Becoming an Engaged Archaeologist (with Anxiety)

Sometimes I have to ask myself, how did I get here?* How did I come to be doing archaeology research? How did I connect with the Sugpiaq community of Old Harbor?

There’s the short elevator version: I was interested in archaeology as a kid, grew my interest in anthropology and fieldwork in college and came to grad school. I thought that I wanted to work in the Andes, but couldn’t make connections there, so I took my advisor up on an offer to visit Alaska for two weeks and fell in love with the place. The rest is history [documented on this blog].

While that version is approximately correct in the basic facts, it cloaks a lot about what actually went into building my dissertation project and, quite honestly, building myself into an archaeologist. And I think those stories are important. They situate me as a person first, grad student/researcher/archaeologist/scholar second.

The first bit is easier to talk about. After learning about settler colonialism, Indigenous erasure, white privilege…the realities of American history, I knew that I had to do a project that was grounded in community. I felt that there was no other ethical way for this middle-class white girl from Pennsylvania to do archaeology. I understood that I would likely not be working with my community’s or even my country’s history alone, and that descendants had to have voices in the conversation. That idea was cemented by my participation in the Eastern Pequot Archaeological Field School in 2015, a partnership between the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and UMass Boston. That was my first archaeology field experience, and it gave me an example of how archaeology could be done collaboratively and respectfully. It also gave me a real view into Indigenous American life, not just the patina presented in the history or anthropology books, but the emotions, the joys, the frustrations, the diversity of thought. That is not revolutionary, but it started to help me see where I had been led astray, to start to see what whiteness and colonialism had sought to blind me from. I also saw that archaeology could be a part of healing and reconciliation, certainly for the descendants, but also for those of us non-descendants lucky enough to participate in and contribute to the process. And from there, spread that healing and that knowledge outwards.

So I had that seed in me when I entered grad school a couple months later. Thanks to colleagues, mentors, and recorded words of countless others, the seed began to sprout – I acquired the language to talk about community-based participatory research and Indigenous archaeology. I made (and still make) a lot of mistakes. My advisor and my other mentors gave me the gift of believing in me and gave me the gift of opportunity: the opportunity to learn about Japanese American laborers and excavate at a sawmill town in the Cedar River Watershed; the opportunity to fill my methodological toolbox and learn more about Indigenous archaeology and pedagogy through example at Field Methods in Indigenous Archaeology; the opportunity to meet the community of Old Harbor, Alaska. That last opportunity was the impetus for my dissertation work, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the others. Learning does not happen alone. Research does not happen alone.

There is more to say about that, but I also want to discuss the more difficult bit. The personal journey that is not separate from the intellectual one described above. I have anxiety. I have had anxiety in some form for most of my life, but it didn’t really become a major force until I went to college. My anxiety has always been very embodied, as in it affects my body (panic attacks, vertigo, GI distress), but it is also very much about the state of my body (ie. sickness/health, vulnerability, social relations). This anxiety can sometimes make traveling, being in close quarters with other people, and being vulnerable (physically, socially, intellectually, emotionally) very difficult. Yet, those are also some of the requirements of archaeological fieldwork [vulnerability is not a requirement, but in my experience it always happens in the field]. I am honestly scared to go into the field. Every. Time. Still, I continue to go. I want to be there. That want is (most of the time) greater than my anxiety. Once I get there, the problems unfortunately don’t go away. I have had my fair share of panic attacks in my tent, crying over FCR in front of my advisor, dry heaving outside my hosts’ home. These things often leave me feeling that I can’t be an archaeologist. That I can’t handle fieldwork. That I can never get better.

Me not having it the morning after a panic attack in 2018. Meanwhile, Larissa looks so poised driving the boat.

But I can. I am. I wish that these sorts of stories weren’t unspoken and unshared. I have no doubt that other archaeologists have struggled with mental health in the field, but I don’t hear about it. It doesn’t make it into the literature, or even, in my experience, into the conversations on campus. I think we could better handle these problems if we knew that we were not alone. And yes, that does require vulnerability to get there.

*Couldn’t resist the Talking Heads reference 🙂

Finding Joy in Teaching During 2020

As I was planning my course for fall 2020, I spent a lot of time worrying about what I could offer the group of 21 first-year students who would be (virtually) entering a classroom to purportedly learn about writing. My worry was not about my ability to teach writing, but rather about my ability to teach writing in a moment (or an eon, so it feels) of extreme uncertainty and precarity. I myself felt precarious and uncertain (see previous post). Amidst all those feelings, I wanted the course to be meaningful beyond the mere utility of learning to write more effectively, so I tried to make it into a low stress space both for taking intellectual risks or trying new things and for just learning how to be a college student.

