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Sod, Sod, and More Sod – Archaeology in the Alaskan tundra.

Sod, Sod, and More Sod – Archaeology in the Alaskan tundra.

I’m back in Quinhagak, Alaska, at the same archaeology site as last summer – a beautifully preserved pre-contact Yu’pik Eskimo village.

the site view from the north

So what have I been doing here?

Well, for the first week, mostly carrying sod.

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Not only carrying sod, of course. Sometimes we were cutting grass so we could break the sod. Sometimes we were busting the sod with a shovel. Sometimes we were removing the dirt that we’d backfilled to cover the area we couldn’t complete last year.

Yes. I actually did go to school for this, folks.

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We wanted the sod and backfill removed as early as possible, so we hopefully won’t have as much of a problem with the permafrost as we did last year – everything we expose will start thawing. It’s logical. It’s just not entirely fun.

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Less logical is the fact that we did it for 50 2×2 meter squares. Fifty. Besides meaning we had to move an alarming amount of sod (seriously, people, there was SO much sod,) 50 squares is kind of an insanely ambitious undertaking for the time and people we have.

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We did had a totally reasonable, achievable excavation plan all set for this year. It lasted less then a day. It turns out there’s a really interesting – well, potentially interesting – spot just up from the squares we did last season, in a spot which is rapidly eroding. It definitely won’t be there next year, and we couldn’t just let the sea have it. . . so that area was opened too.

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I should mention, at this point, that we are the most spoiled archaeologists in the world. I’ve worked in places where the things we found in the first few days – an end blade, a bead, some pottery – would have kept us happy for weeks. But here, we know the interesting things are all there waiting for us, just a few sod blocks away.

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31 Comments

    • It is beautiful – in a way that takes a lot of getting used to!

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  1. I love reading your posts. You are living a wonderful adventure, Jessica!

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    • Thank you!

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  2. This trip is amazing and I’m so glad you’re sharing it with us!

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    • Thank you!

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    • Our site goes back almost 700 years! We’ve found everything from pottery to grass mats to a complete shaman’s mask. It’s a fairly complete house, so there’s different types of artifacts in every area.

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  3. I’ve always been amazed at the dedication and patience (among other things) of archaeologists. What a great experience and to do all this with beautiful Alaska as a backdrop. That sure is a lot of sod. Looking forward to reading more.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…5 Free Things To Do in Toronto with KidsMy Profile

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    • Thanks! I’m not sure if it’s patience or a little bit of obsession – we’re so focused on what we’re looking for that we put up with the boring bits.

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    • I was not expecting that!

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    • We’ve had amazing finds this year! I’ve unfortunately been too tired to update – after 12 hours a day of digging, I can’t stay away long enough to sort through my photos.

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    • I’ve been very lucky in the settings I get to work in!

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    • Interesting, definitely!

      I keep coming back to Alaska, I never feel like I’ve seen it all.

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  4. There’s gold in them there sod, Jess!
    It might feel routine but you’re doing such important work that the rest of us will benefit from.
    Marcia recently posted…Pastor Brown’s Eye Catching HouseMy Profile

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    • Gold. . . or at least ivory! :P

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    • If you want to give it a try, there are a lot of public archaeology projects going on that take volunteers! I love how many old bones come up whenever there’s construction/mining up north.

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    • It is! It’s almost like the site keeps tossing us incentives after it knows we’re getting fed up with it. Our most frustrating area had meters of pure nothing that was a pain to dig through – and in the middle of it all was a perfect complete mask.

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  5. I have always wanted to visit North America, Canada, Alaska. Hopefully one day, until then thanks for taking us along with you! Have a wonderful week, and thank you for stopping by my blog today. Have fun with that food photography!

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    • Thank you!

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    • Thank you! Archaeology is definitely an excuse to see new places.

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  6. I’m a fellow archaeologist and can totally relate to the sod – but it always (or at least usually) pays off! I work in completely different regions, primarily Mesoamerica and occasionally the North American Southwest, but I just came across your blog and love reading about the work of other archaeologists around the world. Keep up the great work!
    Lucy Gill recently posted…t minus 2 weeks until departureMy Profile

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