Call for Contributions—Alaska Journal of Anthropology Recent Research Notes 2014

It’s that time again.  I edit a column in the Alaska Journal of Anthropology which covers recent research.  I’ve sent copies of the call for contributions to several email lists, but it’s a very busy time of year and they seem to be a bit backlogged, so I thought I’d put it up here as well.

If you did something interesting this summer, please let your colleagues know.  You don’t have to have results yet.  If there are reasons that you can’t be very specific about where you were working, that’s fine.  It will still be helpful to others to know that work was done in an area if they are thinking of doing something there at a future date.  If nothing else, they will know who to contact for logistics advice :-)

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.

Made it to Austin

This is the first long trip since I came home from back surgery.  It involved connections in Anchorage and Seattle.  I was lucky enough to score upgrades from Anchorages all the way to Austin, but I still arrived in less than ideal shape, although the trouble seemed to be my hip, not my back.  I went to sleep with an ice pack, and everything seems fine except my right big toe, which really hurts.  With my luck, it’s probably gout…

Anyway, the GHEA RCN steering committee, of which I am part, is having a meeting about a mile from the Hilton.  I suspect it may take me a bit longer than Google maps thinks to walk it, so I am heading out now.  My paper is tomorrow afternoon, so we’ll see how that goes.

NB: Barrow is a very expensive place

NB: Barrow is a very expensive place to find lodging and buy food. We currently do not have project funds to help with this, nor support for travel to Barrow. This summer’s work is probably best suited for people who will be in Barrow anyway, or who can get some support for this from another source.

Help wanted!

Crew members wanted

Nuvuk Archaeology Project

Walakpa Archaeological Salvage Project

WALRUS – Walrus Adaptability and Long-term Responses; Using multi-proxy data to project Sustainability

——————-

We are seeking students (high school or college) to work in the archaeological laboratory on artifacts as part of several NSF-funded research projects. The lab crew will be working on processing artifacts excavated at Nuvuk, Walakpa and other North Slope sites.

This will involve cleaning (gently), sorting, marking, cataloging and preparing some items for transfer to a long-term repository. We will also be going through and sorting some frozen organic samples from an earlier project in Barrow that have been sent back from New York State.

We also will be attempting to find walrus bones in these collections for analysis at UAF. There is a possibility for student travel in connection with that project.

You do not need any prior experience; we can train you. Many archaeology crew members start as high school students. Once you learn how to do the work, scheduling can be very flexible. If you have skills in drawing, photography, or data entry, we can really use your help as well! Starting wages will depend on experience and qualifications.

To apply, send a resume and cover letter to Anne Jensen, anne.jensen@uicscience.org as soon as possible.  You can use the contact form below for questions.

Ramping up in the lab

I have gotten far enough along in getting over the back surgery that I finally have enough energy to do things that are not strictly essential for work or staying fed.  So we are ramping things up in the lab.

We are looking for a few more people to work in the lab here in Barrow, joining the current crew on weekdays or weekends.  Due to the source of funding, these folks will need to be high school or college students.  We are also looking for volunteers.  I will post the announcements on here a static page and also as posts.

We aren’t sure yet if we will have funds available to do fieldwork this summer, but we are hopeful.  If we do get into the field this summer, people who have lab experience will have priority for fieldwork jobs.

If you are interested, please contact me ASAP.  Please pass this on to anyone you know who might be interested.

 

 

On the road to recovery

The surgery went well, and I now have 3 fused vertebrae in my lower back.  I had actually broken 2 of the 4 screws and bent one of the two plates that were in there, so no wonder things weren’t right.

My old hardware.

My old hardware.

There were a few cardiac complications that resulted in me a) passing out a lot, and b) being moved to a general hospital from the orthopedic one so that a variety of specialists could figure it out–final guess, side effects of anesthesia & painkillers.  It stopped & I got released before Christmas, which we spent in the Residence Inn.  One of the housekeepers at the hospital had brought me a tiny tree with lights, and told me to take it home, so we had that.

They wanted me to walk as much as possible.  My leg pain vanished right away, but my back hurt from the surgery, so it was a challenge at first.  I was using a walker, so it pretty much meant flat and paved.  I walked up and down the hall in the hotel for a few days, but that was boring, so we ventured to something called the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, which is a municipal park/nature preserve with a bunch of ponds, some paved trails around one of them, and many birds.  I never got past the pond closest to the parking lot (taking the walker onto unpaved trails was not  really working and they could use a few more benches ) but I worked up to being able to circle the entire pond before we left.

