August 11, 2006 - Ushishir, Rasshua and Matua, or a good day in the field, a lot of ship transits
August 11, 2006 - Ushishir, Rasshua and Matua, or a good day in the field, a lot of ship transits
Aug 11 2006, 03:45 PM
Group: TREC Team
Joined: 18-April 06
Member No.: 31
Friday, 11 August
Gipanis, transiting from Rasshua Island to Matua Island
Yesterday morning, we left Matua in the early morning and traveled back south, past Rasshua to the Ushishir Archipelago. There are about 8 islands and large rocky outcrops in the small island group, of which two, Ryponkicha and Yankicha, are of significant enough size that people could occupy them for any length of time. Our goal for the day was to visit both islands to see if we could find any archaeological sites.
When we visit a new island like these, where there aren’t “known” sites, there are a few ways to narrow down potential locations in which to look. One is to look at historic documents such as the journals of captains sent to explore the islands for natural resources, etc. or from whaling or fishing captains’ logs for descriptions of “old” villages and their locations and then to search in those areas. The other is to look at the island’s topography and determine where is there might be relatively easy access to fresh water and resources such as stone, edible plants, or sea mammals, since these are the most likely places for people to settle. If we can’t land on a shore because it is too rocky or the surf is too rough, then it is unlikely that ancient peoples would have chosen such a location to land either – unless the beach had changed significantly in the past 1000-3000 years. In an area like the Kuril Islands, however, many of the beaches have been raised by tectonic activity so often instead of being right by the beach, ancient village sites are up on top of the first or second terrace level.
On Ryponkicha, we were investigating the northern end of the island, where the beach was narrow and rocky. There was an 80 meter terrace that we wanted to get to the top of to look for archaeological sites. Once we get to a likely site, the archaeologists look for the remains of house pits – depressions in the surface of about 3-4 meters in diameter and maybe up to 1 meter in depth. Often, different kinds of vegetation grow in the house pits as well, because the charcoal and other minerals left behind alter the soil chemistry slightly making some plants more productive than others – so we look for these signs as well.
We put 4 groups of 3 people each ashore all around the small island of Ryponkicha. I was working with Ben and Tezuka-san for the morning. After we managed to put Mike, Dena and Kenji ashore on one side of the northwest point of the island, by paddling as close as possible and then letting them carefully navigate the kelp-covered rocks to shore, we located our own landing site. Before we could make our own careful way across the slippery rocks, however, we had to wait for about 35-50 young male fur seals to clear the beach. They were not at all happy to be disturbed from their naps!
We made our way to shore and Dr. Shubin went off with the zodiac to get the other two groups from Gipanis. We had about 3 hours onshore. We located a washout in the cliff face that looked like a reasonable place to ascend to the top of the terrace. The washout had been overgrown with grasses and was spotted with lemming burrows - both of which aided in our ascent.
When we got to the top of terrace, we found a relatively flat expanse covered with knee-high grass around the edges and tundra plants further in. Tundra plants are very small, low to the ground and grow very slowly, so we wondered why the grasses, which grow much faster, seemed to be primarily limited to the perimeter of the terrace. Ben and I had a brief discussion about this and came up with at least one good hypothesis. If in the wintertime there was a difference in wind speeds between the top of the terrace and the edges and that combined with snow that was blown away from the top, but could gather on the edges and protect the grasses as well as kept them from surviving in the windswept areas – then this would create an area where the tundra plants could take advantage. Later, Mike interjected the thought that the limits of where salt could spray up to the terrace may also have an impact. Hmmmmmmm.
We walked to the northern end of the island and located several likely depressions that could be house pit remains. Ben and Tezuka investigated one of the pits with a very narrow and shallow test pit (i.e., they dug down about 45 cm with the shovel) and found some bits of charcoal and a tiny flake. Ben decided that we should dig a larger test pit between two of the depressions. Since we are not in a position to do a thorough excavation of an entire house pit, just test pits to verify occupation levels and to collect charcoal and/or pottery to determine approximate dates, we try not to dig into house pit sites unless they are already eroding and the contents are in danger of being lost anyway.
Tezuka and I worked on digging a test pit in the location that Ben had selected while he mapped out the rest of the site. Tezuka dug out the pit while I sifted through the shovelfuls of dirt for bits of ceramic, flakes, charcoal or bones. In the layer up to about 30 cm below the surface, we found all four. Since we were pressed for time, I put all of the bones, ceramics and flakes into one bag to be sorted out later. The charcoal bits, which are used for radiocarbon dating, are put into a little bag created out of aluminum foil to protect them from contamination.