The first hurdle for both myself and the students was adjusting to an online college classroom. Teaching online was new to me and attending college online was new to the students. All of us had to iron out some kinks in our Zoom and Canvas practice during the first couple weeks, however, I believe that the online format did not ultimately end up detracting from our course. [In fact, my ability to wear comfy dinosaur PJ pants while teaching was a noted improvement over in-person teaching.] I chose to hold only one synchronous session a week, as opposed to the three I would have had on campus. This was ultimately the right balance, especially since most of their other courses were entirely asynchronous. The students really valued having a weekly time to come together, chat, ask questions and do group work, and I enjoyed their collegiality and the opportunity to hear their speaking voices and, sometimes, see their faces.

The course title was officially “Writing in Environmental Studies”, however we decided to focus explicitly on environmental justice. Not only is this focus critically important, it also created space for students and myself to delve deeper into recent and current events, making the course more meaningful and timely. While we spent some class time discussing environmental justice at the outset, most of the work on that topic was done by students through their own targeted reading and research and through small group conferences with me. Coming out of high school, the students were really excited to finally get to steer their own learning ship by specifically investigating environmental justice topics that were important and interesting to them.

Screen capture of our course blog, sites.uw.edu/hollism

I was very happy with the two major assignments we worked on this term and was especially impressed by the quality of work that this group of first-year students was able to produce in this trying era. The first assignment was an op-ed about an ongoing environmental justice issue. The second was was a research paper on environmental activism, where students picked a topic around which there is a history of activism, analyzed how environmental justice was (or was not) incorporated into activism around that issue, and explored the stakes and stakeholders involved. Since students all chose different topics, they were able to teach each other (and me!) about a wide range of issues such as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Clayoquot Sound protests, gentrification of the International District in Seattle, racial injustice in New Orleans in the context of Hurricane Katrina, the longstanding consequences of uranium mining in the US Southwest, and the conservation of mountain gorillas in Rwanda (non exhaustive list). The students complemented these formal writing assignments with public-facing blog posts about their research and news items.

In addition to the work we did together around environmental justice, I wanted to make sure that these first-year students had additional tools to help them succeed in college. These skills are often referred to as the hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum consists of the unspoken or untaught skills that students need for success, but that they are never given a formal opportunity to learn. To address this, I created modules to talk about imposter syndrome, how to get involved with research, how to find advising in your department, demystifying academic titles, and searching for scholarships. I also invited a librarian and a counsellor from the career center to come visit us during our synchronous sessions, so the students could become more familiar with those resources. Looking back, I wish that I had spent more time actually talking about these topics with students, rather than relegating most of them to online-only modules. On the other hand, we had so much else to cover in limited time. I did not get much feedback from students about the hidden curriculum items, but I hope they are able to carry that knowledge forward with them!

I loved getting to know these students over the course of 11 weeks. The online environment certainly made that process more challenging at first, but we ended the term having made genuine connections and having learned a lot from one another. We ended our time together with a virtual celebration of all that the students accomplished over the term. We blasted music through Zoom and I embarrassed myself by being repeatedly murdered by students in rounds of Among Us. I have never laughed so hard with students before.

Art Is in Everything: Sugpiaq Artists Share Their Stories

I collaborated with 5 Sugpiaq artists to put a video together about contemporary Sugpiaq Art! The artists share stories about their inspiration, their paths and the role of art in their community.

Quyanaa/Thank you to the artists for sharing! I learned so much through this process and am honored to share the end result now.

Featured Artists:

June Pardue (find her work at https://www.facebook.com/AlutiiqArt)

Melissa Berns-Svoboda

Hanna Sholl (find her work at https://www.fineartsbyhannasholl.com/)

Treena Ivie (find her work at https://treenaivieart.com/)

Dehrich Chya

My Grad Student Life in COVID Times: Disciplinary Change is Coming?

My grad student life has changed significantly since my last post in March: I no longer have a physical home on campus, unscheduled interactions with colleagues in the hallways or at conferences are impossible, it is unsafe to travel for fieldwork, I am teaching my course online (often in my favorite dinosaur sweatpants). The virtual turn brought on by COVID-19 has made me feel less connected to my campus community and my research community in Kodiak. At the same time, I feel much more connected to the wider anthropology community through the huge proliferation of webinars and panels over the past several months.

