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> August 12-15, 2006 - Kharimkotan and Shiashkotan, or some days are diamonds, some days are coal
post Aug 15 2006, 03:52 PM
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Tuesday, 15 August
Gipanis, anchored offshore of Shiashkotan Island
9:00 am to 8:00 pm (it was an "all day" journal write)

Sorry that it has been so long since my last report. It seems that the activity level on the ship comes in cycles now. One or two days of little or no activity for me – thus less to report – followed by a flurry of activities for a couple of days – meaning more to report, but less energy and time to do so. Luckily for me, I guess, today is my turn to stay aboard the ship, so I can get caught up with all of the odds and ends and report to you what has been happening for the past three days. smile.gif

Saturday, August 12 – Palynologists go ashore to “play”

On the evening of Friday, 11 August, we pulled anchor shortly after dinner and started transiting for Kharimkotan, a few islands north of Matua, where we had just picked up the archaeology/geology team that had been camping for 3 days. On Saturday, August 12, just before breakfast, we arrived at the northwest end of Kharimkotan. This was the location that the palynologists had selected to do their second round of lake coring. If you remember, this was their second choice location. They had wanted to core a lake on Rasshua, but getting to it was too difficult.

I went up to the top deck before breakfast to check out the weather (brisk – see below), see if I could see any land (too foggy, only could see dark areas that could POSSIBLY be land) and to get some fresh air (plenty of that). While I was there, the ship was beginning to slow as it approached Kharimkotan and I heard some strange splashing and “blowing” noises. I looked over the side, toward the bow, and was amazed to see porpoises surfing along the bow! I watched them for awhile as at least 4 of them effortlessly torpedoed their way back and forth across the front of the ship – surfacing, diving, and swimming at top speed. I myself raced back and forth from the port side to the starboard side of the ship – squealing to myself about how amazing and beautiful they were. The water in the Sea of Okhotsk is so much clearer than what I am accustomed to in the Puget Sound – you can see about 10 meters down – and I could see the porpoises swimming and diving beneath the surface. I finally raced downstairs quickly to grab my camera and took some video clips before we finally stopped and the deck hands dropped the anchors, at which the porpoises quickly swam away.

It was a windy day and the waves were rougher than the day before. There were rumors of a typhoon approaching from the Sea of Japan to the south, so there was some urgency to get groups ashore before the weather got too sketchy. Either being on the ship or onshore is preferable to trying to load/unload gear or be traveling in the zodiac during stormy weather. The three palynologists from the Magadan Institute, Anatoly Lozhkin, Alexander Pakhamov and Pavel Minyuk, all went ashore with Dr. Shubin shortly after breakfast to check out the landing site and access to the lakes.

Meanwhile, the rest of us worked on small tasks – sorting samples, cataloging, drawing up sections, etc. – while we waited to see if we would be able to go ashore briefly in the afternoon. Bre and I worked on inputting and plotting beach profiles that had been taken while she was working in Ainu Bay on Matua. We did the first one together and then once I had gotten the “hang” of it, I worked out the second one mostly on my own (with her expert guidance). It was fun being the student for a bit and Bre is a good teacher. I felt very accomplished because the one that I did was more complicated and convoluted with two types of measurement (nevelier and hand level) and had been done in reverse order (from the high point toward the beach), but I still was able to work it out. Bre was very patient with me and let me do the calculations in the way that made sense to me rather than forcing me to work them the way that she does. It was a good morning.

Shortly after lunch, the palynologists returned and announced that the lake and access was good and we began to work on helping them get their gear loaded into both zodiacs. The weather was getting worse and there were moments of uncertainty about whether everything was going to work out, but eventually they were safely transferred to shore and we will pick them up again tomorrow – August 16. (See picture below – left)

By the time that the palynologists had gotten unloaded and the zodiacs returned, the weather was rough enough and it was late in the day so we did not go ashore at Kharimkotan. So we set our sights on Shiashkotan, one island south and our next destination.

Sunday, 13 August – The “Coal Day”

On Sunday (no, we did not have waffles sad.gif), 13 August, we arrived after a short early morning transit, at Shiashkotan. At least that is what we were told – I couldn’t see any land, too foggy. But then we are becoming “used to” fogginess. We can rarely see land from the ship or the ship from land and I am very glad that the zodiac has a GPS that Dr. Shubin uses to navigate to and from the ship. It is astonishing to think that people used to navigate open waters from island to island in fog such as this. It is very disorienting on the open water and you don’t know if you are even going in the right direction toward a fairly small spot of land.

There were three archaeology/geology teams that went ashore from our group, plus the volcanologists on their zodiac. By 10 am, my team with Colby, Jesse and Jody were ashore with the volcanologist group on the Okhotsk side of the central, narrow part of Shiashkotan, which is shaped like a big dumbbell with a short bar. Our objectives were to climb to the top of the broad terrace (about 90 meters up) and then work our way south along the coast looking for potential archaeology sites – good locations with access both to water and food resources and house pits that haven’t been too disturbed by military activities – and then to dig test pits in these places to see if we could find any artifacts to verify that there was and ancient occupation as well as to determine the volcanic tephra sequence of the island.

