of continuity for the lab.
I’m going down in the morning. Since the wind is supposed to stay east for a few days, we hope a boat can go down on Monday and bring most of the rest of the heavy stuff (chairs, wood for tables) and more delicate things (cameras, computers, transit) down.
The crew asked for some board games. I posted on Facebook to see if anyone in town had any they weren’t using anymore, and in about 2 minutes, Doe Doe Edwardsen said she had 5 we could use. She even had them delivered! Quyanaqpak Edwardsen family!
One of our international volunteers is coming a bit later. She is currently working somewhere without internet, so she’s been communicating as she can. When I got her itinerary, it became clear she’s going to have to overnight in Anchorage both ways. Back to Facebook, and within a few minutes archaeologist friends Monty Rogers and Katie Meyers had offered to put her up.
Most of the archaeology crew are volunteers, and others are putting in a lot of volunteer time on top of what is paid. Not everyone can take time and go into the field. But we can’t do it without help, and the people like Doe Doe and Monte chipping in make this salvage possible. The true Alaska spirit. We appreciate every bit of help.
We have been getting gear ready for days. The next challenge is to get it (and ourselves) to the field. The weather and equipment have not been cooperating. The shore fast ice is just really melting this week, so we hadn’t been able to take anything down before. Then the wind changed to the west, leading to one helicopter-assisted rescue in front of my house and ice against the shore. We staged gear in the “yellow shed” (a small warehouse shared by archaeology and the ARM program) and we waited. Yesterday, the wind went east for a bit and pushed the ice off the beach, so we rushed to load the UIC Science boat Crescent Island and sent heavy, durable & waterproof things down to the site. Four of the crew went along and they and the two UICS logistics staff who were running the boat put the stuff in a secure spot and headed home just as the wind changed back. They made it before the ice came back in.
Today, the wind wasn’t as strong as predicted, so Kaare and a bunch of the crew were going to head down with a little more gear, set up tents, and Ben Fitzhugh, Garrett Knudsen, Zac Peterson & Katie Daniels were going to stay and start stripping sod. We packed up after lunch, but various ATVs decided to not behave (one only wanted to run well in reverse) so it took a while.
By the time they got to Nunavak it was pretty late, and the stream was still really deep to cross, but it was draining, so they came home and will try again tomorrow. We may try to do two trips to get more folks down, but there will be one more boat trip Sunday or Monday, so some folks will go down that way.
Meanwhile, I had discovered that the newly-returned batteries for the transit were really not in as good shape as the tests at the surveying equipment shop indicated. I spent some time chasing down replacement batteries. In the end, GPS Alaska had a charger for the new batteries in stock, could order me new batteries, and had two that they use which they are renting to us at a very low price until our come in and get shipped to us. My boss is in Anchorage and going to fly his plane up, so he was able to pick them up and bring them along. All the other stuff is in decent shape, so we should be able to work and record what we are doing.
The first of the crew members have arrived. The field school starts tomorrow morning. We’re spending the first week in town so we can go over some things inside where it is warm not windy, and the students can experience Nalukataq and the 4th of July games. As it turns out, one of them is from Barrow, so it’s not a new experience, but she’ll get to hang out with her family and do field school, so that’s a good thing.
The other part of this is that I think it is important for students to understand what goes into the logistics of a project, so they will get to help with and learn about that aspect of archaeology. Better than trying to learn on the fly when they are in charge, like some of my friends have had to do!
I spent the day getting the field forms updated and finalized, so we can start printing them on waterproof paper tomorrow. Now to update the lab forms and get the workflow established so we can hand off between crew members as they come and go. Several of them are returners, so they know the routine, but it is always a good thing to have documented.
I added the bit about not writing on the back of the form after having to flip dozens of forms over to scan both sides. Not a good use of time.
It’s been a busy week getting ready for the field, while still keeping up with the usual flow of work. Kaare Erickson was up, and went through the field gear. We went over our lists and are in pretty good shape, although we are going to replace the pump for the water screen since the one we have was anything but trouble free. Kaare went back to Anchorage with a decent shopping list for food & camp supplies, which he’ll bring/send up next week.