As I imagine most people have experienced, I have also been anxious about the uncertainty looming over EVERYTHING. This anxiety extends from uncertainty about the health and wellbeing of myself and others to uncertainty about my ability to make progress towards my degree. What if I can’t safely return to Old Harbor for several years? Do I have to rework my research to complete a library dissertation instead? Will the pandemic change the way that anthropologists and archaeologists conduct their research for years to come? In times of disturbance and instability, there is great potential for lasting change, but I am not sure where I, or my research, will fit into those changes.

The crucial work of the movement for Black lives has spurred discussions about what it means to do anthropology and archaeology ethically, with care, and in an accountable and respectful way. These large-scale discussions are long overdue and I believe that they will change the discipline for the better by making community-centered work the norm.

On the other hand, I worry that the economic crisis coupled with the turn to virtual learning will speed up the ‘adjunctification’ of universities in the United States – meaning that more classes will be taught by underpaid and overworked contingent lecturers rather than universities investing in teaching and research faculty. In other words, I wonder what kind of jobs will be available if/when I do finish my PhD, especially as someone who wants teaching to be a continued part of their work.

As I have been waiting for some certainty to return, I have spent a lot of time educating myself in Indigenous Studies, Black Studies and Indigenous Archaeology. Scholars and practitioners in these and related disciplines have done tremendous work to critique and challenge the ways and conditions under which knowledge is produced. If anthropology and archaeology are going to come out of this pandemic changed, I want to do what I can to make sure that they are changed for the better. I want post-pandemic anthropology to be more equitable, inclusive, accountable and centered on the needs of the communities with whom we study and serve. While the pandemic is a disaster on all levels, from the personal to the global, I am grateful that quarantine and the slowing of my dissertation research has given me the time to dig into this essential work.

Chilling out in Fairbanks for the AkAAs

I spent the past week in Fairbanks for the Alaska Anthropological Association’s (AkAA) 2020 annual meeting. The weather there was sunny and clear but the temperature remained below 0ºF…brrrr.

The frozen Chena River in Fairbanks, February 26, 2020.

It was great to connect with researchers who work in Alaska and start to build a network with both current students and professionals, many of whom attend or work at the University of Alaska campuses or the National Park Service. I also got the chance to hang out with some of my friends and colleagues from the Alutiiq Museum!

Of course, conferences are also a chance to learn about ongoing research projects in the discipline. Two sessions that I found especially interesting were one on traditional place names (i.e. the names that Indigenous communities have for locations, land features and places in their languages) and one on community-based participatory research in Alaska. There was also an amazing talk by Princess Daazhraii Johnson, the producer of PBS’s Molly of Denali, about the need for Indigenous narrative sovereignty. Johnson’s words about the power of storytelling and positive representation really hit home for me as I begin to research the lives and stories of Sugpiaq ancestors.

Title slide from my presentation at the 2020 AkAA meeting. “Uncovering Native-lived Colonialism at Ing’yug, a Sugpiaq Village in the Kodiak Archipelago.”

I presented in a session entitled “Recent Archaeological Research of the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Archipelago.” Overall, I was really happy with my talk, which discussed the framework for the Old Harbor Archaeological History Project, emphasizing the community-oriented nature of the project, and my plans for the next season of excavation. After my presentation, I was pleasantly surprised that so many fellow students came up to me to talk about how to make archaeological research more relevant and engaging. Many of the archaeology talks at the conference were devoid of storytelling or even any real mention of people – something that both I and the students I spoke with noticed. I think this points to a need for more engaged (and engaging!) archaeological research and reporting. Archaeology should also strive to be socially and culturally relevant, especially for descendant communities, who have the most to gain or lose from the process of research and dissemination of results.

All in all, the conference was a much needed intellectual and motivational boost as I turn back to working on my NSF dissertation funding proposal this week. I have been struggling to put all the pieces of my project together in a convincing way (and all the bureaucratic paperwork and budgeting that goes along with a proposal scares me), but I think that I can finally see a way through. It certainly helped that I was able to meet with the NSF program officer for Arctic Social Sciences to discuss my dissertation project at the AkAA conference!

Here’s to a productive and illness-free end to winter quarter at the UW!

