22 July, 1998

7/22/98 The Land of the Midnight Sun

*** Arctic sunset - more excavations - solving the mysterious pavement - visitors from the National Park Service - an evening trip to the cliffs ***

This day started before we went to bed. We were working late and decided to wait for sunset. The sun set over the cliffs at about 12:30 A.M. It was quite a sight! The days are getting shorter up here fast. Yesterday we lost 10 minutes, and that makes for over an hour this week. Even so, daylight will last 20.5 hours today.

It was another nice day today so we got a little sun and did a lot of excavation. We have excavated a lot more of the houses, but there is still some more to go. By afternoon we had uncovered enough of the strange pavement to see that the rocks circled around what appeared to be a fire pit, with a seal oil lamp on one side. A seal oil lamp is just a hollowed out stone that held oil from a sea mammal. The oil was burned in a shallow pool in the bowl of the rock. All of these features led the archeologists to believe that, although rare in this area, these stones represented a habitation surface not a burial covering. In the afternoon we lifted the stones and after some excavation our theory of habitation surface was borne out.

In the afternoon we had visitors from the National Park Service. Peter Richter and Bob Gerhard stopped in to have a look at our project and to talk about additional funding for further excavations.

In the evening co-workers Ryan Peterson and Robert Iyatunguk took me out on the Hondas to see the top of the sea cliffs and the local cemetery. It was fantastic looking out over the cliffs into the sunset across the short distance to Siberia.


The field work today was just a flurry of activity. Artifacts are flying in. There were mixed emotions as the stone floor was lifted and failed to reveal a burial. It would be really nice to see more artifacts and learn more of the history, but there was also a little relief that nothing was found that would seriously hinder the progress of the sewage trench.

After work I went for a swim in Kotzebue Sound, in the Bering Sea, which is off of the Arctic Ocean. A few hundred miles north lies the ice pack. I had to be sure to go on the other side of the point so that I wouldn't be affected by honey bucket dumping into the sewage lagoon off Deering's beach. The water was cooooold!

After the swim, Stephanie Barr took me salmon fishing. Unfortunately my fishing prowess was insufficient to catch the abundant schools of salmon and I returned with no fish and two of Alvin Iyatungnuk's lures left at the bottom of the Imnachuk River. I can't believe I'm that bad a fisherman. I blew a great chance to catch some awesome fish!

At the end of the day we stayed up to watch the sunset. Sunsets here are great, especially with the ocean and the bluffs. I finally realized that a striking aspect of being so far north is that the sun is low in the sky for a much longer period of time. At home the time between dusk and sunset is about an hour to an hour and a half. Here the sun is low in the sky, making beautiful colors and cloud scenes, for several hours before it sets.

The sun setting at 12:30 A.M.

Aaron excavating the strange pavement.

The sea cliffs.

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