The logistics guys started making sure the tents are all located & in good order. One of them might try and head down toward Walakpa over the weekend to see how the travel is. Several days ago someone who travels down that way a lot made it all the way down on an ATV, but the trail wasn’t good and the beach wasn’t clear the whole way. Plus the streams were hight since there was a west wind. It changed this afternoon, and the ice has started really breaking out down at Wainwright and maybe in front of town here too, so maybe the beach or even the ocean will be viable soon. If not, we have requested assistance with transport from NSB Search and Rescue. I know they get a lot of requests, and of course emergencies take priority, but maybe they’ll be able to help us out. Fingers crossed we can get down there somehow without a lot of trouble.
I’ve ordered all my personal supplies and am just hoping they get here before we head to the field. They are on the way, but the post office is woefully understaffed and seems to be taking days to get non-first class mail and package slips into the boxes. Not their fault; they work hard, but there aren’t enough workers to get things done in a timely fashion.
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.
The trip to the conferences went well. I really didn’t have much time at SAAs to even see friends, if they weren’t in one of the sessions I was involved in. Then it was off to Prague for a session at Arctic Science Summit Week. It was a great session, although we were put into a tiny room, which the participants in the session nearly filled, so a lot of non-archaeologists wound up peeking in and moving on. Peter Jordan who got me involved in the session, and Sean Desjardins, are guest editors for a special issue of Quaternary International which will publish papers from this and a previous session. I seem to have promised them two!
I didn’t have very long in Prague, but did get a chance to catch up with Vica Lozinschi, a former BASC intern who helped with some salvage at Nuvuk. She is married and living in Prague now. We only had a morning, but she took me to see some of the sights (some literally “see” from afar since I had a lunch meeting afterwards!).
Once I got back from Prague I have been writing proposal language, and papers almost non-stop. For some reason, most of the handbook/encyclopedia type volumes I have contributions in are doing new editions this year, which means the articles have to be revised and updated. Several other articles have reached the proofs stage and need to be gone through.
Then there is a dissertation committee I am on. That meant I spent last weekend reading the dissertation, and am now trying to find a time when the entire committee can meet (several of us on Skype) to discuss. I am also working on final radiocarbon calibration and modeling for the WALRUS project, with a deadline due to one of the students having a presentation at the end of the month in which he wants to use my results. There were a few problems with the master database, now resolved. I’ve got all the dates calibrated, haveHarris Matrices built for all but two of the sites, and am using them to check my radiocarbon modeling against. I’ve spent all day today and will spend part of tomorrow on a site with a big wiggle in the calibration curve that pretty much seems to fall right at the period of occupation, so that’s annoying.
I’m also trying to pull the Walakpa salvage project together. This is a site with a deep history that was used up until very recently, and is still visited regularly by folks from Utqiaġvik. It would be a real shame if the structures we found last year just eroded, and at the rate things are going, normal funding channels simply are not fast enough.
This has all kept me pretty busy, and last week I had dental surgery. I was supposed to get an implanted post that a crown would go on after it healed, but apparently my bone hadn’t grown into the socket in a way to suit the dentist. So he routed a bunch of it out (hate that crunching sound in your head) and did a bone graft, so now I have to wait four months and maybe then get the implant. Sigh.
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 :-).
We made it back into town just over two weeks ago. The field season went well, despite a few challenges from sea ice, snow drifts on the beach and general cold weather. There was a huge amount of catching up to do (nearly 4000 emails), three projects which needed various forms filed, an MOA which had to be done for this project, some radiocarbon calibrations to write up for another project, lots of equipment which needed to be cleaned, dried, put away or returned, and many artifacts and samples which needed processing. Although I had lots of help, I’ve been working 16 hour days since before we went into the field, and something had to give.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have good connectivity in the field, so the only updates I could send were from my deLorme InReach. At 160 characters per message, it really isn’t up to blog posts. That means I’m sort of going to have to do some catch-up posts. I head to Deering for a monitoring project on Saturday, and it’s not clear how good the connectivity will be there either, so there may be another gap.
We’re in need of a bit of scrap lumber (1x2s and 2x4s), to complete construction of a water screening device. Alas, Barrow no longer has a lumberyard, so it is a real problem when it turns out you need a bit more lumber. If anyone has some excess lumber they would be willing to contribute to the Walakpa salvage effort, please let me know.