So the spirits won’t escape: An archaeo-fiction narrative

This post is a combined work of diary entries about my personal experience doing archaeology at Ing’yug, a Sugpiaq/Alutiiq village on Sitkalidak Island, and an imagined fictional narrative (italicized paragraphs) about a girl that lived in the village in the early 1800s. This story came out of an assignment for Writing in Archaeology, a class taught by Sara Gonzalez at the University of Washington. Writing this short fictional piece allowed me to think about the archaeological materials in a different way, while also foregrounding my own sensorial and emotional experience at Ing’yug.

We were dropped off on the beach as the sun was starting to go down. All the excitement leading to this moment of arrival fell away as I watched the boat depart. We were alone at Tanginak. It took us the rest of the daylight hours to organize our gear and begin setting up our camp – our home for the next three weeks – a quarter-mile uphill from the beach. I was unsettled that evening in my tent. Everything was new and the sounds were unfamiliar. Had I made a giant mistake in coming here? In following this career path? Wait, is that rustling sound a bear?

She was afraid that night. She could hear her mother, aunties and grandmother whispering amongst themselves by the central stone lamp, discussing the Russian man who had visited their village that day, remembering Awa’uq. She had not yet been born the last time that Russian men came to her island twenty years ago, but she knew the stories well. Her grandmother had gathered her clan and kayaked down the lagoon to their place of refuge after being warned of an impending threat. A threat unlike their usual war partners from the chain or the peninsula. Little did Grandmother know that their place of refuge would be the final resting place for so many of her people. Since the massacre, the men had been taken away and an unknown sickness swept through the islands. What did Mother and Grandmother know about this man who visited today? Were they bracing for another tragedy?

Eventually, I fell asleep and awoke the next morning with a new energy. Seeing our surroundings in the morning light put things in a better perspective. Here we were surrounded by Sugpiaq history and the lives of ancestors. We had slept atop the oldest archaeological site on the archipelago and, from that vantage, could see traces of Sugpiaq life stretching from 7,500 years ago to the present resting among the fireweed, salmonberries, pushki and nettles. I had not expected all this interconnection, although I should have. I had been so focused on a particular time and a single village, Ing’yug, that I had overlooked how Ing’yug was wrapped in a thick cloak of multigenerational, multimillennial lives and activities. Our presence here was merely a drop in the bucket.

The Russian man’s visit ended up being just another oddity and no immediate consequences or changes came to her life. She continued with her early spring routines and duties – gathering shellfish from the beach at low tide, cleaning and preparing the latest batch of fox furs that the boys brought in, and assisting her mother and aunties with preparing, storing and distributing food. On special nights all the families in the village would gather in the qasgi, a large house set behind the beach ridge and invisible from the shore. Of the few adult men who still lived at Ing’yug year-round, the eldest ones resided primarily in the qasgi, and every so often would host a feast and encourage dancing, singing and storytelling. This is where she learned the history of her people. The tales of weavers, warriors, whalers, shamans, healers, and midwives filled her being with a sense of pride. “There are not so many of us now,” the elders would say, “some of the dance masks and songs had to be retired and there are some stories that not even we know anymore. Their owners were lost.” From this, she understood that her knowledge was a valuable gift and a marker of perseverance, of survival.

We slowly became familiar with Ing’yug, our small team uncovering the sedimentary layers of its history in little squares, but the village was not yet ready to share what it had witnessed. We found very few artifacts, or ancestral belongings, but there was an abundance of charcoal-stained soil, fire-cracked rock and animal remains – evidence of a significant residence by Sugpiaq ancestors. It was not until the final day of excavation that we uncovered belongings – a slate ulu and a stone lamp, lying upside down on the floor of a house. Touching and holding artifacts, objects, belongings is powerful as you share a moment with those who made, used and discarded them – uniting those pasts and this present.

Years passed and she became a mother, then a grandmother. Leader of her family. A revered source of knowledge. A skilled seamstress, fish processer, dancer and beader. Life in Ing’yug had become more tenuous. More Russian visitors came and went, more of her people were removed or succumbed to the sickness, the Church came to stop the dances. Yet, here she still was, making do, surviving. One day, word came that everyone in the village would be relocated to Nuniaq on the Sitkalidak Narrows. There was no choice. The Russian company men had already decided. As she left her ciqlluaq in Ing’yug for the final time, she made sure to turn the stone lamp upside down so the spirits wouldn’t escape.

Why Can’t I Write?

