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> July 31 – Southern Urup Island (part 1), or The Gipanis welcomes home some of our comrades and Misty tries her
post Aug 1 2006, 06:01 PM
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July 31 – Southern Urup Island
or The Gipanis welcomes home some of our comrades and Misty tries her hand at archaeology

Monday, 31 July – Aboard the Gipanis, anchored offshore of Ainu Creek on Southern Urup Island
8:45 pm

Today, I dug into an ancient garbage pile – and said things like “Hey cool!” or “Whoa, what is that?” with a great deal of excitement whenever I found something.

I didn’t do a journal entry for yesterday because NOTHING HAPPENED! We spent the entire day anchored in the bay off of Reydovo – while the crew tried to find a water source that we could load into the ship’s tanks and being unsuccessful in the endeavor. Since we couldn’t collect any more samples or artifacts while we were on the ship, we took advantage of the time to re-sort and label the samples and artifacts that we already had so that each sample bag only had one kind of artifact (lithics (stone flakes), tools (such as points or blades that had their edges retouched), pottery sherds, and bones) and so that their labeling was consistent. It was a somewhat tedious task and combined with our confinement to the ship made us all feel a bit frustrated and temperamental. Everyone required frequent breaks and there was much candy and chocolate consumed to cool tempers.

Early this morning (4 AM!) the anchor was raised and we headed toward Urup. The goal was the Ainu Creek encampment where we had left Colby and the Russian archaeologists last week. At breakfast, we were still in the strait between Iturup and Urup, so the boat was rolling like crazy. This meant that I, personally, did not eat a lot of breakfast – even though it was the delicious rice porridge. I had to slowly nibble about one ladleful and then head back to my bunk to lie back down. Fortunately, about 10 minutes later we cleared the strait and the rolling of the ship immediately calmed. Unfortunately for me, that meant that I had much less breakfast than I would have liked.

We split into two groups – one was going to head to Ainu Creek, just south of the campsite and do some archaeology, the other was to head around the south end of the island to a bay on the Pacific side where there was a midden site. I went with Bre, Jody, Mike, Matt and Dr. Shubin to the bay called Kapsyul on the Pacific side.

We were anticipating a chilly zodiac ride – first the weather was cool and foggy (big surprise!) and the water was pretty choppy. Plus, we knew that the waves and wind on the Pacific side were liable to be worse than the Sea of Okhotsk side. As we rounded the point, the wave swell was getting pretty big, the wind was fierce and the kelp beds were huge. We saw quite a few very cute sea otters in the kelp. Dr. Shubin decided that we should put in at a cove on the west side and hike across the narrow point to the Pacific side. We were all very appreciative.

After we got the boat ashore, we hiked up and over the terraces and through heavy vegetation for about an hour to the Pacific side, which definitely warmed us up. We saw a lot more orchids and yellow flowers that looked like they were related to ranunculus – fewer irises and smaller, orange tiger lilies instead of the large Asiatic lilies that we had seen on Iturup and Kunashir.

Jody and Bre worked on excavating and describing the soil profiles alongside a road cut, while Mike, Matt and I investigated the midden. Remember, a midden is a (hopefully, pre-historic) garbage pile that has been preserved by being covered by sand or soil that archaeologists, and especially zooarchaeologists like Mike, can use to learn a lot about the ancient people from what they threw away. By looking at the bones of animals that they have eaten, we can learn about their diet. By looking at the tools or flakes that are in the garbage, we can find out more about how they hunt and work. By looking at the pottery sherds (pieces), we can learn more about their technology. Essentially, today we dug through other people’s garbage looking for the remains of their meals. Fortunately, these have all been buried for quite awhile, so all that remains are the preserved bones – including teeth – of the animals.

To do this in a systematic way, archaeologists take dirt out of a hole layer by layer – usually 5-10 centimeters thick. This dirt is shoveled into a screen that has either  or 1/8 inch metal mesh and the dirt is sifted out so that the artifacts and bones can be easily found. Today, we used water to help wash out the dirt as we sifted since we were so close to the ocean. We shoveled a 5 cm thick layer of dirt into a convenient Japanese plastic fish basket (like a rectangular plastic laundry basket) that we found on the beach, and then took it down to the shore to wash and sift 3-4 shovelfuls at a time. Then we picked through what remained on the screen to find small bone bits and teeth. (See picture below – left)

Mike could identify many of the bones and teeth right on the spot, using his experience and training as a zooarchaeologist. Matt and I would find something and say “What is this?” and Mike would reply “That is the finger bone of a sea otter” or some other similar response. Only occasionally, with especially tiny or fractured pieces would he say “I don’t know.” I was impressed that he could tell a fox tooth from a sea lion tooth simply by looking at them. (See picture below – right)

We excavated down through 4 layers – a total of about 25 centimeters – screening and collecting the bones from each one separately. After we had finished, we packed up our gear, expecting another long hike back to the zodiac. We were pleasantly surprised when Dr. Shubin, who had been off doing his own exploring for awhile, reappeared with Andrei, who mans the lighthouse on the southern point of Urup Island. Andrei gave us all a ride back to the other side of the point in his large jeep. It was a squishy ride – 7 people and their gear, Matt and Mike sitting in the back among the backpacks – but it was much appreciated!

Late tonight, about 8 pm, the shore group returned with the other half of our group, including Colby! He was very happy to be back on the ship and received hugs all around to greet him.

IPB Image
On the left: Matt Walsh and I work to wash the soil and sand away from a few shovelfuls of dirt from the midden excavation so that we can recover any small bones or artifacts that may be present. (Image courtesy of Mike Etnier)
On the right: Mike Etnier holds out a sea otter tooth that was found in the screen. Below his hand, you can see the screen and its contents after the washing was done.
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