Monday, July 30, 2012

First Salmonberries

Russianberry and Salmonberry
We picked our first salmonberries this weekend! They're not as tasty as they will be in a week, but it was still fun to eat a few and make a crisp with the rest. Here on Kodiak we call the yellow ones Russianberries. Does anybody else call them that? Do other areas have different names for them? I'd be interested to know!

When I was hiking on the Eagle Creek Trail in Oregon last month we hiked through quite a few good patches of salmonberries (the nicest ones I've ever encountered off of Kodiak Island) and they had the highest ratio of Russian to salmonberries I've ever seen. Here, the Russianberries are fairly rare.

Caitlin and Katelyn

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fising for Greenling and Rockfish

Anybody know what this fish is?

Courtney and a little black rockfish

Nicole catching another rockfish

Don't let anybody at the dock see this catch (it's a little embarrassing to come home with a red irish lord)
Yesterday I went out in John's skiff with some friends to go fishing in the name of research. They are studying modern and ancient near-shore food webs and needed samples of fish that live in kelp forests. They particularly wanted greenling and black rockfish. All seven of us got in the skiff in the morning and quickly realized non of us really had much of an idea about how to fish for these things. Luckily catching near-shore fish isn't particularly difficult and we started pulling fish up right away. Unfortunately none of us really knows much about identifying rockfish and greenlings either (at least not with flesh on them!). It would have been helpful to have a Field Guide to Common Marine Fishes and Invertebrates of Alaska, but my copy is in Seattle and it is now out of print. But we caught quite a few things that should be useful for their research.

In between fishing spots we stopped on Long Island to walk around the WWII ruins and check out the sea lions.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Week 2 of excavations at Amak

Christy's bayonet
Claire's three bayonet bases

A chipped stone point I found on Wednesday
We had another week of amazing weather and beautiful artifacts at the Amak Site. It was buggy on a couple of days, but we can't complain! We continue to find lots of ground slate bayonets. I think the only day this week we didn't find at least one was the day a reporter from the Kodiak Daily Mirror showed up! On Thursday one volunteer found THREE bayonets in her square and another found two - more in one day than we have found at other sites of the same age in the entire excavation! And just to top that we found six yesterday, but I was so jaded I didn't even take pictures of them; I just wanted to keep digging. We've also found a few chipped stone points recently, made of chert, as well as pumice abraders (for straightening spear shafts), and whetstones (for sharpening bayonets).

The deposits at this site have been fairly confusing (at least to us!) but in the last three days we have started to feel like we understand what people were doing here. In the photos below you can see streaks and blobs of different colored dirt. These are bits of old volcanic tephras that have been moved around by people. In most of our excavation last year we did not find these tephras at all - meaning people had removed them. What we now believe is that where we excavated last year, people dug up the dirt ~5000 years ago and stacked up blocks of dirt with sod and vegetation on top. Now we are digging through those stacked sods.Take a look at the last photo of the sod wall we built when we opened up our excavation. Now imagine that wall after thousands of years - all compacted and melted together - it should look like the pattern we are finding now in our excavation. But we don't really know why people were digging up sod and stacking it. Usually Alutiiq people built their houses with sod, but we haven not found any good evidence of houses at this site. Hopefully digging a little deeper will help us figure this one out.

Remnants of stacked sod
Our sod walls

Monday, July 23, 2012

The eDig

Ashleigh holding a bayonet fragment

Jill digging a pit as the interns/field school students and Patrick take notes
Public outreach has always been a huge part of Community Archaeology (the name says it all) but this year we have moved to a whole new level - posting things online while we're digging! Patrick told me before we started this year that Amy (the Deputy Director of the Alutiiq Museum) wanted a photo from the dig every day to post on the museum's facebook page. I originally thought that in the evening Patrick or I would email her a photo. However, on the first morning of our excavation, as I watched Patrick describing the site to the students, it occurred to me that I could take a photo with my iPhone and email it to Amy!

We started just after 9 AM last Monday, and by 10:00 this photo was on the Alutiiq Museum's Facebook page. It's been fun to see our posts online so quickly and see the comments. It is also amazing how quickly technology changes. Last year I don't think this would even have been possible - the cell phone reception at the site wasn't as good and Kodiak did not yet have 3G. It would have been extremely slow, if not impossible, to email a photo from the site. This year it's so good that I've even been able to email some videos from my iPhone to Amy.

In other news, we continue to find bayonets and still think it looks like a seal hunting site. We are still removing Level 2A (~5000 years old) and uncovering whatever is underneath. This next level is confusing, and might even include a house, but I will refrain from writing more about the stratigraphy until I have some idea what's going on!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Otters and Orcas

mother and baby sea otter
sea otters
Yesterday John took me out in his skiff. We zipped over to Afognak, then went around Whale Island, in to Port Bailey, and back to Anton Larsen. It's nice to have a friend with a fast boat! When we were in checking out Port Bailey, we saw bunches of sea otters with babies. The babies are pretty big this time of year, but they still cling onto their mothers. The one in the top photo was trying to climb onto its mother's head as we went by.

