Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mountains, a Flat Tire, and a Fascist Bus

Mt. Wrangell (14,000'), Mt. Sanford (16,000'), Mt. Drum (12,000') from the Tok Cutoff Hwy

A beautiful little stand of birch trees

Mt. Wrangell in the evening light as a storm rolls by

You just never know what you're going to see in Alaska
The weather out in this part of Alaska (what would you call this part of Alaska? Central Eastern Alaska?) continues to be clear and sunny. I now have approximately a million photos of Wrangell, Sanford, and Drum from the same two pullouts on the Tok Cutoff Highway. But every day the view seems to become more spectacular and the mountains more impressive and I can't help but take another picture.

Yesterday we had a bit of a detour due to a low (soon to be flat) tire. We were down past Chistochina when we noticed we had a low tire so we drove just a couple of miles to the gas station in Chistochina. Unfortunately they didn't have air (what gas station doesn't have air, let alone in rural Alaska?) The tire wasn't quite flat, but definitely too low to drive far on. The nearest place that might have had air was Slana - 30 miles. So we went ahead and changed it. In moments like that, I am glad my parents taught me how to change a tire!

We drove all the way to Tok (over an hour each way) to get the tire fixed. It was in Tok that we saw the scenery-painted bus with "www.freedomtofascism.com" printed on the back, of which I slyly took a photo from inside the truck. I didn't want to look to conspicuous, but really, they must be used to people staring. I suppose that's probably the point though. You just never know what you're going to see in Alaska.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tok Cutoff

Mt. Drum, 12,000ft

Mt. Sanford, 16,000ft
I've been working on out on the Tok Cutoff Highway for the last few days (between Glennallen and Tok). The archaeology has been a little less than exciting, but the scenery is what really sells this place. The views of the Wrangell mountains are spectacular along this stretch of road. Even though there are usually clouds shrouding the tallest peaks, they tend to clear early and late in the day to give us a glimpse of some spectacular mountains. We've had views of Mt. Sanford, Drum, and Wrangell since we've been here.

Late summer is my favorite time of year in the interior. The weather is nice, but not too hot. The air is crisp in the morning and the leaves are just starting to turn. Berries are also ripe everywhere. I've been eating my fill of wild raspberries, high bush cranberries, red currants, and an occasional nagoonberry.

I really do miss interior Alaska on days like this, but I know the winters are harsh in this part of the state. And I know that when I leave here, I'll get to go home to Seattle and enjoy another three months of fall.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Update from the Gulf of Thailand

Ryan left port on Monday for his off-shore job in Thailand. I got an email from him today. He said I could post it as a blog post, so here it is:

"Today is our second day off shore.  It took about 12 hours to transit out here from port.  Where we are working there are central processing platforms (CPPs) and drill head platforms.  The drill sites are all connected to the CPPs by a spider network of underwater pipelines.  Most of our work will take place centered around the CPPs.  There is a lot of infustructer out here.  Just about every directing you look you can see a platform or a large ship. 

We took our first samples about 24 hours after leaving port.  We are starting by taking surface gabs of the sediment.  There are five of us on shift for this operation plus another person to operate the winch.  My job is very easy. All I do is scoop the surface sediments out of the sampler and put it in a bag with a label.  It’s a whole lot of standing around, but I just keep reminding myself that if that is the way they want to operate, it’s fine with me!

My accommodations about the Miclyn Energy are quite good.  I have a cabin to myself. The room is fairly nice with lots of space as it was designed for two people.  Meals are served every 6 hours and have been good so far.  There is always rice and some veggies and then a few dishes to choose from.  The dishes are clearly labeled as to the type of meat in them or if they are veggie.  This is important as there are many Muslims on board that do not eat pork, in fact there are separate plates and utensils for the Muslims.  Some of the Thai scientists are Muslim but for the most part I think it is the crews which are mostly from Indonesia.  It really don’t matter what shift you work when it comes to eating, as there is no such thing as a breakfast themed meal.

Another beautiful thing about this boat is what Rich and I call “The Laundry Fairy”.  Just place your dirty clothes outside your room in a canvas bag with your room number and when you wake up your clothes are clean and neatly folded where you left them.  It’s amazing!"


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Final conclusions, backfilling, and future research at the Amak Site

John volunteering to help backfill - THANK YOU John!!

Jill's lamp fragment

Our second excavation where we left it - an Early Kachemak pit dug into an Ocean Bay house depression???