We reached the top of the terrace, conversed briefly with a volcanology team that had dug a test pit in the peat and headed off with an additional team member – Malish, the dog. Malish, who looks a bit like a very large red fox, belongs to one of the volcanologists and is much happier running through the countryside than sitting on the ship or waiting for his owner to finish describing a peat pit – so he tagged along with us for the day. (See picture below – right)

IPB Image
On the left: The boat loaded with palynology gear and people heads for shore at Kharimkotan. Dr. Valery Shubin is operating the engine, Dr. Pat Anderson, from the University of Washington (and my roommate) is to the right of him and Dr. Anatoly Lozhkin, from the Magadan Institute, is in the front of the boat, facing forward. Also in the boat is Valery Golobtsov, an archaeologist, who is going along to assist with unloading the boat.

On the right: Malish, the volcanology dog, relaxes in the warm grasses after following us across the top of Shiashkotan for the day.

As we headed south, the weather cleared a bit and the sun actually came out. It was still viciously windy and the fog was blowing over the island from the Pacific side and then settling again out on the Okhotsk. We were apparently in the fog lee and it was quite pleasant for hiking up and down and over the bumpy island. We encountered a small number of military trenches – dramatically fewer than in the southern islands. I fell into the narrowest, deepest trench I’ve encountered yet, however – about 40 centimeters wide and a meter deep. I was walking through knee-high grasses and suddenly – boop! – I was gone. Fell straight down in nearly up to my hips. From then on, we kept a better eye out for these slim traps hiding amongst the waving vegetation.

As we walked directly across the peninsula southward, we were treated to a pleasant surprise - berries! We had unexpectedly encountered a patch of Shiksha – wild blueberries. We spent a lovely 5 minutes or so stuffing our faces with the biggest, ripest ones that we could find. They were tartly sweet, filled with seeds and a bit tannic, but very yummy after so long without fresh fruit!

We eventually got to the next large inlet and as we looked down from the terrace to the beautiful beach below and across to the other side, we noticed tiny, ant-like people! It was one of the other teams – Mike, James, Bre and Dima. By means of binoculars and some well-timed shovel waving, we got in radio contact with them (Imagine Jesse looking through binoculars, me and Colby with shovels – Jesse: “They’re not looking, their trying to figure how to get down the next ravine . . . Now they’re looking.” Imagine me and Colby frantically waving shovels over our heads. Jesse: “Now James is waving a shovel and Mike is raising his arms.”). We learned that they had found a couple of house pits on their side of the stream that was between us and were heading south of that point and we should investigate our side and then head back around the coast back northward.

We dug three test pits in between what might have, at one time, been house pits. Either they weren’t house pits, only military installations, or they had been house pits and perhaps had been disturbed by military activities – but in any case, all we found was tephras, which disappointed Colby, but made Jody happy.
As we ate our meager lunches (bread with a Russian canned meat like inexpensive bologna – I shared a bit of mine with Malish), the weather began to turn and the fog started to roll in. We put our previously discarded layers back on and headed back – following the curve of the coast this time.

About one-third of the way back, Jody discovered an eroded outcrop near the top of the terrace, high above an amazing wave-cut platform beach and decided to excavate it a bit to see if she could find the same tephras as the test pits that we had dug earlier. Jesse decided that “Rule number one – No one falls off the cliff.” We all agreed that this was a good rule and that we would endeavor follow it. (See picture below – left)

While Jody and Jesse worked to finish describing the excavation, Colby and I walked further up the coast a ways to see if we could find any other likely places for an archaeological site. We walked for about 10-15 minutes and then decided that we should wait for Jody and Jesse because the fog was getting thick and the wind was so fierce that you couldn’t possibly hear anyone yelling, so we didn’t want to get separated too much and lose track of each other. So we hunkered down in as much of a lee as we could find among the rolling terrain and that we could create with our backpacks and waited.

About 45 minutes later, we joined back up with Jesse and Jody and continued north – not finding many likely sites. There wasn’t access to fresh water for quite some ways and getting to and from the beach would have been quite difficult. Just before we crossed the last deep stream cut before getting back to where we had landed with the volcanologists, we encountered 6-8 more likely house pit depressions. Colby decided that we should try one more test pit since we had time. On the second shovelful of dirt, we discovered . . . an obsidian flake. “A gen-u-ine artifact,” said Colby. With a new enthusiasm, we dug another 50 centimeters, collected some charcoal samples, but our hopes of further discovery were dashed – no more artifacts. It was the “coal” day – a good day for geologists, but not for archaeologists.

We headed back to the beach and then to Gipanis – arriving quite early, after a significantly wet zodiac ride, at 5:30 pm. When the other groups returned, we learned that Mike’s group had found a possible site with more houses and artifacts and that Ben’s group, which had gone north of our landing spot, had found an ancient village with a dozen or more house pits and lots of artifacts in the test pit that Dena and Matt had dug.

