17 July, 2001
Woke this morning to the first real rain Iíve seen since arriving here more than 6 weeks ago. As luck would have it I planned to go out with Anne Jensen and her archeological group to Point Barrow where she is presently mapping and digging an exploratory site. The Point, as it is now called, was the site of a native village, Nuvuk. This Inupiat village consisted of 300 to 500 inhabitants and was inhabited up to approximately the 1930ís. Before that time there are stories of the village being located farther out on The Point. The Point might have extended out as much as 1 to 2 miles more than what exists today but erosion claimed the land forcing the villagers to relocate to the site Anne is now exploring. Eventually with the increasing services Barrow offered and the building of the school here in the 40ís and 50ís, families started moving the 10 miles south from Nuvuk into Barrow and eventually Nuvuk became deserted.
The Point, as pictured in a previous journal entry, now consists of a narrow spit of gravel and sand, which extends out into the ocean and around Elson Lagoon. It has become a place to drive your ATVís and is a must for the tourists on the Tundra Tour excursions. The locals also duck hunt in the area during the summer. A pile of whalebones and scrap meat lies here to keep the bears out of town. Half way out to The Point there are a number of fenced, marked graves testifying to the existence of the village, which was once here. Over the years the sites have been ransacked and little remains of the once thriving village. Artifact hunting is strictly forbidden but in a place that is as isolated as this many areas have been disturbed and it remains an on going problem.
There are local stories and memories of this location as a small village whose Inupiat population lived and hunted here for hundreds of years. Anne, who has lived here for 5 years plus worked in the area for 10 years previously has researched the Point and is familiar with its history. Two years ago she excavated here, uncovering many artifacts consisting mainly of various hunting implements.
Anne is working with Claire Alix, an anthropologist from France and Dave and Ian Pulman, a father and son team from Maine. Dave is also an archeologist who lived in Barrow a few years ago. When here, he did a preliminary mapping of the historic village. Anne and he are remapping the area to get a clearer more precise picture of the site and the specific locations of possible places to dig.
The one house site we are excavating, pictured below, is on the cliff edge, exposed to the ocean. There were/are many more houses at this site but the ocean has claimed them and that is the continuing situation now. The one house they are conducting the exploratory dig on might not last over the next year or so depending on the storms which wash away the sand and gravel landscape the Point consists of. It is a race against the elements. This is occurring in town also. The sea is claiming another old village site that lies with in the town of Barrow.
The traditional houses were constructed of sod and whalebones. A shallow pit was dug into the ground, whalebones were used as roof supports and the structure was covered with sod. Houses had a rounded shape and were heated and lit with whale oil. From all accounts they were warm and protected the Inupiats from the long, harsh winters.
There is not a lot of archeological work being conducted in the Arctic and I asked Anne why. If people know these sites are here why aren't they being protected and excavated to preserve the artifacts? The main reason seems to be money. Doing archeological work in the arctic is very expensive. The sites are usually remote so travel is expensive. The environmental conditions are harsh so provisions have to be made for food and lodging that are difficult. The artifacts which are found present a money sink also because they are usually made from materials, which have to be specially dealt with, and ongoing care has to taken in preserving them. Bone, ivory (tusks), antler, wood and skins or hides have to be cared for and many museums and/or Heritage Centers do not have the facilities or endowments for such projects.
We arrived at the site by ATV's and Anne and Dave started surveying, which kept them busy the entire day. Claire, Ian and I worked at the house site. They had previously laid out 4 squares and were slowly scraping the top 1 to 2-cm. layers into dustpans with a small trowel carefully looking at the sediments. We did this all day. Each of us found various artifacts. This is good because as long as you can find things it keeps you excited and motivated! Any organic material that was found had to be white bagged, mostly wood pieces and pieces of whalebone. When an artifact was found it had to be placed in a separate bag, marked where it was found within the square, dated and the finders name written on the bag. The excess dirt, sand and gravel, was dumped over the cliff and not strained, as is the case in other digs. The arctic sediment is so gravely that sifting does not work. At the end of the day all the white bags are brought back to the lab. The contents have to be washed, dried, marked and catalogued. Where digging the artifacts up may take 7 hours the second part of the job might take 3 or 4 times as long. After that Anne will have to write a report on what was found and show the importance of the dig in order to get funding to continue her efforts before more is lost to the ocean. I hope her efforts are rewarded.
During the day we experienced every type of weather the arctic has to offer, it changes that quickly up here! Rain, sun, wind, clouds, and clear skies: all within the 7 hours we were out. Ian, a high school sophomore is here with his archeologist dad and getting some dig time in. He was able to answer questions and help identify things I found. Doing something like this during the high school years takes one to places and gives one the opportunity to meet people that you ordinarily would not meet. It was enjoyable talking with him and hearing his thoughts about the Arctic. I wish more high school students had experiences that took them to "outside" places.
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