Backfilling the second excavation - giving Patrick some attitude

Two hours later the pile of dirt has disappeared!
We had two main excavation blocks this year. In the first, we concluded that there was a very ephemeral and probably brief Early Kachemak (4000-3000 yr BP) componenet, a substantial Ocean Bay II occupation (5500-4000 BP), and very little intact Ocean Bay I deposits (7500-5500 BP). We uncovered a portion of an OB II living surface - perhaps the floor of a tent, and a tiny corner of a more substantial structure, also probably OB II. We found almost exclusively ground slate points in this excavation which we think indicates a hunting site. We could also see that there was a lot of dirt-moving going on in OB II times, but we are not sure why.

We also found a large rock pile for which we have a three competing explanations: meat cache, wind break, and hunting blind. I like the first two the best, since the rock pile seems to far from the edge of the hill to be useful as a hunting blind.

In the second excavation we first uncovered a small Early Kachemak structure, indicating that perhaps the EK occupation was more substantial than we first thought. It seemed too small to be a house and is similar to fish smoking structures from other sites. This doesn't appear to be for smoking fish though (no netsinkers) so maybe it was for processing meat. As we dug into the walls, we started to find another black, floor-looking surface. We believe that this is an older Ocean Bay house underneath, that is, the EK structure was dug into an old house depression from OB times. From what we've uncovered of this OB house, it looks rather large with built-up walls. This could be related to all the digging that went on elsewhere at the site - people dug out the soil beneath the house, tossed it a few meters away, and dug up sods from somewhere nearby to build their walls. Jill also found a lamp fragment today, the first "household" artifact we've found. Could this mean that the Amak Site was, at least at some point, a residential site (rather than just a hunting camp)? We have still been finding an unusual amount of ground slate points here too, which still indicates hunting.

While we have learned some interesting and important things about the Amak Site, we still have a lot of questions. Questions that can only be answered by more digging! Today we made the decision to stop digging in our second excavation, cover it with a tarp, and finish it next year. The excavating was becoming very complicated with a pit dug into a house and we didn't want to have to finish it in a hurry and backfill it, not fully understanding the stratigraphy.

Next year we hope to uncover more of the OB houses/living surfaces we found this year as well as more intact OB I deposits. Hopefully we will be able to figure out why OB II people were moving so much dirt! And after digging these two big excavations and then putting all the dirt back in the holes, I have an appreciation for the modern convenience of stainless steel shovels and wheelbarrows. Image moving all that dirt with a sharpened whale rib and a grass basket!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Final Week

The edge of our excavation on a beautiful day
The backdirt pile - all that dirt has to go back in the hole!
This is the last week of community archaeology! Things get a bit crazy during the last week as we try to finish up our excavations, profile the walls, draw maps, and BACKFILL. The weather continues to be amazing (how do I get so lucky everytime I do archaeology in Kodiak?) but that is a blessing as well as a curse. Backfilling is HARD work, but when it's hot, it is particularly exhausting (especially for a bunch of Alaskans). But I will refrain from any formal complaints about the weather because well, when it's sunny in Kodiak I am quite sure there is no place on Earth that compares! And it is amazing that we have only lost half of one digging day to rain.
Things are crazy for Ryan right now too. He flew home to Seattle yesterday and leaves for work in Thailand TOMORROW. I'm excited for him, even though he won't get to spend more than a couple of days on shore he'll still get a taste of Thailand. And in almost exactly one month my cousin, Ann Marie, and I will be meeting him in Malaysia.

Ann Marie is finally (almost) en route to Kuala Lumpur for her one-year study abroad scholarship. I can't wait to hear how things go for her once she gets settled in and starts classes. And I am excited to be there in September for two weeks to hang out with her.

I just have to tackle that giant pile of backdirt first...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Experimental Archaeology

Patrick's point

Christy making an ulu

Jill's ulu

Patrick's point and ulu
Last week week did some experimental archaeology at the Amak Site and ground our own slate tools. The Alutiiq Museum put on a mock archaeological excavation for children today and they needed fake artifacts to put in the dig. So, we spent the better part of our lunch hour on Thursday and Friday making ulus and points.

We started with nice pieces of slate that were roughly in the shapes we wanted, and ground them on large graywacke rocks with a little water and sand. It is amazing how quickly the slate grinds down.