In the few centimeters below 30, we didn’t find very much at first and thought that we had reached the end of the occupation level. Since we were nearly out of time, Ben asked Tezuka dig down about another 20 cm in just one quarter of the pit, just to see what was there. We hit pay dirt – there was a midden layer below with bird and fish bones, charcoal and a few pieces of ceramic. Since we didn’t have time to sort it and had gotten the information that we needed – we now know that this is a site that we want to return to next year or the year following – we quickly collected about 3 liters of the midden soil for later diagnosis in a large garbage bag, tied it closed, finished up our notes about the site and the test pit, and started back toward the washout where we had come up earlier. (See picture below – left & center)
We carefully descended from the terrace and found that the fur seals had not returned or bothered any of the gear that we had left on the beach – though a local Arctic fox had rooted through Ben’s pack a bit. Luckily his sandwich had been in a plastic dry bag, so it was safe from four-legged looters.
While we waited for Dr. Shubin to return, we carefully and at safe distances (and always from an upshore vantage point) took pictures of the lazy, sleeping fur seals. We tried not to startle them awake and were amazed at how unconcerned they were in general about our presence. (See picture below – right)
I did manage to make a recording of the bird and fur seal noises that will be uploaded as a pod cast when I return. Very cool.
Eventually, Dr. Shubin returned and we headed back to the ship for lunch before we moved on to investigate Yankicha.
On the left: I am laying down into the test pit that we dug on top of the terrace at the northern end of Ryponkicha. We dug about 45 cm into the NE quadrant of the pit and found a midden at the base. This picture was taken as I was trying to do a hurried geological description of the stratigraphy. (Image courtesy of Ben Fitzhugh)
In the center: Ben, Tezuka and I get ready to descend the cliff through this wash out. Ben had just finished taking pictures of an Arctic fox that had a den about 1/3 of the way down. The terrace that we were on was about 80 meters high.
On the right: An immature, male fur seal that we woke up and is telling us in no uncertain terms not to come any closer (we didn’t). There were at least 100 fur seals – most likely all immature males, according to Mike Etnier (our resident zooarchaeologist and fur seal expert) – taking naps all along the beach at Ryponkicha while we were doing archaeology above their heads. (Image courtesy of Ben Fitzhugh)
At about 2:30 pm, we headed to a heavily cobble- and boulder-strewn shore on the Okhotsk side of the narrow northern end of Yankicha. The island is the remnants of a volcano that erupted violently at some point in the past and left only a nearly complete circular caldera rim with a smaller island in the center. We walked all around the end of the point, locating some historic artifacts near the surface – bits of metal, modern ceramics, milled wood beams – and some evidence of pre-historic occupation as well – buried charcoal, flakes and bones. Tezuka, Dena and Ben worked on enlarging a previous excavation in an eroded beach front dune, Jody looked at geology throughout the area and Mike and I worked on excavating an eroding dune on the north end where he had spied some bone fragments falling out of the face.
Ben, Dena and Tezuka ended up discovering a house pit in their excavation – probably Ainu, according to Ben. Jody found some curious sandy deposits and lots of confusing stratigraphy. Mike and I found a thin layer of mostly bird and fur seal bones. Mike thinks that they are probably historic given their location near the grassy turf and that they are in relatively good condition (bones nearer to the surface are more likely to decompose rather than be preserved, so good condition bones near the surface are probably not that old)
While we waited for everyone else to be finished with their test pits and paperwork, Mike and I walked down the beach a bit to look for large pieces of pumice that would float, glass balls or anything else interesting that we might come across. We followed a fox down the beach a ways (he kept running in front of us) and I got a bit of video with him barking at us. We successfully found pumice pieces, but only one glass ball before it was time to return to the zodiac and to the Gipanis.
On my way back to the zodiac, after successfully navigating up and down an 80 meter cliff face as well as walking over cobbles and boulders both on Ryponkicha and Yankicha for several hours, in my last few steps on the beach, I slipped off a rock and landed right on my backside. Smack on a rock on my tailbone. OUCH! It seems to be fine – other than a generally sore and bruised spot near my lower spine. No sit ups for awhile!
Since we knew that today would be a laid back day onboard the ship, we put off most of our labeling and cataloging work last night and chose to relax instead – looking at pictures, playing cribbage and enjoying a quiet ship before all of our shore parties came back.
Today, we processed all of the samples from Ryponkicha and Yankicha, completed the test pit paperwork and organized the sample room. In the morning, the volcanologists were picked up from Rasshua (still too foggy, I personally never saw the island). Now we have made it to Matua, where later this evening we will load the geology/archaeology folks from our group back onto the ship. The next step will be to take the palynologists to their second location – the rumor is Kharimkotan, but the plan is still in flux I understand – where they will stay for about a week while we visit archaeological sites on islands nearby.
Check back soon for more news from the Kuril Islands!
|NSF Acknowledgment & Disclaimer||Time is now: 31st August 2016 - 02:31 PM|