Friday, August 29, 2014

August on Baffin Island

Autumn and winter are fast approaching, but the changing weather is giving us some spectacular vistas around the sites.  This was our view from the total station earlier in the week.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Changing Caribou Hunting Technology

We've been working around the confluence of two rivers on northern Baffin Island and although the sites haven't contained a lot of artifacts, they still document generations upon generations of caribou hunting in the same spot.  The artifact on the left is the base of a ground slate lance.  The tip is missing, but this is the sort of implement that the Dorset Palaeoeskimo would have used to hunt caribou in the area one or two thousand years ago.  The large slate point with the two drilled holes would have served the same purpose for the Thule Inuit who came several hundred years ago.  The sphere is a musket ball, used by the Inuit after trade with Europeans opened up in the 19th century and on the right is a .22-250 shell casing.  The area is still used today by hunters who travel up the river valley on ATV.

Photo Credit:Tim Rast

Monday, August 25, 2014

Archaeology Selfie

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane, Baffin Island, Nunavut.  The soil stains their feathers reddish-brown.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Its getting late in the season

After a couple days of sunshine a big system has rolled in over us.  Yesterday was a rain day and today is a snow day.  Its time to get caught up on paperwork.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, August 18, 2014

Arctic Cotton

Fields of Arctic Cotton, late July, Baffin Island, Nunavut.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, August 15, 2014

Another Newfoundland Iceberg

This streamlined berg was sitting with a handful of others just off Cape Spear a few weeks ago.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Icebergs off Cape Spear

Icebergs a plenty. June, Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador. (click to enlarge)
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Monday, August 11, 2014

Snowy Owl and Snow Geese

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, August 8, 2014

Harvesting Birch Bark

A sheet of bark is flexible
In the spring, I received a commission to build a reproduction Beothuk birch bark quiver.  Birch bark can only be harvested during a relatively narrow window in the late spring/summer when the sap is running.  I tried to collect the bark that I needed in June, before leaving for the field, but it wasn't ready yet.  Birch trees have an inner and outer bark layer and for most of the year, those two layers are stuck together, so that if you try to peel the bark off, it will strip the tree down to bare wood.  Not only is the resulting bark too thick to work with, but this also hurts the tree.  However, if you peel the bark at the right time, the outer bark is loose, flexible, and unrolls easily leaving the inner bark attached to the wood to protect the tree and continue growing.
You can harvest birch bark with a pocket knife.  Just cut a ring around the tree at the top and bottom of the section that you want to peel and then cut a vertical slice to connect the two rings. 
When you peel the sheet off you get a square or rectangular sheet of bark.  

The bark is fairly tough and surprisingly flexible.  It has tendency to split where you cut through those little white lines on the edge (you can see daylight between my fingers), but if you are slow and cautious, its not too hard to get the sheets to come off in tact.

Some of the bark peels easier than others.  The vertical lines you can see on the inner bark here are from where I ran my pocket knife under the peeling bark to separate sticky parts.  But for the most part the gap between the two bark layers felt cool and damp and I could coax it apart by sliding my hand between the two layers.

The bark I collected is for Beothuk quivers to fit 3 foot long arrows.  The finished quiver won't be that long, but I looked for nice straight, knot free trees that were a little bit bigger around than a quiver and cut out 3 foot sections.
Hopefully at least one of these four pieces will work and I can complete a quiver or two in September when I have a chance to return to the project.  I'll need a little extra bark for details on the quiver.

In the meantime, I've rolled the bark back into tubes, about the same diameter as the finished quiver so that as the bark dries it will take on the correct shape.

Fresh off the tree the bark has a texture similar to a stiff leather, but much more fragile.  Splits like to start on those little white marks and will run around the bark and split the long tubes in two, if you aren't careful.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bones! A Guest Interview with Katy Meyers

This is a guest post submitted by Victor Archambault of US Radar, who is interviewing industry professionals who use Ground Penetrating Radar  (GPR).  In archaeology, GPR and other remote sensing technologies have been employed to create images of what lies beneath the ground ahead of (or instead of) excavation.  Here is Victor's interview with Katy Meyers...

Dr. Temperance Brennan is a name that many TV show “Bones” fans know by heart but that is all just fiction and no one actually looks that closely to human remains. Right? Oh contraire, mon frere! There are real-life people that are just as interesting and fascinated in the mysteries that only human remains can tell.

