Author Archives: celestemjordan

Fire and Ice

Celeste Jordan

As this year’s excavation in Quinhagak, Alaska, draws to a close, it could not be at a better time. In Area B, permafrost soil appeared midway through the third week and has not melted.  In Area A, it was uncovered on the second last day of excavating in the remaining open squares.  Although permafrost is extremely inconvenient for excavating, it does help to preserve artefacts. Also, in the case of this coastal site, the frozen soil has helped to keep the site somewhat intact from seasonal storms eroding the coast and invariably destroying it.

Certainly for me, the more interesting artefacts that have been recovered over the season are those relating to Yup’ik maritime and seafaring traditions.  They might not be the most spectacular but they reveal fascinating information about how Yup’ik regarded the sea, taught children about seafaring lifeways and the development and use of seafaring technologies. With three miniature kayaks, one miniature kayak paddle, sea animal and water fowl effigies (pendants, toggles for harpoon lines, mask attachments and dance sticks), three fishing net gauges, two gut skin scrapers for waterproof overwear for kayak hunters and broken gunwale sections, my directed study has been most fruitful.

Miniature kayak paddle. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Miniature kayak paddle. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Miniature kayak made of wood. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Miniature kayak made of wood. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Net Gauge. Photo: Andrius Kuro 2013

Net Gauge. Photo: Andrius Kuro 2013

This site is wonderfully diverse in terms of the archaeological sub-disciplines it falls under as well.

  • Indigenous archaeology – it is a Yup’ik Eskimo site
  • Pre-historic archaeology – it is pre-contact
  • Rescue archaeology – coastal erosion is threatening the site
  • Maritime archaeology – Yup’ik were/are a coastal community
  • Palaeoecology – including faunal, insect and plant analyses
  • Palaeoclimatology – Sediment and microfossil analyses

There is also a strong community archaeology focus -

  • High school students worked on site as part of a summer employment program
  • Teachers brought students to the site for their Earth Sciences class
  • The project holds a Show and Tell of all the artefacts, in the village
  • It will generate a handbook to assist the community to identify and recover data and material from other threatened archaeological sites
  • Community workshops have been planned that will ensure Yup’ik voices are heard in the project
  • Development of programs and resources will raise public awareness and education, and in particular will be used to develop a curriculum package for young people in schools.
Community invitation to the Show and Tell. Developed by Celeste Jordan 2013, reproduced with the kind permission of Qanirtuuq Corp and The Nunalleq Project

Community invitation to the Show and Tell. Developed by Celeste Jordan 2013, reproduced with the kind permission of Qanirtuuq Corp and The Nunalleq Project

It has been an excellent experience working on a terrestrial site with such varied sub-disciplines and it has given me a greater appreciation for my dirt digging cousins. I cannot imagine how challenging it would be to draw context profiles underwater – it is hard enough if your wall is not straight!

I have also gained valuable insights into the importance and gravity of community archaeology. Not only are children excited by the finds but community members often drop past just to see what we uncovered during the day. There have been a few instances where Elders have been able to shed light on artefacts and their context. However, with some artefacts, like grass matting and cordage, community members are re-learning lost traditions. The Show and Tell is an integral avenue for the greater community to learn and associate with their heritage. It is marvellous that this project is able to enrich community traditions and aid in greater understanding of why things are done the way they are.

So from Quinhagak, Alaska, I shall see most of you very soon.

Polar bear at Anchorage airport. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Polar bear at Anchorage airport. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Who Gets a Tan in Alaska?

Celeste Jordan

I write to you from the depths of Western Alaska, along the Bering Sea in the large (by Alaskan standards) village of Quinhagak. It is a coastal community of about 700 people (City-Data 2011) that has a long and rich history.

The Quinhagak archaeological site is located right on the coast, about 6.5km from the village itself. The site is under serious threat from coastal erosion and lead investigator, Dr Rick Knecht, says that it all could slide into the Bering Sea with one major storm (Rick Knecht, pers. comm. 2013).

Quinhagak, Alaska. (City-Data 2011)

Quinhagak, Alaska. (City-Data 2011)

With 3 excavation seasons in the last 4 years, the site has produced some amazing artefacts and yielded unexpected information. The site was occupied between 1350 AD and 1630 AD, pre-contact (1820’s for Quinhagak) (Knecht 2012:21). The 1630 AD occupation period ended abruptly when the village was attacked by a neighbouring village in what is known as The Bow and Arrow War (Knecht 2012:23).

(White tent marks the site locale. Knecht 2012:34)

(White tent marks the site locale. Knecht 2012:34)

Over the last 10 days, 19 people from Scotland, the US, Canada, Lithuania and Australia have been working on two separate areas of the site: area A and area B.  Samples of fur, hair and seeds are being taken in most contexts. Below the tundra sod level, broken pottery, animal bones, mask fragments, labrets (cheek and lip plugs), broken shafts, dolls of various sizes, a toy bow and arrow, and lance and harpoon points are being excavated regularly.

