global whining

smrfysmrfysmrf-deactivated20150  asked:

Possibly weird question from New England archaeologist. Do digs in Alaska/up north have to be done differently? Down here we just wait for summer and then break out the shovels, but is there enough melting in the right places in summer to do that up there? Are there digs done where the snow doesn't melt, and do they have to be done differently? Just curious, sorry if this is phrased weirdly.

Yup. It’s basically the same up here. From about October to May, depending on the weather and how harsh the winter was, we’re stuck in the lab analyzing artifacts, or more often writing reports. However, a couple coworkers did make an “emergency” run to a project area in November where they found the ground to be frozen. They used a butane torch to warm up the first couple of inches and they were good after that, but we try not to do this method, as it’s time consuming, and inevitably more costly to the client. 

In the spring, you can also run into issues, like a couple years ago when I was out on a project around Solstice, late June, and in areas where the sun doesn’t often hit, like a dense spruce forest, I couldn’t dig much past 20cm before hitting frozen ground. 

In some instances, like you said, there are places where the snow never melts. Generally, we leave these places alone, although while I was working in Denali National Park, my principal investigator did do a test unit in an ice patch. I don’t believe he came up with much though. 

But it’s important to know why he chose an ice patch in which to excavate. Archaeologists and those in tune with their environment, have come to understand that during the summer, caribou, to escape the heat and bugs, will find patches of ice in which to relax. Not only is this a cool area, but with a slight elevation, the landform often promotes wind. 

People in the past understood this, and would attempt to harvest caribou by coming to these locations. What this means is that this was a prime location for hunting activities. This also means that hunting gear could be easily lost in the ice if it failed to bring down a caribou. So what we do is circumnavigate the ice patch, taking special note of its base to see if anything has melted out of the ice patch over the summer. While walking around the patch, trails created by caribou can be seen, along with their poop. This landform has probably seen thousands of years of caribou migration pass by. 

So on occasion while surveying these ice patches, you do end up recovering organic technology such as antler projectiles that would otherwise have been lost to the ravages of time had it not been for it being long-preserved in a frozen state. 

And even more exciting although maybe less aesthetically alluring are pieces that are rarely ever noted in an archaeological context, such as wood dart or arrow shafts

Unfortunately though, many of these ice patches are completely melting. The ice patch seen in the photo with the caribou disappeared in 2011 after being monitored since the late 90s after producing a couple of antler projectile points and arrow shafts. I was on another project near Nome where satellite imagery from 2001 showed some intriguing ice patches. However, when we got around to the on-the-ground survey in 2009, any evidence of ice was gone. So, personally, I believe it’s best to identify these features and get out to visit them before they all disappear. 

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