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How to Survive Backfill – A Guide by Celeste and Ella

August 31, 2014

For the non-archaeologists of our readers, backfilling is the process of taking the dirt that you have excavated out and putting it back into the squares that you’ve excavated. Although this seems like a bizarre way to end a season of digging, it is essential for preservation of the site, particularly at a coastal site such as Nunalleq, with higher sea levels, coastal erosion and winter storms. These are the essential steps to surviving backfill!

 Step One:

Obtain all required equipment, such as tarpaulins, shovels and buckets. This first item was found to be lacking this year and a hasty trip to the hardware store for tarp acquisition was required… twice.

Step Two:

Have a Yup’ik crew of super heroes provided by Qanirtuuq Corporation. Roy ‘site Dad’ Mark and the Soda Crew as they were affectionally known were integral to finishing backfill in one day and we simply could not have done it without them. They not only provided their muscle but also a healthy dose of Beavis and Butthead laughter and four six-packs of various sodas, a much needed sugar injection for tired backfillers. 

Step Three:

Enhance break-time snacks. In addition to the sodas we also brought thirteen single packets of Oreos to site. Along with lunch and other snacks these featured prominently in the day’s diet.

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Step Four:

Keep up morale and maintain tempo with good music. This also helps to rein in sanity which after a few hours of bucket filling can go slightly astray. Today this meant a battle for musical dominance with three i-Pods blasting music across the site.

Step Five:

Proper personal preparation. It is important when out in the elements in Alaska to be prepared for all eventualities. This can include, horizontal rain, blinding sun and clouds of biting insects… sometimes all in one day. Thankfully today Nature was good to us and provided a lovely sunny day and clouds of non-biting insects. However, if one is not properly prepared improvisation must occur such as string suspenders to keep up loose trousers and braided rope belts to hold waterproofs in place.

Step Six:

Listen to your fearless leader. He will guide you in this epic final task of the field season.


Step Seven:

Shout for your burly Lithuanian when help is required. He will be willing to relieve the physical burden from two women single handedly. This comes in especially handy when energy is waning just before lunch.

 Step Eight:

Always be in possession of a cheery disposition. It will serve you well and when tempers are short a spoonful of sugar (soda/Oreo) will help the medicine go down.


Step Nine:

Be aware that there are times where relaxing is appropriate.


Step Ten:

Always have a healthy attitude towards being ridiculous.

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Photos by Jessica Pepe

Celeste & Ella

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