I first learned to grind slate at Spirit Camp at Dig Afognak when I was in 7th grade. The slate grinding instructor was none other than Patrick! Of course, I didn't really know him then and I had no idea that he would be so instrumental in starting my career in archaeology.  And here I am 15 years later, digging with Patrick and making ulus again!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Volunteering at Community Archaeology

A ground slate "bayonet" or spear point

The spear point I found

John and I digging

Katelyn digging

I spent the last two days working with Molly at the community archeology site in Kodiak.  I got to do a lot more excavating than I did last year at the Penguq site.  The primary artifacts we have been finding at this site are ground slate spear points that were likely used for hunting seals.  I was thrilled to find one today even if it was only a broken-off tip.  Our Friends John and Katelyn joined us this afternoon. It was another beautiful day in Kodiak.  Tomorrow John and I are leaving for a few days to take his skiff up to Afognak to do some exploring.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dad's first halibut

Dad and his halibut

Ryan halibut fishing
A sea otter near Roslyn
Dad recently learned that one can get a free sport fishing license in Alaska after age 60. He wasted no time at all and went to get his on his birthday last week. He had his eye on halibut fishing - something we've never done ourselves. Mom called the Hotline (the small town radio-version of Craig's List) and found some used halibut poles.

Mom, Dad, Ryan, and I went out in the skiff today to test-out our new set-up. Dad caught a nice little halibut right away - his first ever. It made a tasty dinner. There should be many more halibut to come now that we have the poles and dad has his free license.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Preparations for international offshore work

In preparation for my upcoming offshore international work, I was required to complete a 40-hour training class.  The course covered basic safety topics that all mariners should know including fire fighting, personal survival, first aid and more.  When you are operating hours or days from port there is no fire department or ambulance to call and some level of proficiency is desirable for all crew members.

While some of the training was monotonous, other components were truly amazing.  After a day of classroom training on firefighting we went to a Firefighting Training center in North Bend, WA.  This is where real fire fighters from all over the northwest come to train.  The facility was incredible. It included buildings, mock up ships, cars, rail cars, fuel tanker trucks, mock up airplanes and helicopters, all of which can be set on fire.  This facility is unique in that they don’t mock up the fire by using propane, rather they use diesel and/or wood to create realistic fires.  This training required us to be fully geared up in protective equipment and included using self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The day was strenuous, but educational from start to finish.

We learned to use dry chemical extinguishers, CO2 extinguishers and water to fight various types of fires.  One of the most challenging to extinguish was a pump where fuel continued to spray while a team of six people attempted to extinguish it with water and dry chemicals.  The fuel was on fire all over the ground and just when you thought you were winning and beating the flames back to the pump itself the fire would reignite beside or behind you!  

 We also performed search and rescue inside the building while intense pallet fires burned on the floors below us.  It was amazing how difficult it was to search a room in the dark while our communication was is inhibited by our SCBA.  Our team did successfully navigate down the hallway and find three victims (old fire hoses shaped like people) on bunk beds in a room.  I was glad we found the victims and got them out but it was certainly not graceful; It was a constant challenge to keep our bearing and stay with our team members.

The training was educational and even thrilling at times.  Fortunately because I am not part of the vessel crew but rather fall into the scientist category it is most likely that I will have no assigned duties in an emergency other than to get my PFD and move to the muster station.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Vibrocoring in Southeast Asia

The company I work for (Tetra Tech) has offices and projects worldwide, so it was inevitable that I would eventually travel internationally for work.  Just three weeks ago I found that I would be heading to Thailand to work on a project starting in mid-August.  This work is different from previous projects I have been on.  I will be working in the Gulf of Thailand aboard a 61 meter ship with other Americans, Australians, and Thai.  We will be performing environmental monitoring using sediment sampling equipment and current meters moored on the sea floor.

 I am traveling with my college Rich from Seattle; together we are providing the expertise in deploying and operating our vibrocorer.  This piece of sediment sampling equipment is designed to vibrate a 4” diameter pipe into the seafloor.  The sample is then recovered aboard the ship, extracted from the pipe and analyzed.  It sounds relatively simple, but believe me there is a lot that can go wrong.  At the heart of this system is a 230V 3phase eclectic motor with counter weights.  When powered on, the device shakes VIOLENTLY, generating thousands of pounds of impact force.  It is this vibration that allows the device to drive itself into the seafloor but at the same time it is essentially trying to self destruct.  

The external water pressure at depths we will be working is over 250psi, while this is not all that great, it is it high enough that water will try to squeeze through any O-ring that is not properly sealed.  It is for these reasons that we deiced to have a second vibrocorer built.   We didn’t think it would be a good idea to travel all the way to Thailand and have no backup if the equipment were to fail.  I have spent my last two weeks franticly trying to get a second unit built and gather all the parts, tools and material that need to ship to Thailand.  The Vibrocorer is a custom build so finding a machinist that could source the material and build a new one is two weeks was quite a challenge.

