Kyle

A Day of Archaeology at the Top of the World

The Day of Archaeology 2012 started the way every other day this week did, in the lab.  Unlike the past seven summers, the Nuvuk Archaeology Project is spending a good bit of the summer in the lab.  We have been digging at a furious pace over those summers, because Nuvuk, site of a village occupied from Thule times through contact and up until the 20th century, the associated cemetery, and, it turns out, an Ipiutak occupation 500 km north of any previously known,is eroding at an average rate of 6 meters per year, up from an average of just over 3 meters per year around 1950.  All that digging has resulted in quite a mountain of artifacts and faunal material.  The individuals recovered from the burials are analyzed and reburied in the Barrow cemetery, but the other items remain.

We don’t take a lot of weather days during the short summers, so lab work mostly happens on weekends during the school year.  The Nuvuk crew is mostly made up of local high school students, augmented by undergraduate and grad students in summer, and they have full school days and often sports commitments as well.  As a result, we haven’t been able to process (clean, mark, catalog) everything before the next field season begins.  I decided that we should use the remaining project funds to make sure that was done and done properly. Thus, lab work.

Our crew was fairly small today.  One person who started the summer with us got a more or less permanent job, and another was offered 4 years of summer internships in the field she hopes to go into after college, and a  third just got married on Tuesday!

Trace, Kyle and Coby hard at work in the lab, cataloging Nuvuk artifacts.

Trace showing everyone a really nice whalebone pick head he is about to catalog.

Victoria takes a turn at data entry. All those catalog sheets have to be entered into the existing catalog, created in the field when we record proveniences with the theodolite.

We also have a volunteer working in the lab.  Becca Connor is an intern with the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium.  She’s also interested in socio-natural systems, particularly the possible effects of environmental change on subsistence.  She’s in the process of pulling samples of faunal material from a midden at Pingusugruk, a bit down the coast from Barrow, that was excavated with very good provenience data for faunal material.  I’ve picked a couple of units that seem to contain faunal material from the top of the midden to the bottom and don’t seem to have anything usual happening, and she’s going to ID that with my help and see if any changes are apparent.  The house the midden was associated with was abandoned & reoccupied, so we’re hopeful.

Becca asking what to do with the Styrofoam peanuts that the bags of faunal material were packed in for shipping (it was excavated in the 1990s.)

The morning passed with bags being opened, their information checked against the catalog, and the contents being sorted and cataloged.  We are using archival paper labels that we adhere with an Arcyloid solution, so that happens as another step to reduce the exposure to acetone fumes.  We do it under an extractor, so only 1-2 people can work on it, and it has to happen on the bench Becca is using.  I don’t allow materials from more than one site on a bench at a time.  Less chance of confusion that way.

The afternoon was very different.  The final nalukataq (whaling feast) of the year was being held in Barrow, so we took the afternoon off so everyone could attend.  The 5 successful captains set up a windbreak on the nalukataq grounds, and anyone and everyone is welcome to come, get fed and take some home.  The way the Iñupiat see it, the captains & crews don’t catch the whales, the individual whales have chosen to give themselves to the individual captains, who are expected to take very good care of the whale and share as much as possible out of respect for the whale. Prayers of thanksgiving are said before every round of servings.

It starts with soup (usually with bread & such) around noon, then mikiaq (fermented meat, blubber, blood & so forth) around 3 PM.  It’s very tasty when made right, and no odder than moldy lumps of curdled milk with veins of mold running through it, AKA a nice ripe Stilton.  Around 6PM there is quaq (frozen whale meat) and frozen muktuk (whale skin with some blubber attached, which is both delicious and incredibly warming on a cold day).  There is almost always a sort of dried fruit stew, apples & oranges, and if the captains and/or their wives have been able to arrange it, often special treats like frozen fish or akutaq (AKA Eskimo ice cream).

I was a bit late because I got caught up in another issue, so I missed the first course, the goose soup.  I did get there in time for mikiaq, and got 2 rounds.  The first I had some of right there with the folks I was sitting with, and it was very tasty indeed.  Unfortunately, I forgot my camera & had to use my phone, so the pictures aren’t the best.

Tails and flippers set out at nalukataq for visitors to help themselves. Flags of some of the whaling captains who are hosting this nalukataq fly above the windbreak in the background.

The blanket is at the left, with kids on it between servings. Adults don’t go on it until the evening.

One thing I love about Nalukataqs is that there are always some little kids in pretty parkas playing in the sand & gravel between servings.  They just get into their own little worlds there amid all the people.

Little girl playing in the sand.

Girl playing in the gravel next to the blanket, which is on the ground at the moment.

With five crews hosting (and therefore 5 whales to share), there was a mountain of meat and muktuk.  Crews bring it from the ice cellars just before it is served.  Most of them brought in trucks, and one crew actually got a front end loader and stacked the boxes of whale in the bucket to bring them over.

Meat and muktuk being brought from the ice cellars.

Then it was shared with everyone…  There were people from other villages, at least as far away as the Kotzebue region, and people who live in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and they will take their whale home and share it even farther.