De-sodding the site. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

De-sodding the site. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

The focus of my Directed Study is to understand the maritime subsistence and settlement pattern of Yup’ik culture through artefact study from in situ remains, and site and material culture analyses. This will help not only in my understanding of Yup’ik culture but also, with further investigation, the Quinhagak community in understanding their heritage as well.

So far, last Saturday has been the most exciting day. After many days of removing sod, beautiful artefacts emerged including:

  • An entire and complete bowl
  • A decorated labret
  • A carved ulu handle with what looks like 2 Palraiyuks either end
  • Several dolls
  • A fish and seal mask attachments
  • Mask fragments

These artefacts are a good indication that we are now truly down into the cultural layers—Finally!

Today was beautiful and sunny. Most of us worked in t-shirts, except when the mosquitoes (that are the size of small semi-trailers) and ‘no-see-ums’ (midges) forced us to wear sleeves. I’m anticipating coming home with a tan! We mainly focused on moving through the contextual layers with carefully excavating and screening.

A glorious day on site. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

A glorious day on site. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Only the north part of area A produced anything of note today and boy did it produce! In quick succession this is what was excavated:

  • A small wooden box
  • A big wooden transformation doll – female to wolf
  • A labret
  • An almost complete mask
  • Snow goggles
  • Fur
Snow goggles in use by excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Colleen Lazenby 2013

Snow goggles in use by excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Colleen Lazenby 2013

Transformation doll with excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Transformation doll with excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Transformation doll with excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Transformation doll with excavator Chas Bello. Photo: Celeste Jordan 2013

Other artefacts were recovered today, but nothing like what was excavated in north area A by Chas Bello, one of our most experienced archaeologists. We still have 11 days left of excavation. Who knows what amazing artefacts still await us in the dirt?

There are blog posts everyday at http://nunalleq.wordpress.com

References

City-Data 2011 Quinhagak, Alaska. Retrieved 8 August 2013 from <http://www.city-data.com/city/Quinhagak-Alaska.html>

Knecht, Rick 2012 Introduction to the Nunalleq Site. Presentation given to field crew, Quinhagak, Alaska

From Belle to Bust: An 1880 Shipwreck

Cyclone Yasi devastated North Queensland on the 3rd of February 2011, destroying towns and changing the lives of thousands of people in its wake. Yasi also decimated many of the islands off the coast of Queensland, ripping back the dunes 20-30m and dropping the sand levels 5-10m, leaving the beach itself wider and more exposed than it had been in more than a hundred years. Yet, Yasi had uncovered something wonderful. Local anglers Phil Lowry, David Pearson and Denis King spotted the outline of a shipwreck visible in the sand at Ramsay Bay, Hinchinbrook Island (The Queensland Cabinet Ministerial Directory (QCMD) 2011:1; Townsville Bulletin 3 September 2013).

There were five possibilities for the identification of this shipwreck and the probability of positive identification was murky. Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection’s (DEHP) principal heritage investigator Paddy Waterson and his team, with Museum of Tropical Queensland’s then maritime archaeologist and curator Ed Slaughter, investigated the wreck, took wood samples and, along with colloquial misinterpretations, Belle was identified (QCMD 2011:2).

View of Belle from the waters of Ramsay Bay in 2011 (DEHP 2011:5).

View of Belle from the waters of Ramsay Bay in 2011 (DEHP 2011:5).

View of Belle from a dune of Ramsay Bay in 2011, looking south east (DEHP 2011:10).

View of Belle from a dune of Ramsay Bay in 2011, looking south east (DEHP 2011:10).

Fast forward two years and you arrive at a couple of weeks ago. In preparation for North Queelsnad weather and to get our hands dirty, five students (Chelsea Pasch, Kurt Bennett, Daniel Petraccaro, Jane Mitchell and myself), a Flinders University archaeologist and supervisor (Debra Shefi), and three Queensland Heritage staff (Paddy Waterson, Amelia Lacey and Ed Slaughter) ventured to Hinchinbrook Island.

The Site

It was clear that a catastrophic event had occurred on Hinchinbrook Island. The sand dunes had obviously receded and left trees at odd angles, while dead trees lay on the beach where they once stood.  A lot of flotsam had collected and was pushed up onto the beach, including fishing floats, eskies, timbers and even airplane landing wheels.

Wheels from an airplane at the base of sand dunes. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Pasch.

Wheels from an airplane at the base of sand dunes. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Pasch.

All that we could see that indicated there was anything of interest were 2 iron wheels poking just above the sand, 1.975m apart, suggestive of a pump (Paddy Waterson, personal communication 2013). We used GPS coordinates from the 2011 survey to pinpoint the wreck itself and ground truthed to establish that we had the correct spot. There are no two ways about it: this was quick and dirty archaeology due to time constraints of daylight and intertidal zoning.

The wheels of the possible pump at the Belle site. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Pasch.

The wheels of the possible pump at the Belle site. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Pasch.