Just as we were in the back of that cove, two orcas surfaced in front of us. John shut off the engine and we watched them surface four more times as they went by us and then disappeared. The were in the far back of that little bay and seemed to be on their way out. They didn't seem like they were hunting, but the sea otters scattered nonetheless. I think orcas eat sea otters, which seems a little crazy to me - they can't be much more than fur balls!

I've seen tons of orcas (as has John), but I'm pretty sure I've never been this close to one before. As we watched them, I remember that some of the marine biologists who study whales in Kodiak like to get photos of their dorsal fins because individuals with distinctive fins can be easily identified and the whales and pods can be tracked. I was lucky to get some decent photos as they went by. The one has a pretty distinctive jagged dorsal fin, so I hope it will be useful to the whale biologists.

two orcas passing by

Friday, July 20, 2012

Community Archaeology Week 1

Ashleigh studiously taking notes at lunch time

Andrea holding a toy bayonet

Tatiana with two pieces of a bayonet that refit

Caitlin and a bayonet tip

We have finished the first week of our excavation. We had amazing weather and we know full-well that we have had more than our fair share of good luck on that front.

On Wednesday we finished removing what we call Level 2 - a 3800 year old volcanic tephra containing very little cultural material (re: no artifacts). It was a slow day for those who had their hopes up after finding quite a few cool things on Tuesday. Today did not disappoint though. With L2 gone, we were able to start digging in Level 2A - a mixed up deposit consisting of bits of older volcanic tephras, gravel, pebbles, glacial till, and cultural material such as charcoal and artifacts. This level is from the Ocean Bay II time period (~5000 years old). This is the level in which we found most of our bayonets and other ground slate tools last year. In this excavation it appears to be the same.

Tatiana started off the morning with the base of a bayonet. Just a few minutes later John found the tip of the same bayonet just a few feet away. It is pretty cool to find two pieces of a tool that broke 5000 years ago and put them back together. And as if refitting one point wasn't enough for one day, Ashleigh later found two pieces of a rather large bayonet that refit as well. Caitlin was stoked to find her first bayonet.

You might be wondering, do we find anything besides bayonets??? Well, not really. There were a couple worked pieces of red chert (a point base and a side blade), a couple of red chert flakes, a single basalt flake, and a pumice abrader. That was about it for today. The artifact assemblage is still supporting our hypothesis that this was a seal hunting camp.

In one of these photos you can see Andrea holding a toy bayonet found a couple of days ago. We believe that this is a toy based on the way it was manufactured. Someone took great care in making the base and even serrated the edges. The body of the point however isn't even ground - it's just shaped. This is nothing like the other beautifully ground bayonets we find. Children are often invisible (or ignored) in the archaeological record, so it is exciting to find something that strongly suggests that at least one child played at this site.

If you want to follow our finds in near real-time, check out the Alutiiq Museum's facebook page (thanks to the iPhone, we are able to email photos and video to Amy who posts them on the facebook page throughout the day).

Tiffany, Andrea, and Caitlin digging through 5000 year old deposits (L2A)
Jill excavating a pile of hearth debris

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Year Two of Community Archaeology at the Amak Site

Jill, Patrick, and Andrea setting up the grid

Our crew of eight women (including me) and one man

Andrea and Caitlin excavating in Level 1

Ashleigh and the first ground slate point

Yesterday was the first day of the Alutiiq Museum's Community Archaeology excavation. We are digging at the Amak Site again this year . We dug here last year and were a bit boggled by what we found (read about it here and here). We were expecting to find a fish camp since the site is located near the mouth of a salmon stream. Instead of netsinkers, ulus, and other fishing tools, we found tons of ground slate points (also called bayonets). The Amak Site contained more ground slate bayonets (points) than any of us have ever seen in a single excavation. This collection of artifacts suggests it was a hunting site (probably seals who hang out near the mouth of the river eating salmon). There were also no substantial house structures which means it wasn’t a winter village – further supporting the hunting camp hypothesis.

Even though we felt like the artifact assemblage gave us a fairly clear picture of why people were there, we were still fairly confused by the stratigraphy. In our main excavation last year, the bulk of the deposits were from the Ocean Bay II time period (~5500-4000 years before present). These deposits were mostly mixed up sediment with bits of charcoal and artifacts. In one small corner of the excavation we found intact deposits of volcanic tephra that are older than 7000 years. Everywhere else in the excavation, Ocean Bay II people had dug up those tephras. They had dug down to glacial till and then deposited all that mixed up dirt all over the site. We could even see little chunks of those older tephras mixed in with layers containing artifacts that were only 5000 years old. We still aren’t sure why people dug down to glacial till and then deposited a bunch of sediment at the Amak Site. Often people would dig down to the glacial till to build their houses, and use the sod and dirt they had removed for the walls, but we haven’t really found much evidence of substantial structures at this site.