Paved trail at the Water Ranch.

Paved trail at the Water Ranch.

Evening visit to the Water Ranch.

Evening visit to the Water Ranch.

Turtle on a log at the Water Ranch.

Turtle on a log at the Water Ranch.

Ducks at the Water Ranch

Ducks at the Water Ranch

Cactus

Cactus

We returned to Alaska at the beginning of the year, after the doctor gave me the OK to travel.  I spent a couple of weeks just recuperating, and then began doing a bit of work from home.  I’ve been going in to the office (thanks to Sean Gunnells & the others from UMIAQ Science Logistics for shoveling the handicap ramp so I could get into the building) and am pretty well back to full-time.

In the meantime, I’ve submitted two major proposals (one archaeology and one not), several smaller ones for non-archaeology science support work, reviewed a chapter, gotten the AJA Recent Research Notes column out, checked the galleys of an article Glenn & I wrote, got grabbed by UMIAQ’s marketing person to do an interview with a TV crew who were up here trying to see the first sunrise of the year (of course it was cloudy), and even managed to get some lab work done.

Tuesday I am off to Fairbanks for the Alaska Anthropological Association meetings, where I am doing a 2-minute talk and a paper.  It’ll be the first time I’ve driven much more than the 5 minutes back and forth to the office since surgery, and the first time I’ve traveled by myself.  Hopefully all goes well.  Looks like there are some interesting papers and I should see some old friends.

Off to Mesa for a bit

I haven’t been posting much on here recently. A bunch of things have been going on, and I will try to catch up, but the thing is that my spine , which I had fused in 1996, has been giving me trouble. I broke one of the screws (how I have no idea) and it is moving around poking nerves, plus there seem to be problems one more vertebra up. It has been fairly wearing and something had to give (like this blog & hobbies).

The upshot is that I need to get it re-fused. So I am off to Mesa, AZ to get that done. Glenn is able come along, so at least I won’t have to spend Christmas all alone. Now if only Alaska Airlines doesn’t wind up delaying things so long I miss my connections…

A radio interview

Yesterday was supposed to be a big day for interviews.  One of the Alaska TV stations has someone coming to Barrow who wanted an interview, and Joe Schuldenrein was scheduled to prerecord an interview with me for his internet radio show on archaeology, Indiana Jones:  Myth, Reality and 21st Century Archaeology.  Unfortunately for them, the TV folks went on a tour of the entire state, except Barrow, courtesy of Alaska Airlines and didn’t get in until after 7 PM.  We may reschedule.

The radio interview did happen, and will be broadcast today, 1 PM EDT, 4PM AKDT.  I believe you should be able to access the archived version here after the broadcast.  If you want to listen live, I think you can log in here and do so, but I don’t know the details, since I have only tried the saved version of the show.

Now for some time in the lab, and maybe another interview…

 

 

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Indiana Jones: Myth, Reality and 21st Century Archaeology

Extreme Archaeology: Doing Archaeology above the Arctic Circle

October 30, 2013

Imagine that you are an archaeologist carrying your equipment to site only to meet a polar bear along the way! Once you’ve arrived at site, weather conditions may mean the ground is too frozen to dig or you have a chance of getting hypothermia if you try waterscreening. While Indiana Jones is well known for his travels to far off places and harrowing recovery of artifacts, what are the dangers of archaeology in less desirable destinations? Our guest, Dr. Anne Jensen, has over 30 years experience working in Barrow, Alaska, the ninth northernmost city in the world! Although remote, the climate of Alaska’s north coast allows for the recovery of some remarkable items including ivory harpoons, plank floors, and even seal oil. Join our guest, Dr. Anne Jensen, and us as we discuss her archaeological work in this far-flung part of the world and how her findings challenge the idea that such environments are inhospitable for human occupation. Learn More »

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The smell of old seal oil in the afternoon…

… can be a bit overpowering.  I chose one of the bags of frozen samples from Utiqiaġvik to thaw out for the lab tour after the Saturday Schoolyard talk.

The talk went well, with a very large turn out.  Afterwards, a fair number of them came by the lab for a tour.  And then I opened the bag.  It was from Mound 8, and was described as containing fish bones and perhaps artifacts embedded in seal oil.

Provenience tag from the bag.

Provenience tag from the bag.

It was rather smelly to say the least.  The oil made up most of the matrix, with a consistency like cold greasy peanut butter.  Not only that, the most obvious contents were wood chips and hair, which weren’t too exciting.  Most folks didn’t feel like hanging around too long.  Since it was my birthday & there was a party at my house, I didn’t finish the bag.