Monday, 14 August – The “Diamond Day”

Because of the threat of the impending storm and the possible need to pick up the palynologists early if the weather got too bad, it was decided that we would stay at Shiashkotan overnight. Ben wanted to head back to the ancient village and complete the test pit that had been started as well as dig another one or two. So yesterday morning, Mike, Bre, Tezuka-san, Kenji, Ben and I set out in the first zodiac run for the Drobnyye site. However, it was a 45-minute zodiac ride one way and the weather and waves ended up being dicier than expected. When we landed at the beach, however – greeted by a significantly decomposing sperm whale – it was very windy, but not cold. The wind was from the Pacific and warmer than the Okhotsk side. It was decided that our group would stay (luckily we had packed a lunch), but that the second boat load would stay closer to Gipanis instead of coming to our location. So our group was set to work for the day.

Ben showed Bre, Mike and me the test pit that Dena and Matt had started the day before on one side of the stream and at the top of the terrace and we got to work while he and Tezuka hiked up to the other side of the terrace across the stream from us to dig their own test pit. After a wet zodiac ride, that soaked us all through, we were pleased to find that we were again in a fog lee. It was windy and occasionally misty, but the sun came out and while we were working or down in the test pit hole and out of the wind it was downright warm! We took off our wet layers and laid them out to dry and managed not to sweat through from the inside too much. But we did get dirty. smile.gif

Mike decided that we should dig down using the trowel to scrape away about 1-2 cm at a time and then screen the dirt in each level to find all of the smaller bits of charcoal, bones, ceramic and lithic flakes. We found quite a bit of each all of the way through the 80 centimeters or so that we dug (3 levels). We also encountered at least 3 tephras with cultural material above and below each layer of tephra. As time ran short in the afternoon, we quickly punched through a layer of orangey brown tephra that was about 10 cm thick to see if we had reached the bottom of the cultural material. Below the tephra we found at least 2 more flakes and some more charcoal – so the answer was “No.” However, when it was time to go, we put a large plastic bag into the bottom of the hole to indicate the lowest depth that we had dug for future archaeologists, quickly shoveled all of the back dirt into it, replaced the pieces of sod that we could find on top, packed up our gear and sample bags, put our layers and rain gear back on and took an extremely wet and long zodiac ride back to the ship.

The thing that made yesterday such a “diamond” day, though, in addition to our great digging team, the surprisingly wonderful weather, the continual supply of artifacts that we collected and the mental challenge of the test pit tephra stratigraphy that we all worked to interpret, was the two incredibly beautiful biface projectile points that I came across during my turn to trowel in the hole. At about 70 cm below the surface, I unearthed an amazingly white tear-drop shaped projectile point about 2.5 cm long and 1 cm wide that had been retouched on both sides. I thought that it was exquisite. I hadn’t seen one in such good condition and it was the first one that I had seen that was so purely white. A few minutes later, after Mike had photographed the first artifact for prosperity, I found its “little brother” – a point about half as big and a bit pointier, but also white and in near perfect condition – especially given that they are probably over 1000 years old. We put them into their own sample bags with their provenience (origin information) written on the outside for safe keeping. Today we washed them, photographed them again and cataloged them. They were my “diamonds” from the dirt. (See picture below – center and right)

IPB Image
On the left: Jesse Einhorn (standing in black), Jody Bourgeois (kneeling in yellow) and Colby Phillips (kneeling with blue coat and red hat), along with Malish (orange coat, back to camera), work on exposing the tephra sequence high above a wave-cut platform beach. Behind and far below them (about 90 meters) you can see the black, rocks that have been eroded into a flat platform surface by the wave action.

In the center: Me holding the white biface projectile point that was found in the test pit that Mike Etnier, Bre MacInnes and I dug at Drobnyye Beach on Shiashkotan Island. Biface points are made by taking the large initial flakes from knapping and then chipping off smaller bits along the edges to refine the shape and sharpness. A biface point has been retouched from both sides and looks like what most people would generally think of as an “arrowhead.” (Image courtesy Mike Etnier)

On the right: A close up photo of the two biface points that were found at Drobnyye Beach after they were cleaned. They are sitting on the screen with a pencil for scale.

Tuesday, 15 August – A stunning but quiet day, weather wise

Today, we are still at Shiashkotan and most of us are aboard the ship. The weather was expected to be rough in the Sea of Okhotsk – there were still rumors of an approaching storm. It was quite windy and rainy last night, but since we are anchored on the leeward side of one of Shiashkotan’s tall volcanoes, we are feeling sheltered and safe. The storm seems to have blown itself out or only skirted us, though, and today the weather has turned sunnier and calmer. However, only one small group went ashore on the zodiac – Ben, Jody, Amano, Kenji and some of the Russians – plus the volcanology zodiac, so the rest of us are working on catching up on lab work or other individual projects. Later tonight we will head back to Kharimkotan to pick up the palynologists. Then we will drop off the volcanologists on Onekotan, where they will stay for the rest of the expedition and head further north to Paramushir. When the palynology group goes ashore there the day after tomorrow, I will be heading to shore with them – to learn about and hopefully help with the work that they do. Hopefully, I will be able to continue uploading while I am camping on shore, but if not (it is still unclear if a satellite phone will be available to me), then I will still write my journals and then upload them when I return to the ship sometime around 24 August.

So until next time!
- Mrs. N-O
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