2013 Fieldwork

There were several goals for the Belle fieldwork that Queensland DEHP wanted to achieve. These included:

  • Travel to the GPS coordinates from 2011
  • Understand how much sand was now covering the site
  • Ground truth the GPS coordinates if the wreck was covered
  • Try to ascertain if a pile of cable or chain was associates with Belle
  • Metal detect and probe the site (Waterson 2013:3)
  • Key targets to be excavated, recorded, mapped and re-covered
  • Excavation of the stern port quarter to determine if wreck was salvaged and/or suffered historic damage (Waterson 2013:3)
  • Metal detect and probe South of Belle at 2011 GPS coordinates to determine if an identified debris field is associated with Belle and determine what is actually there (Waterson 2013:3)

Days 2 and 3 of fieldwork were devoted to Ramsay Bay, Belle and the south extension debris field (SEDF). On the 9th of July, we left camp and took a boat through the mangroves of Hinchinbrook to Ramsay Bay and walked north to Belle. Normally, Queensland has lovely weather compared to Adelaide this time of year. Let me tell you a little story of rain, winds of 20-35 knots and grey, Melbourne-esque skies. Ramsay Bay is also very exposed and south east winds whip across the beach, collecting sand and making it ripple like waves on its surface.

Belle’s orientation and position on the beach at Ramsay Bay (Waterson 2013:2).

Belle’s orientation and position on the beach at Ramsay Bay (Waterson 2013:2).

We excavated a number of frames and the bow of Belle with the break in the bow clearly visible under the 38cm of sand covering the site. Mr Waterson confirmed that this had not changed much since 2011.  A pile of chain or cable was also excavated, and this in now thought to be cable un-associated with Belle wreck itself but it might have been used in the salvage of Belle.

Break in bow and 4 ribs of Belle. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Pasch.

Break in bow and 4 ribs of Belle. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Pasch.

Day 3 was spent metal detecting, probing and excavating the SEDF, which is about 350m south of Belle. Only a small amount of timber was noted on the excavated iron remains. Five trenches in total were excavated and these revealed:

  • Trench 1- circular rings attached to square rings of the same size. Hypothesised to be used for logging.
  • Trench 2- long cylindrical iron, possibly piping
  • Trench 3- narrow cylindrical iron, possibly railing or cable
  • Trench 4- very small piece of narrow cylindrical iron, possibly railing or cable
  • Trench 5- iron fly wheel rod and gear
Trench 1 at Belle site. Photo courtesy of Debra Shefi.

Trench 1 at Belle site. Photo courtesy of Debra Shefi.

There are two hypotheses for the SEDF:

  1. The SEDF is not linked to the Belle site as the iron and metal objects were dumped by timber salvers either at one event or over a period of time.
  2. The remains are linked to a mast either of Belle or a more contemporary wreck (Debra Shefi, personal communication 2013).

Belle and its Demise

Belle was a 30m brigantine sailing vessel of 197.87 ton, built in 1865 in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Soon after construction, Belle was transporting goods to and from Adelaide and Newcastle. After being sold in 1872, Belle was sold again in 1875 and began operating out of Melbourne, occasionally taking supplies up to Far North Queensland and returning with cedar from the Daintree (The Queensland Cabinet Ministerial Directory 2011:3).

Another vessel, Merchant had been wrecked at Ramsay Bay with a load of cedar on-board and two other vessels had been engaged and wrecked while attempting to salvage the cedar from Merchant. Unfortunately for Belle, the same fate awaited on the 26th of January 1880, while attempting the cedar salvage, as a gale drove the ship ashore and the vessel wrecked. No lives were lost and all were rescued from the beach (Australian National Shipwreck Database 2011).

Although not an 1865 Brigantine, this is what Belle may have looked like in full sail (Wolf 2009:1).

Although not an 1865 Brigantine, this is what Belle may have looked like in full sail (Wolf 2009:1).

Belle is a good example of a shallow-hulled Canadian built trader sailing Australia’s coast.  Its wrecking gives us an excellent insight into secondary and tertiary salvage according to what the colony needed at the time and the advantages and disadvantages of a mid 19th century brigantine. Certainly, there is more research to be done on the SEDF and its possible links to Belle, but also into the salvage practices of those companies charged with the task. Belle is protected under the Historic Shipwreck Act 1972.

References

Australian National Shipwreck Database  2011 View Shipwreck- Belle. Electronic document, http://www.environment.gov.au/shipwreck/public/wreck/wreck.do?key=2227, accessed July 4, 2013

Department Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP)  2011 Shipwreck Heritage: The Belle. PowerPoint on file at Department Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland

The Queensland Cabinet Ministerial Directory  2011 Media Statements: Mystery wreck uncovered by Yasi now has a name. Electronic document, http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/Id/76364, accessed July 4, 2013

Waterson, Paddy  2013 Hinchinbrook Field Practicum 7-15 July 2013: Information for Participants. Document on file at Department Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland

Wolf, Kenneth Baxter  2009 Wolf family history: From Württemberg to California. Electronic document, http://pages.pomona.edu/~kbw14747/wolftree2.htm, accessed July 4, 2013