Today I got back to work on it for an hour or so.  It still smelled, I guess, but I think the smell of old seal oil is sort of nice.  It’s the smell of archaeological sites, and they are places I like to be.  The couple of extra days had let the oil warm up and it was a little easier to work with.

Contents of the bag.

Contents of the bag.

I found a number of interesting things, including a fish vertebra, some fish scales, a number of hairs, some bone fragments, and of course, wood chips.  When I was labeling the bags, I realized it had been excavated by none other than Kevin Smith, now at the Haffenreffer, exactly 32 years and 3 months ago.

Fish vertebra

Fish vertebra

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Grass?

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Bone fragments

Tomorrow I’ll do some more.

A day of taking pictures

This Saturday, I’m giving a Saturday Schoolyard talk about the Walakpa salvage project.  That means I need a lot of pictures.  So I spent the last couple of days in the lab taking pictures of the artifacts from we recovered.

Just a few of the results:

Rim sherd

Rim sherd

Fragments of arrowheads.

Fragments of arrowheads.

Very thin ivory harpoon head.  Note the shadow of the finger showing through the artifact.

Very thin ivory harpoon head. Note the shadow of the finger showing through the artifact.

A book about Nuvuk

I made it back from DC on Thursday night.  Friday was the usual scramble after being out of town.  Saturday night was the annual meeting of the Friends of the Library.  There was a business meeting, and a potluck dinner.  But the highlight of the meeting was the guest speaker, none other than Daniel Inulak Lum, author of the book Nuvuk, the Northernmost: Altered Land, Altered Lives in Barrow, Alaska.

Dan Lum showing slides of the photos in his book

Dan Lum showing slides of the photos in his book

Dan’s family is Nuvukmiut (that’s how it is spelled in Nuvuk dialect–it would be Nuvugmiut in Barrow dialect), originally from Nuvuk.  He ran a tour company which took tourists to Nuvuk for much of the time the Nuvuk Archaeological Project was active.  While doing that, he wound up taking a whole lot of pictures.  He has some really great animal photos, particularly of bears, as well as some really beautiful landscapes shots.  His family had to move to Fairbanks for a while for reasons connected to health of a family member, so he isn’t running the tour company any more, but it gave him an opportunity to look through his pictures and he wound up writing a book about Nuvuk and life in Barrow.

When he was running the tour company, Dan gave great tours.  He really wanted to pass on accurate information to his clients, and would stop at our excavations and talk to us, so he had the latest news.  As he said in his talk, the village is no longer there (due to erosion) so all the Nuvukmiut have to remember it by is information from oral history and archaeology.  He’d always check to see if it was OK to bring the tourists over (not if we were excavating human remains), and was always willing to bring things back and forth for us in his van.  When the Ipiutak sled runners were uncovered, Dan  stood by until we had them out of the ground around 2AM (despite having had tours all day) and then drove them very slowly back to the lab at NARL, making sure that they weren’t bounced around.  It took over an hour to go the five or so miles.  He also brought pop out for the crew on warm days.

Dan showed slides of many of the photos from the book, and talked about how he came to write a book in the first place.  He was very encouraging to audience members about writing and publishing their own books.

Dan takes questions from the audience.

Dan takes questions from the audience.

I’m going to be spending a good bit of time getting ready for International Archaeology Day, which is Saturday.

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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.

Some media attention, and why it can be a double-deged sword

For some reason, this year there has been quite a bit of media interest in Barrow and archaeology.  To begin with, there were several film crews in Barrow while we were working at Walakpa, two of which actually came out to the site and filmed as well as filming in the lab.  Only one of them has anything out yet.  PBS filmed for several both in the field and in the lab, and a little bit of it made it into this piece,  and a shot in the slideshow that they put up on the web in conjunction with the series on sea ice change. It was a very buggy day in the field, and it was quite the challenge not to be swatting mosquitoes all the time.

Oh, and the buoy experiment that Ignatius Rigor is working on in the film clip is supported by UIC Science staff (not that they have to do much, the idea is to see how the buoys do with no servicing). Their data can be compared to data from ARM’s established serviced meteorological instruments.   That way, when scientists get buoy data, they have an idea how reliable it is, and if there are any special considerations in interpretation (becoming uncalibrated over time, etc.)