To make things more complicated, I am on my way to Kodiak right now, meaning that it is up to Rich to get all the prep work finished and the shipment ready.  In the mean time I will try to enjoy my vacation in Alaska and hopefully not wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I have all the spare O-rings I need.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Artifacts Galore

My ground slate bayonet
Alana with a ground slate point and a ground slate flensing knife (Patrick's photo)
Jill and a complete bayonet (Patrick's photo)
Christy drawing a map of the rock pile
Patrick on top of our maintain of a back dirt pile
Today was an epic day at the Amak Site, in terms of artifacts. Christy's mom, Alana, came out to dig for the first time. Almost as soon as she started digging she found a beautiful ground slate flensing knife (second photo, artifact on the right). A knife like this would have been used to butcher sea mammals, fitting with Patrick's hypothesis that the Amak Site was a seal hunting camp. An artifact like this is fairly rare (I've never found one before) and this knife is particularly beautiful. When something this cool is found, all works stops while we crowd around looking at the artifact and taking photos. Almost as soon as well all got back to work, Alana found a small ground slate point as well. She was on a roll! Shortly thereafter Jill found a complete ground slate bayonet. It's also very rare to find a bayonet that isn't broken. And just a little while later I found a broken bayonet. I think a couple more bayonet fragments were found, but honestly there were so many today that I lost track! The funny thing was we found basically nothing but beautiful ground slate artifacts this morning which is highly unusual.

Bayonets were used as spear tips to hunt sea mammals. We are getting a clearer and clearer picture now from the artifacts that people used this site for hunting. The structures and deposits are still confusing us, but at least some parts of the puzzle are coming together.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Week 2 - a big pile of rocks

View from the Amak Site

Sketching what we've found the end of the day

The rock pile in the center of our excavation

Jill excavating on a rainy morning

Bundled up on our first cold day

Patrick going over his notes with Christy, Tamara, and Leslie
Another week of excavation is almost over at the Amak Site! We continue to find new things that challenge our interpretation skills. I've been focusing on the big rock pile in the center of the excavation. As I dug into the middle of it, I found more and more rocks. Some of them are really big. Neither Patrick or I have ever seen a feature like this on Kodiak, nor have we heard of anyone else excavating one on Kodiak. The nearest comparable things that we are familiar with are in the Aleutians where people lined the base of their house walls with rocks and in the Arctic where meat caches could be covered with rocks to keep bears out. Patrick saw this when he worked on Baffin Island in Canada. For several days now we have been leaning toward the cache hypothesis. The cache could have collapsed over time, or the rocks were tossed off when the cache was accessed later by the people who made it - explaining the lack of a clear shape or pattern where the rocks are located today. We are pretty sure, based on the artifacts, that this feature is about 4000-5000 years old. I hope to learn more after we map it and begin to remove the rocks. We would love to hear from anyone who has seen similar features elsewhere or has a possible interpretation!

We have also completed excavating the house or living surface that we initially thought was built after 3800 years ago. Now we are not as certain that the 3800 year-old tephra is below the house. It might be on top of the house, meaning the house was already there when the tephra fell. I am very interested to see what the radiocarbon dates tell us. I am going to guess that the house is 4000 years old! We have found several ground slate points on the floor of the house, suggesting that this was a hunting camp. The artifact assemblage still appears to be very different from other sites of the same age (very little lithic debitage, no netsinkers, only one line weight, only one possible ulu, but many ground slate points). At this point, it appears that we are uncovering a whole new type of Ocean Bay II site - the short-term hunting camp!

I'm excited to see what we'll find in our last two weeks. Undoubtedly we'll find things that change our interpretations, as you've already seen with our house floor. But mostlyI can't wait to move those rocks and see what's in the bottom of that pit! Check out Patrick's blog for more on our excavation.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Just another day in Kodiak: Firewood

On Sunday, after a little hike to check out some potential firewood, Dad, Michael, and I went out in the skiff at high tide to collect said wood. This particular firewood adventure was much more pleasant than most of my childhood experiences. We usually got wood in the winter when the beaches were frozen (so we could drive on them) and when my dad was laid off and had unlimited free time. It was also usually cold and windy, thus my general dislike of collecting firewood. Now that I don't live in Kodiak and don't HAVE to get firewood, I find it much more enjoyable. And I always like an excuse to go out in the skiff.