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> August 7 – Northern Simushir & Ketoy, or Indiana Jones never did paperwork!
post Aug 8 2006, 04:47 PM
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Monday, 7 August, 2006
Aboard the Gipanis, transiting south from Ketoy back to Simushir
3:00 pm

Last night, while I was in the midst of writing my journal, Matt ran up to my room and told me to come outside, quick, and to bring my camera. So I did.
Much of the crew and remaining scientist group were out on the aft deck watching a group of sea lions swim around the ship – surfacing with big snuffling breaths and then diving again. A couple of crew members had been fishing and the sea lions were attracted to the fish and bait. We watched them come right up to the edge of the ship several times and then with a big splash, dive back under the water. There were a lot of “Oohs!” and “Aahs!” before the “show” ended and I got some good video clips.

This morning, the crew pulled the anchor and we began heading toward Ketoy at about 6 am. The short transit of about 2.5 hours was filled with a great deal of ship rolling as the swell from the Pacific Ocean ran across the beam of the ship. I learned later that we had swells as much as 2 meters. I was glad that I was in bed for most of it.

When we got to Ketoy, we anchored in a sheltered bay, where the swell and waves were not as bad, but the fog was terrific. The Gipanis began blowing her horn to signal to the group on shore that we had arrived.

While the operations were underway to retrieve the volcanologists, their gear and samples and to load everything into the space that had been set aside in the hold, Matt and I worked on trimming down the backlog of sample cataloging that had been created at Vodopadnaya. Quite a number of samples were collected and there hadn’t been time to catalog them yet.

Cataloging archaeological samples involves several steps. First, the sample bags are organized by location and test pit number. Then the information on the bags is checked for accuracy, consistency and completeness – is the location spelled correctly, do the levels and test pit information match the test pit forms, is any information missing, etc. Each sample bag needs to have the location, the test pit number, the level that the item was found (depth), a description of what the item in the bag is, the date and the initials of the person or people who collected the item. This is referred to as the item’s provenance or origin information.

Once this is done, all of the sample information is entered into the Artifact Log book and each sample is assigned a unique Identification Number. Then, to prevent the loss of pertinent information if the writing rubs off the sample bag (which sometimes happens) all of this same information is written onto an aluminum tag for lithic and charcoal samples or a piece of orange flagging tape for ceramic and other fragile items. The tag or tape is then put inside the sample bag; the bag is sealed and filed with the all of the other samples in one of the empty cabins downstairs. The process involves quite a bit of tiny writing of the same information 2-3 times. However, this work helps to ensure that items that are collected from specific places or depths can be both located and identified at a later date. The entire Artifact Log is also entered into a computer spreadsheet to aid in finding items and also for purposes of sorting the records, if needed.

IPB Image
I am working in the room where all of the archaeological artifacts are being stored. Each item’s complete provenance has to be recorded on the sample bag, in the artifact book and on an aluminum tag or piece of orange tape that goes into the bag with the item. I never saw Indiana Jones doing this sort of thing!

Lastly, each artifact is photographed so that its details can be seen and with a photo scale so its size can be determined in the photo. All of the artifacts – pottery and stone tools – will stay at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk at the Regional Museum, so having photos of them will be the only way that they can be “worked with” back in the States. So far we have collected nearly 600 bags of samples – lithics, ceramics, tools, faunal material (bones), charcoal and various unique artifacts – and we haven’t quite reached the midpoint of the expedition.

This morning Matt and I worked on cataloging the samples that were collected at the Vodopadnaya test pits from yesterday and the day before. We had to sort out samples from 4 test pits, each with anywhere from 2-7 levels. Since there was so little time in the field, some of the items had been mixed into one bag – lithics, ceramics, bones and charcoal together – instead of each being put into their own bag. So we made sure that the labeling of the bags was complete and sorted out the mixed level bags.

We started at about 9 am, took a break for lunch, and finished by 1:30 pm and cataloged about 60 sample bags. Meanwhile, the group from Ketoy had been loaded and shortly after 2 pm, the anchor was raised and we’re currently heading back to Simushir to pick up the group that stayed there overnight. We expect to arrive around 5 pm so that they can be picked up and returned to the ship before dinner tonight.

Ben has started asking the archaeology students to think about smaller projects or questions that may stem from details that they notice as they collect and catalog the artifacts that they could easily work on gathering data to answer while we are still on the expedition and the artifacts are available to them. These kinds of mini-projects could help contribute to the larger goal of the project by investigating smaller aspects of how the people of the Kurils were impacted by their environment or how they impacted their surroundings. They could also lead to conference presentation, a publishable paper, or even possibly a Master’s or Doctoral thesis for the students. As he discussed this with them the other day, I was struck by how similar what he is asking them to do is like the science inquiry projects that I have my students do each year. Start with an observation, ask a question about it and make a hypothesis that you can test.

For example, Ben has noticed while he has been photographing pottery that there are differences in the thicknesses, curvature, decoration and construction. Also, some of the pottery shows evidence of having been mended. The lithic tools and flakes seem to tend to favor certain materials in different areas. The animals eaten (and thus the bones found in the middens) seem to vary with location and time – how were these natural resources impacted by the people who used them. By making a lot of observations and noticing patterns, a simple hypothesis could be developed in any one of these areas of interest. Then by collecting data about any of these details and looking for patterns over locations and time periods, the hypothesis could be tested.

One of the difficulties when trying to interpret archaeological data – and one of the maxims of the vocation – is that “An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. Meaning that by its very nature the archaeological record is incomplete. There are many reasons that we may not find a particular piece of evidence or artifact – it wasn’t preserved over time, we didn’t dig in the right place, it was somehow destroyed before we could find it (by people, such as the military activities on the Kurils, or by animals while digging their burrows, etc) or it was found at an earlier point by other “searchers” who removed it from its context. So just because we don’t find a particular kind of pottery or material used in a specific location, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there or wasn’t used– only that we didn’t find it when we looked.

After we pick up the group from Simushir, we will be heading north of Ketoy to Rasshua. There the palynology group will investigate to see if they can feasibly get their gear to a lake near the top of the island (200 m elev.) and that the lake is suitable for coring. If so, we will probably be helping them get their gear ashore so that they can camp there for about a week, while we continue further north.

Over and out for today from the Kuril Islands!
Mrs. N-O
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