We’ve also gotten interest from the press. Abra Stolte-Patkotak, one of our volunteers writes for the Arctic Sounder, and did a piece on the Walakpa excavations, which is on-line here.  For some reason, they don’t have the picture that was published up on-line, but I will ask Abra if I can put it up here & add it if so.

I am currently working with a free-lancer who has interviewed me and asked me to fact check the article before he goes further.  A very good idea, as many years ago I was interviewed by a reporter who mis-heard my answer to the question of how far back in time human occupation of the Barrow area was archaeologically demonstrated to extend.  I said “maybe 4 to 5 thousand years” which was what people thought reasonable for Denbigh at the time.  He refused fact-checking help, and published an article in which I was directly quoted as saying “45,000 years”.  Although Glenn & I could never get the Arctic Sounder to mail our subscription to us in Pennsylvania, apparently Tiger Burch could.  I got a very puzzled email from him after the article came out, in which I believe he was politely trying to ask me if I’d lost my mind.  Fortunately, he had enough experience with the press that he believed the explanation.

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What came before we were so rudely interrupted by Mother Nature

Things got rather busy around here, since I hadn’t actually been planning to be in the field, and had several other things going at work that required some time and attention.  Combined with rather chilly weather and a commute that did my no-longer-fused spine no favors, I wound up putting sleep ahead of updating the blog.  Now that the fieldwork is done & I’m getting everything else caught up, time for an update on what happened before the season ended.

We managed to get quite a bit accomplished before the weather stopped us.  Fortunately, the entrances to the lagoons closed up, and we generally had less trouble getting to the site in September, thank goodness!  In the end, we had just hit frozen ground at the back corner of the excavation when everything started freezing up.  This is good, since that means everything behind/below that should still be in great shape if erosion doesn’t get to it before we can.  We actually had some really lovely days.  And enough wind so no bugs!

Lagoon and tent on a nice day.

Lagoon and tent on a nice day, as seen from the excavation.

The floor that we had encountered in the south end of the trench cleaned up nicely.  There had been a pot in the corner, but all that was left was a pile of smashed sherds.  The digging of the pit that someone had put in above it had probably smashed what was left.  Near where the arrow shafts were found was an area of floor so soaked with marine mammal oil that you could actually wipe it off of one patch of floor.  It seems most likely that this was a tent floor, since there was no evidence of structure otherwise, and it was not far enough below the surface for a semi-subterranean house.

Probable tent floor after cleaning.  Pot was located in the lower left corner, left of the stick.  The oil patch surrounds the North arrow.

Probable tent floor after cleaning. Pot was located in the lower left corner, left of the stick. The oil patch surrounds the North arrow.

The house (at least I think it was a house) proved very complex.  The small area we were able to open was not big enough to let me see what was going on well enough to be definite.  However, there seem to have been several floors.  We were not able to get down to them before freeze up, but we determined that there were several layers of midden (trash deposit) on them, so it would appear that the house must have been abandoned and reused, rather than just rebuilt.

VIew from the side showing

View from the side showing several layers of floor logs above the sill logs & below the green bucket.

At some point in the sequence, it looks like the structure may have had a meat cache pit (sort of the forerunner of today’s ice cellars) in it.  There was a distinct line of hardened red marine mammal oil

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North edge of the meat pit. Caribou jaw lying along the sloping side just to the left of the North arrow. The red oil layer continued under the plank.  The north logs were above the edge of the pit, but there was a layer of midden in between, so they were not associated.

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Another view of the red oil level underneath some logs (possibly 2 separate floors). Notice the seal scapula used as a chock under the plank on the right.

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Another view of the red oil layer showing it sloping up to the right. Note that the apparent sill logs for the main structure are below what is visible in the picture.

We got all the way to the bottom of the large post in the northern half of the trench.  It turned out to be a later addition, dug into an existing midden, and chocked with a seal sacrum, a walrus vertebra and a broken pick head.  There were two smaller (and apparently earlier) posts very close to it, one of which had a deposit of shell next to it.  That will be interesting if we can ID any of them.

Post, showing sacrum and vertebra used as chocks.

Post, showing sacrum and vertebra used as chocks.

Post with pick used as chock at base to left of North arrow.

Post with pick used as chock at base to left of North arrow.

A view of the excavation.  NO, the wall was not curved; this is a raw iPhone panorama shot, & that happens.  Our walls are straighter than that!

A view of the excavation before the post and north logs came out.  NO, the wall was not curved; this is a raw iPhone panorama shot, & that happens. Our walls are straighter than that!

 

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