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> August 5-6 – Northern Simushir, or Archaeological excitement abounds!
Misty_Nikula_Ohlsen
post Sep 13 2006, 08:15 PM
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Sunday, 6 August – Aboard the Gipanis, anchored offshore near Neprochka on the Pacific side of Northern Simushir Island
9:00 pm


Yesterday, after we finished loading water, we headed up the coast to Vodopadnaya, which means waterfall in Russian. We arrived shortly after lunch time and two groups headed ashore. There was a thick fog and we couldn’t see the shore from the ship or vice versa. One group was to land at a Vodopadnaya Site 1 and one at Site 2. However, in the thick fog, Dr. Shubin had difficulty finding both sites so both groups ended up in the same general location.

We climbed up to the top of a steep ~40 meter terrace and Ben quickly found the depressions of several pit houses. Using a soil probe to take small core samples about 60 cm into the earth, he found a place with charcoal bits and asked Colby and me to begin digging a test pit there.

We quickly cleared an area of about 1 m by 1 m of turf and Colby set up a string and line level to create a datum line from which to measure the depth. We started digging out layers of the soil in about 10 cm intervals and running them through the 1/4-inch screen. We quickly found lots of grey, red and yellow flakes and charcoal pieces, which we put into labeled sample bags for each level. In the two hours that we were allotted to work, we dug 4 levels – down to 50 cm – but didn’t find anything other than flakes and charcoal. No ceramics.

On an adjacent ridge on the other side of the stream that ran down to the waterfall, Matt and Mike were digging another test pit in a spot where Ben had found some bones with his soil probe. While Colby and I were finishing up with our test pit – I was collecting up the sample bags, Colby was filling out the paperwork – Mike came by to collect our screen. Apparently, over at their test pit they had encountered layers of shell and bone midden. But that was not to be the most sensational find, however.

Just above the first midden layer, Matt had found a remarkable artifact – a carved whale vertebral disc. The 3-inch flat disc had been carved with concentric circles around the outside and a triangle pattern in the middle and, with the exception of a few chips on one side, was well preserved. Matt, of all people, was reportedly speechless and covered with goose bumps when he found it. It is truly an amazing and beautiful artifact.

Before I headed back to the ship on the first zodiac run, I hiked over to Matt and Mike’s test pit to see what else might be turning up. When I got there I found Natasha, Dr. Shubin and several other people had joined the excavation and were working on pulling things from the test pit, while Mike and Matt tried to get materials put into the proper bags by level and location as quickly as possible. They found a broken, but nearly complete ceramic pot that was extensively photographed and then collected into its own bag – Natasha will work on reconstructing the pot back at the Sakhalin Museum. I helped with the bagging until it was time to hike back down to the beach to go back to the ship.

The evening was spent organizing the first set of samples from the test pits and preparing for today – heading back to the same location for the morning before we headed on to our next site.

Today, I went ashore with Dr. Shubin’s wife, Marina, and son, Dima, Natasha, Mike, Jody and Kenji to work on digging the same test pit deeper to see if we could get to the bottom of the midden layers. We ended up finding at least 3 thin layers of sea urchin bits and mixed sea mammal bones that were separated by a few centimeters of dirt. We excavated and screened each midden layer separately – putting the bones, ceramics, flakes and charcoal from each layer into separate sample bags. We also collected up all of the muddy dirt clumps that wouldn’t go through the screen into plastic bags so that they can be 1/8-inch wet screened back on the ship and then the smallest bits can be collected for Mike’s work studying the distribution of and populations of sea animals eaten by pre-historic people on the Kurils.

We had to work very quickly because we only had 3 hours total to finish the excavation, collect the artifacts, document the test pit and its stratigraphy, and then fill it back in. Instead of just backfilling the hole this time, we lined the bottom and edges of the hole with plastic sheeting, secured the corners with some pieces of milled lumber that we scrounged from the beach and put a large piece of fish netting under the pieces of sod that we replaced. All of this is done to mark the location of the test pit so when any other archaeologists return to this site they know that particular spot has been disturbed and already excavated and they will select a different location. (See picture below – left)

We had to come back early to the ship because we were heading around the north end of Simushir to the Pacific side to drop off a geology team – Jody, Bre, Beth, Jesse, Tanya and Katya – and a few archaeologists to work with them – Mike, James and Dena. The ship arrived at the target beach area just before 5 pm and the groups were taken ashore in two zodiac trips. True to form, while Dr. Shubin was ashore with the first group, the fog quickly rolled in, blocking our view of the shore and his view of the ship. The Gipanis had to blow her horn several time for Dr. Shubin to find us again. The second group headed to shore and the fog lifted a bit so it wasn’t so difficult. (See picture below – center and right)

This group, plus a couple of other Russian scientists, will be camping ashore overnight and working on excavating and profiling the beaches in this location tomorrow, while the ship heads to Ketoy – the next island north – to pick up the volcanologist group that has been camped there since July 20. After we load the volcanologists, their samples and their gear back aboard, we will head back to this location to pick up our group by the end of the day. Then we will be heading north to Rasshua.

Back again in a couple more days!
Mrs. N-O

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On the left: The test pit that we dug through part of a midden at Vodopadnaya after we had lined the hole with plastic sheeting, backfilled the dirt, laid down plastic netting and replaced the sod. No archaeologist will accidentally dig in THIS previously excavated spot now!
In the center: Alexander Pakhamov, Jesse Einhorn, Mike Etnier, Dr. Valery Shubin, Tanya Pinegina, James Taylor and Beth Martin head to the beach on Northern Simushir Island for the night.
On the right: Vladimir Golobtsov, Bre MacInnes, Katya Kravchunovskaya, Jody Bourgeois and Dena Berkey head to the beach in the second zodiac run.

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