So, our goals this year are (1) to find more artifacts to see if our seal hunting hypothesis holds up and (2) to try to figure out why Ocean Bay II people moved so much dirt. We are hoping that in our excavation this year we will find more ground slate bayonets and that we will find some of those intact tephras older than 7000 years. If we find more features it might also help us confirm our hunting hypothesis or force us to consider an alternative explanation. There are a few more research goals this year that I will save for another post.

Yesterday we removed the sods for our new excavation and shoveled of the Katmai tephra from 1912. We also removed all the backdirt from the second small excavation we had started last year, but hadn’t quite finished. It was a long day of hard work, but with eight tough women (and Patrick), we got it done in time to quit a few minutes early!

Today we started digging in Level 1 (this was basically the ground surface between about 4000 years ago and the Katmai eruption) and found our first artifacts. The big find was Ashleigh’s bayonet fragment. I found a bayonet perform (the rough form of what would have eventually become a bayonet, had someone continued to work on it). There was also a hammerstone, a gaming ball, several red chert flakes, a red chert core, and a bit of ground slate. Tomorrow we should be finished with Level 1 by the end of the day.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New TEMA Achievements


Working on the TEMA

New LED lights and camera with laser scaller in the center.

Rich and myself removing one the central access cover

TEMA survey at the acquisition station with live video on the upper right screen

TEMA being lowered onto the boat using a dock crane.
The Towed Electromagnetic Array (TEMA) was an important component of the recent survey we performed in Southeast Alaska.  The TEMA is the sensor that Rich and myself designed and built over the last couple of years.  We were fairly impressed by how the TEMA performed on this survey. We operated the TEMA in over 100 meters of water and were able to collect data that no other towfish in the world could collect.

We are always trying to think of new ways to improve the TEMA.  In the days before this survey Rich and I worked long hours installing lights, a laser scaler and a camera on the TEMA.  While the video quality was not very good, having a camera on board allowed us to fly the TEMA with a new level of precision.  Rather than relying on the altimeter and tilt sensor alone now we could see the bottom and achieve very very low flight heights without dragging along.

With the TEMA back in the warehouse I have a few days worth or repair and I will focusing on how to make some of the structural components stronger or less vulnerable to damage. Our next survey job for the TEMA will be much shallower water and in someways will seem easy compared to working in Southeast Alaska.

Surveying in Southeast Alaska

"Flying" the towfish with a remote for the winch

The Ugle Duckling

Cruise ship dead ahead

Sunny day and flat calm waters

Then TEMA surfacing with lights and a camera

The yacht that we with lived on

Lou and myself working on the MGA
After nearly a month of working on the waters of the inside passage I am back in Seattle.  During the job I was always very busy and had limited internet access so I didn't post to the blog but I have some good photos so I figured I would share.

I very much enjoyed working in Southeast Alaska.  The days were long and the scenery was great.  I ate more fresh and delicious seafood than ever before.  For the first week or so I worked a night shift.  It was actually quite nice; it was only dark for a few hours so we got to enjoy both the lighting at dusk and dawn. The only downside to the night shift was the cruise ships.  The ships often to move from port to port at night so it was sometimes necessary to communicate and coordinate our movements with them.

For being a relatively short duration job it involved almost all of our survey equipment.  "The full suite" as we sometime call it:  Multibeam sonar, side scan sonar, sub-bottom sonar, Marine Gradiometer Array (MGA) and Towed Electromagnetic Array (TEMA).  This meant we spent a relatively large about of time mobilizing and demobilizing systems. Mobilizing is usually the most tiring and stressful part of the job so it was rough to do it three times in three weeks.

I'm really glad I had a chance to spend sometime relaxing in Juneau with Molly after the job.  It gave me a chance to do many of the things I didn't have time for during the survey like hiking, vising friends and  seeing the local museums.
Rich taking a much needed break

Friday, July 13, 2012

Heading to Kodiak

I'm at the airport heading back to Alaska...Kodiak this time for Community Archaeology. I love spending this time of year in Alaska (especially since the 5 day forecast looks pretty nice for Kodiak!). But it's still a bit of a bummer to be leaving while the produce is just getting really good (and cheap) down here and my raspberry patch is at it's peak. I picked as many raspberries as I could over the last three days I've been home. I also used my vitamix that Ryan gave me for my birthday as much as possible. I made raspberry mint lemonade twice, hummus, peach sherbert, and a variety of chard (from our mini back porch garden) and berry smoothies. I wish I could take that thing with me and have a smoothie everyday! If it wasn't quite so heavy I would. And of course I'll miss Ryan, but in only three weeks he'll be in Kodiak too!