That isn’t all of the whale.  Similar amounts will be shared by these captains at the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, they will share on special occasions.  Of course, crew members and those who helped tow and butcher the whale already got shares when the whale was taken, and they will be sharing that throughout the year too.

Going to Nalukataq may not sound like archaeology, but whaling has been the organizing focus of this culture since before most of the sites I work on were formed.  I really don’t see how one can expect to interpret these sites without a pretty good understanding of what whaling actually entails.

Why I Love Pot

Hello, this is Alice Forward, PhD student at Cardiff, wrapping up the Cosmeston Archaeology contributions for Day of Archaeology 2011. We have had three excellent blogs today; Nicolle who started the day with photo scanning, Louise at lunchtime discussed how she was lured to archaeology by medieval dreams, and afternoon tea with Kyle, a Cosmeston old timer who is particularly familiar with the 2010 season of excavation. These three are part of a group of six students undertaking a post-excavation course on the material from Cosmeston. We will be bringing you blogs from each (Stuart, Sarah and Beth) over the next three weeks on our Cosmeston archaeology blog, so please check us out!

Post-excavation generally places archaeologists into two camps. Those who secretly enjoy organising things and those who are likely to start taking holiday time in order to avoid those rainy pot washing days. I most definitely fall into the former of these, but it isn’t the cataloguing that gets me going! Post-excavation enables you to directly engage with the archaeological record and analytical process. As Kyle said you understand so much more when you begin to bring it all together.

This week has involved initial work with the paper archive and, as all the finds had been washed and bagged on site, we moved straight to marking and sorting the pottery. The key principle for marking pottery is that it should be resilient but reversible, so that if necessary it can be removed. In order to achieve this we use Paraloid B72 (a non-yellowing acrylic resin) mixed with acetone (20% weight to volume). A thin band of this is painted on the object and, after it has dried, the site code and context number is written on in black ink. When the ink has dried a second layer of Paraloid is applied to seal the information. This can be removed without damaging the object using a cotton swab and 100% acetone (for more information see Collections Link).

As Louise also mentioned, marking pottery is necessary for a number of reasons. Firstly, boxes get dropped, mice can chew through plastic bags and plastic bags degrade. With pottery all marked up, there is no danger of losing context, enabling future generations to study assemblages. Secondly, particularly with pottery, interpretation of contexts can be helped if it is clear that parts of one vessel were deposited within a number of different features. To keep a record of this, and to enable reconstruction of the pot, you need to be able to know specifically where the sherds came from.

Sherd Nerd

Alice Loves Pot 4 eva

Alice Loves Pot 4 eva

Why do I have such a fascination and love of pottery?! I first began to find it particularly interesting when I was excavating in Leicester city centre on the High Cross development. The work there was bringing up massive amounts of ceramic material and I was particularly frustrated that I couldn’t identify the sherds (other than what was medieval and what was Roman). This lack of knowledge cultivated a desire to be able to know my way around a ceramic assemblage. I was lucky enough at ULAS to have a supportive manager, Nick Cooper, who began my formal training. Since starting the PhD at Cardiff University I have developed a good knowledge of South Welsh pottery. This saved me this week, as people were tired of just marking random bits of pottery, but once they were able to recognise what they were marking the job became far more interesting.

Reading the last paragraph back has slightly surprised me and made me realise how exciting my life must seem…

Piecing togther our past in post-excavation

Hiya everyone, Louise writing here.

Archaeology and medieval history is something I’ve been interested in for years, but never really knew how to get involved with any projects and I was put off applying for a history degree by my careers adviser when I was in college. ‘Why do you want to do a history degree when your A level subjects are sociology, law and English? Best you apply for an English degree somewhere’. Rather disheartened by this negative response I decided that education wasn’t for me and I joined the world of full time employment. I tried my hand at many different careers, from care assistant and pharmacy technician to burger van and mushroom picker, but I never felt satisfied with the work, so as my 30th birthday was fast approaching I took the plunge and enrolled at Neath Port Talbot college to do an Access to Humanities course. It was brilliant. The lecturers were all very supportive and encouraged us all to go down which ever route we felt was right for ourselves.

Is it local or from Bristol?

As a result of going back to college I have ended up studying Archaeology and Medieval History at Cardiff University. Part of the course requires you to undertake work placement in an archaeological environment. I chose to do post excavation as it’s what I would love to do with my degree eventually, I find it fascinating how small fragments of pottery or bone can be dated and analysed to give us a better understanding of how our ancestors lived. I think that in post excavation more time can be taken to look at the finds and details from site that may have been missed in the field.

Kyle checking his fabrics

This week we have been labelling pottery, a very tedious but vital task and one which provides the opportunity to cross fit pottery from different contexts to try and piece together complete vessels. Each tiny sherd of pottery must be labelled with the site code and context number just in case a little bit gets misplaced. It was pretty dull but then Alice (Cardiff PhD student and Cosmeston finds co-ordinator) did a workshop on how to identify the pieces that we were labelling. Suddenly the bits of pottery began to mean something more to me. I can now tell the region that each piece would have been made in and how the complete item may have looked, which is making the essential job much more interesting. Post excavation is a long meticulous process but very rewarding as I know I am helping to preserve the archaeology for future generations to appreciate.