This clip shows the progress this season on Area A, from the removal of the sods to backfilling:
and the same deal in Area B:
Back in Anchorage the site directing team are celebrating a successful season with a well deserved pint
Quinhagak elder John Smith, our camp manager Mike’s grandfather, is a very skilled carver and artist. Knowing this, when Carly found her ivory links, she asked if John could make a replica of them for her. It took John only two days before he had them finished. Charlotta in her turn happens to be a great admirer of owls, so when the first owl was found at the dig she thought she should ask John if he could make her an owl. Not a replica, just an Alaska owl inspired by the archaeological find. He made her a snowy owl in only a day. John also made a beluga-pendant for Lindsey, inspired by her find of a little ivory beluga. Over the years John Smith has been a great asset to the project, sharing his knowledge on traditional technology as well as his expertise as a wood and ivory craftsman with us, and helped us understand the artefacts and ancient techniques. John is also full of stories about the old days, memories of hunting as a boy with his grandfather, or how they used to throw spears, and play games. All these stories are connected to the different kind of artefacts that we find at the site, and it is inspiring to se how archaeology, memory and art reinforce each other.
The excavation is over, and all that remains before leaving Quinhagak is to pick up the last pieces; organise and pack the artefacts, wood, soil and bio samples in coolers for shipment, go through the paper work, sort out the bulk samples, storage and maintenance of equipment, sorting the finescreened dirt for small faunals, and screening excess dirtbags (those soil samples that are one to many due to uncertainty of different contexts while digging. It’s better to take too many than too few ). As always when you’re in the field and don’t have time to go through all the paper work and register all the records every night there are sheets missing, contexts lacking description and drawings without captions… Now, while it’s all fresh in our memories, is the time to sort those issues out. Hard physical work wasn’t high up on anybody’s agenda after a month of digging and three days of backfilling, which made the trays of the fine screened material quite appealing to many a crew member. Sorting through a pile of matchwood wood chip by wood chip can even be quite therapeutic when your muscles are aching and your brain is so tired you have to think your train of thoughts step by step. And the reward is there! Plenty of fish vertebra and tiny fish jaws were hiding among the wood chips – proving all this work is worth while.
Sitting inside all day could not be borne by everyone however. In the evening Edouard and Charlotta grabbed their spades and went to test the most promising ridge a few hundred meters behind the village cemetery. When there it looked even more promising; dry high ground with an excellent view over the tundra – or river and tundra at it would have been in the ancient times. The vegetation was less convincing though – lichens, moss, lingonberrys and Labrador tea (or wild rosemary), almost like a forest floor but without trees.
And when we put the spades in the ground the meagreness of the soil was confirmed. Under the thick turf layer there was nothing but sterile grey clay. After eight test pits with the same results they had to give in to the facts and accept the disappointment of not having found a new site. Andrius, who they met on their way back on his quest to pick tundra tea, had the same result in the additional test pits he dug while harvesting tea. 14 test pits and all sterile. Disappointing, but at least we know.