I wanted to get some real world feedback on ground penetrating radar and how it is used out in the real world in various ways.  I was able to interview Katy Meyers who runs a thriving blog at BonesDontLie while traveling the world, both learning the local culture and helping to unravel the secrecies of this thing we call “the past”. 

Katy, what is your title and expertise?
I am currently a PhD Candidate at Michigan State University in the Anthropology Department. I also have an MSc in Human Osteoarchaeology from University of Edinburgh. My specialties include mortuary archaeology, digital archaeology, and geographic information systems.
** For those of you who don’t know what Osteoarchaeology is, it’s a branch of archaeology that deals with the study and analysis of human and animal anatomy, especially skeletal remains, in the context of archaeological deposits.

How did you first get interested in your field?  Why?
My first interest in archaeology was as a kid- I spent most of my summers running up and down a gully near my house collecting historic bottles and fossils.

Are you familiar with ground penetrating radar and if so then how did you first learn of it?
I am familiar with GPR, and have seen it used for my work primarily in identifying lost graves in historic cemeteries, or determining where to excavate in a survey. I first learned about GPR while taking classes in [college].

Do you have any hands on experience with GPR?
No, never had the opportunity, but I have seen people do it first hand.

Is GPR worth using or are there other more effective methods or techniques?
I think GPR is definitely worth using, although it should be combined with other methods such as ground survey, shovel testing and aerial photos.

Where do you see the future of GPR?
My hope would be that we would continue to create better tools for more accurate understanding of the earth, more portable, easier to use for those less experienced.

As a teacher, have you ever worked hands on with your students involving GPR or used its techniques in a classroom environment? 
I’ve used GPR imagery from others’ work in order to help students understand survey techniques.

What do you like the most about your job?
I like solving puzzles using different lines of evidence. There are so many parts to archaeological work- historical texts, paintings, architecture, archaeology, human remains, rumors, stories, songs, environmental history, etc.

If you could travel back to the day you graduated high school and tell yourself one with about this field, what would it be and why?
Statistics is more important than you think- learn it early on instead of waiting!

I have to ask you something just to keep you on your toes so if you were a fruit, what would you be and why?
Black raspberry- ate them every summer when I was fossil hunting, always reminds me of home even though they are hard to get in other states.

It was a pleasure to get to know Katy and I hope you do visit her blog and if you would like more information about ground penetrating radar then please visit

Follow Up Questions

You told me that you have seen GPR used first hand but did not delve much into that.  Can you tell me what happened and what sorts of things you discovered through it?
We used it during a field school in Ohio to identify locations of prehistoric houses. We were able to locate an entire building and a garbage pit from the variations.

So I will admit I had no idea off hand what Osteoarchaeology is and had to Google it.  Are there 3 – 5 specific things you find absolutely fascinating in this field that you get to do on a regular basis?
I really love learning who the average people were in the past. We hear about the ‘big men’ of history, but often do not hear about the rest of the people. My primary focus is burial practices, so how people chose to bury their dead and what this means about their religious/spiritual beliefs in afterlife and ancestors. I like studying that variation and interpreting what that means about their beliefs. It is pretty amazing how much you can learn from a single individual- age, sex, diseases, trauma, exercise or work habits, etc.

You touched lightly on field work but what kind of exotic places have you been able to visit and work in?
I have done work in Chillicothe, OH, East Lansing, MI, all over New York (state not city), a number of places in England and Scotland, Rome, Italy, and Giecz, Poland.

Have you ever had the opportunity to work on any “high profile” digs?
Kind of- I worked on a Polish cemetery that was pretty cool, and I did the cremation excavation for Isola Sacra in Rome.

I know many people out there have seen the TV show “Bones” and would you say you roll your eyes at the show or geek out at watch every episode?  Also, how close are they to reality or has it been done up just for a TV audience?
I actually helped with the osteoarchaeology for one of the episodes! Yes, it is more fiction than fact- they really stretch how much you can actually learn from the skeletons. I have a bad habit of yelling at the TV. However, I did really like the first few seasons- it got too emotional dramatic though and I gave up on it a few years ago.

Photo Credits: Photo submitted by Victor Archambault

Monday, August 4, 2014

Raven and a Hare

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, August 1, 2014

Northern Baffin Island, Nunavut

Photo Credit: Tim Rast
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