Winter comes

We had been working as fast as we could on the structures at Walakpa.  Given how far north we are, “Winter is coming!” pretty much applies as soon as it starts thawing in spring.  We had a fair bit of windy weather, so it wasn’t pleasant working conditions, but the ambient temperature was generally above freezing, so the ground remained soft, and we were able to continue excavation.

The batteries on the transit were not happy, and we pretty much needed to have one charging at all times, or risk shut-down until we could charge a battery.  The batteries are a bit old, and need to be re-celled or replaced, but since I hadn’t expected to be excavating this summer, that was scheduled to happen over the coming winter, which left us a bit handicapped.

But then, last Monday, there was a dusting of snow on the ground in the morning, and it didn’t melt.  Further south in Alaska, snow on the tops of the mountains is often called “Termination Dust” since its appearance signals the beginning of the end of the summer season.  And so it was here.

I had started accumulating materials to protect the site over the weekend.  UIC Construction had some surplus damaged materials in their yard which would otherwise have just gone to the dump, and they were kind enough to donate them to the cause.  Monday, we started hauling them down to Walakpa.

A dusting of snow on the site & the beach in the morning

A dusting of snow on the site & the beach in the morning

Shards of ice from the tarp after the site was uncovered.

Shards of ice from the tarp after the site was uncovered.

We kept digging, since the ground wasn’t frozen.  The next morning, there was a lot more snow on the beach, and the ground was really stiff although we did manage to dig a bit more and screen all but two buckets.

We met a polar bear on the way down to the site.  It was tired, resting on the beach, but was so wary that it got up and moved before we could detour around it so it could rest.

More snow on the beach.  And a tired polar bear, who was none too happy when we showed up on ATVs.

More snow on the beach. And a tired polar bear, who was none too happy when we showed up on ATVs.

We put particle board along the erosion face of the site, and gathered sods from the beach to stack up to hold them in place.  We also used upright driftwood to help hold this in place.  By the end of the day, I concluded that things were freezing to the point where only a pickax would move dirt, which would sort of defeat the purpose  of archaeological excavation, so we started hauling gear back to town that night.

We allowed the site to freeze more the next day, and Thursday we went down to put the site to bed & take down the tent.

We put a layer of whiteboard insulation on the top and front of the site, and then covered it with geotextile fabric, fastened in place with spikes.  Then we covered that with the original sods which had been saved.

Excavation surface covered by whtieboard.

Excavation surface covered by whiteboard.

Protecting the site with particleboard, geotextile, sod and driftwood.

Protecting the site with particle board, geotextile, sod and driftwood.

Sod back on the site.

Sod back on the site.

Once we had that taken care of, the gear had to be packed up and the tent taken down.  We spray painted the hubs of the Arctic Oven frame so the next folks who set it up will have an easier time of it than we did doing it without instructions.

Tent & fly are packed and Jason Thomas is disassembling the frame.

Tent & fly are packed and Jason Thomas is disassembling the frame.

Packing the trailers.  Riley Kalayauk brought his trailer down too, so we had 2.

Packing the trailers. Riley Kalayauk brought his trailer down too, so we had 2.

Happy hard-working crew ready to head home.

Happy hard-working crew ready to head home.

Now all we can do is hope and pray that there are no storms before the ocean freezes up that generate waves big enough to reach the site, and if there are, that they don’t last long enough to destroy the protection that we built.  If we are fortunate, it will still be there next year, and we can learn more.

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One response to “Winter comes

  1. I continue to be fascinated by and stand in admiration of the work you and your teams are doing/achieving. What’s on the agenda for the winter?

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