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> August 9, 2006 - Gipanis, anchored offshore of Ainu Bay, or a lot of sorting ancient garbage piles
post Aug 10 2006, 10:28 PM
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Wednesday, 9 August
Gipanis, anchored offshore of Ainu Bay on Matua Island
8:30 pm

Yesterday, 8 August, we arrived at Rasshua where the palynologists were hoping to go ashore with their team for a week or so to core a lake there. When we arrived early in the morning, it was very foggy and we couldn’t really see the shore at all. A reconnaissance group went ashore to find out if the road to the lake that was shown on the maps was accessible and then to go up to the lake and see if it was suitable for coring. While they did this, the rest of us were hoping to get ashore and do some archaeology and geology.

Around lunchtime, the zodiac returned with the two palynologists and a couple of other Russian scientists, Dr. Shubin, and Matt and Jesse, who had gone along to assist with carrying gear. Turns out that after about 3 hours of sitting in the boat, navigating through kelp beds and searching the fog for a suitable landing place they had found nothing and had decided to return to the ship. The rest of us knew then that we wouldn’t be getting ashore that day. The palynologists also knew that they needed to begin looking at their “Plan B” since they would not be coring lakes on Rasshua

The volcanology group had decided that they would like to try again at high tide and, if possible, set up a camp to stay on Rasshua for a few days. So we were left to our own devices to pass the day. Since we hadn’t been ashore for a day or two, there were no new archaeology samples to process. The geologists mostly worked on drawing up sections from excavations that they made on Northern Simushir.
Mike decided that first we should work on rinsing and cleaning the bones that we had collected the week before from Kapsyul Bay. We had wet screened them in salt water, so the bones needed to be rinsed with freshwater and while we did that we used a toothbrush, soft-bristled paint brush and a toothpick to clean off some of the dirt. Mike told me about the bones that he thought were interesting and I asked him about the ones that I thought were interesting. He is very enthusiastic about bones, particularly sea mammal bones, so it made the task go quickly and interestingly. Then he decided that we should wet screen the material that we had collected from Vodopadnaya a couple of days ago. Matt helped us.

When we were excavating the sea urchin midden at Vodopadnaya on the evening of August 5 and the morning of August 6, the soil was damp, so it tended to ball up into little mud balls about the size of raisins or milk duds. Mike had wanted to be sure not to lose too many of the small bones – typically fish and bird bones – that would still be caught in this dirt, so the mud balls were collected into garbage bags and Ziploc bags – one for each level – so that we could later rinse away the dirt and still collect the bone material. Yesterday afternoon was later.

We set up on the aft deck with both the ¼-inch and 1/8-inch screens, the bags of midden mud balls, a hose and some big pieces of plastic sheeting to collect the material from the screens. We dumped each bag of mud balls onto the screens and used the hose and fingers to break up and wash away the dirt from the bones. Then we dumped out the remains onto the plastic sheeting, collected it together and rinsed it with freshwater. Then we set them aside to dry before they go back into new, labeled Ziploc bags. (See pictures below)

IPB Image
On the left: Matt Walsh works on spraying salt water on the midden sample from the Vodopadnaya midden test pit. The small mud balls that were left from the initial screening are being broken up and rinsed so that we can collect all of the smallest bone pieces.

On the right: A close up of the wet screening. Matt Walsh and Mike Etnier are working to break up the mud balls so that the dirt can be washed off of the small bones.

After we finished with the wet screening, cleaned up and filled out the rest of the test pit form for Vodopadnaya, the afternoon was nearly over. The volcanologists got ashore at high tide and will stay on Rasshua until the day after tomorrow – August 11.

Early this morning, we transited north to location on southwestern Matua Island called Ainu Bay. Here the majority of the geologist group – Tanya, Katya, Beth, Bre and Jesse – some of the archaeologists – James, Colby, Matt and Amano – as well as a couple of Russian scientists will be staying until the evening of August 11. They went ashore first to set up their camp and then just after lunch, the rest of us – Me, Mike, Dena, Paul, Kenji and Tezuka – went ashore just for the day to do archaeology.

Matua has been significantly militarized by troops during WWII. There are extensive trench systems and many of what may have formerly been pit houses have been further excavated into bunkers. There are also very many lemmings on Matua and their burrows have disturbed the sediments as well. There are so many lemming trails and burrows that it was surprising to me that there weren’t more predators evident – such a snowy owls or foxes.

The only positive aspect of the military trenches and animal burrows is that they do sometimes expose things that otherwise wouldn’t be visible. The trenches can cut through an archaeological deposit or the dirt that the animals kick out of their burrows could hold an artifact. This is actually what luckily happened for us.

As Paul, Dena, Mike and I walked through the trenches and over hills, Mike noticed a bit of snail shell in the base of one of the trenches. After investigating a bit further, he discovered what appeared to be some midden layers in the side wall of the trench and we set up to excavate them.

We slowly removed the turf and then the dirt in layers of about 5-10 cm each. Paul and Dena sifted the dirt and picked out as many of the bones, shells and charcoal that they could manage. In the first 5 cm by 30 cm swath we collected a gallon Ziploc-worth of mostly snail shells and about ½ cup of charcoal bits. We soon learned that there was more than just the remains of an ancient meal of escargot in this midden, however.

At the base of the midden, almost in the trench itself, Dena spied a particularly large bone. Mike quickly and dramatically identified it as that of an extinct species of sea lion that hasn’t been seen since at least the 1940s – Japanese sea lion. (See picture below – left and center)

We continued to excavate the rest of the midden, identifying a layer with sea urchin bits, collecting lots of charcoal, about a half dozen small red flakes, several kinds of snail shells, small bird bones and a handful of larger mammal bones. At about 35 cm below the surface, we began encountering thick layers of large cinders, tephras and sandy layers, but no more cultural material. (See picture below – right)

Tomorrow, the archaeologists who are staying at Ainu Bay will do more excavations on the test pits that we started, as well as locate more areas to excavate. The geologists will also describe the sections, identifying and sampling the distinct tephra layers. Coordinating both of these types of information – cultural material and geologic stratigraphy – is a big part of the Kuril Biocomplexity Project because it will help to fill in the picture from both aspects – anthropological history and volcanological history.

IPB Image

On the left: Dr. Mike Etnier identifies a large bone found in the midden at Ainu Bay as from an extinct sea lion species.

Center: A close up of the bone, showing the distinctive “hook” that helps with its identification.

On the right: A photo taken of our excavated snail midden at Ainu Bay on Matua. Through the center of the photo runs the snail midden layer. Above the snail shells is the sandy soil and turf. Below the snail shells layer are two large layers that contain volcanic cinders. Some of the cinders were quite large – 5-7 cm in diameter.

The plan for those of us on the ship is to head to Ushishir tomorrow. This island archipelago lies south of Rasshua and north of Ketoy. We will spend the day there and then the next day head back to pick up the volcanologists on Rasshua and the geology/archaeology group on Matua.

More in a couple of days!
Mrs. N-O
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