This post is slightly modified from my response to a prompt in Writing and Archaeology, a class taught by Sara Gonzalez at the University of Washington. We were asked to examine our various forms of resistance to academic writing. As part of my new project to be less risk-averse with my writing, I decided to make this response public. I invite other folks to engage with this post and share their own experiences with resistance to writing and strategies for overcoming resistance.

I experience a lot of resistance to writing, especially writing connected to my dissertation proposal and research. In watching a webinar from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity called “Moving from Resistance to Writing”, I could see myself and my behavior in discussions of perfectionism, avoidance and vulnerability. That helped me understand that I tend to view writing as a “risky” endeavor, which is the root of my resistance.

Until now, I have not given a lot of thought as to what my resistance is. Instead, I have just felt shame about not working hard enough and not getting enough done in a given period of time. I find it hard not to compare myself to others and become jealous of my colleagues’ progress when I should be celebrating them. While I know that I have come a long way since entering graduate school, often times I feel like I’m still a tiny fry, fresh out of college, and thrashing around in a big pond of academia – just trying to absorb everything while giving a deferent berth to the bigger fishes. Why do I feel unable to engage with other researchers through academic writing?

I worry that I am not qualified to have an opinion or do research, especially not research with Indigenous peoples. This fear slows down my writing as I second-guess everything I put down on the paper – not wanting to say something potentially hurtful or wrong but also wanting to signal my engagement with the appropriate theoretical literature. I worry that I am not aware enough of my privilege as a white woman and other times that I am being hyper-aware of it and sinking into apologies or guilt rather than action. These feelings have paralyzed me time and again over the past couple years. Only recently have I started to understand the significance of my journey, which has eased the paralysis somewhat. I don’t need to be fully formed and the most woke in every piece of writing or expression. There is value in the process of learning and slipping up and making mistakes. My writing should (and will) ultimately reflect that.

Blogging has been one area of writing that has allowed me to experiment a bit more, even if I don’t end up posting everything that I draft. Free writing and blogging allow me to feel less constrained by the real and imagined rigors of academia, although I know that I do not make enough time for them. As much as writing for thinking is touted, I still can’t seem to give it the same weight in my mind. It can still feel like I’m wasting my time when I’m not working on “serious” writing projects.

So why can’t I write? Because I suffer from imposter syndrome, anxiety and perfectionism, all of which invoke personal shame over a sense that I am not writing or doing enough. I don’t want others to figure out that I’m not as good a writer or researcher or person as they thought, so I don’t give them opportunities to scrutinize my work. I don’t often face criticisms and have little experience with academic failure, so I fear those things most of all. In reading that last sentence over, I again consider my privilege, and perhaps the insulation that others have given me throughout my career. Maybe this writing resistance is caught up in something much larger – my struggle, through my research with the Sugpiaq community of Old Harbor, to reckon with my history and my identity and come out on the “good” side of things. Writing about research is as much a personal exercise as it is a professional one.

No wonder writing feels risky.

Mothering in the Field: Guest Post by Erin Gamble

Erin Gamble breastfeeding her son Wyatt on-site at Ing’yug on Sitkalidak Island.

Being a new mom in graduate school is definitely challenging, especially when field work is a major component for my discipline. Thanks to OHAHP and my personal hero and champion, Hollis, my then-ten-month-old son and I got to test the waters of mothering in the field. Like most fears, the expectations were nothing close to reality. Wyatt and I had an absolute blast and I fully intend to continue bringing my family on my adventures! For all the people in academia wondering about work-family issues, especially graduate students and early-career professionals, I’d like to share my experiences and offer some advice about parenting in the field.

A brief background: Wyatt and I spent five and half weeks on Kodiak, Alaska. Three of those weeks were spent at a remote field location where we assisted with an archaeological survey of a contact-era Alutiiq village. Our team consisted of the project lead Hollis Miller, our advisor Dr. Ben Fitzhugh, me and Wyatt. Hollis’ partner joined us during the second week, but for most of the survey it was just the four of us and the wildlife!

One of my biggest takeaways from our first field experience is to not be afraid (or feel guilty) to ask for help! Often, when people talk about having children in the field both parents are there supporting each other. As a graduate student, my partner is the main source of our income and cannot leave his job for extended periods of time. I’m very fortunate to have an amazingly supportive advisor and colleagues, as they were able to help me care for Wyatt and, honestly, for myself.

Being upfront about the team’s expectations and all our mutual goals was crucial, and we figured out the unknowns as we went. Wyatt didn’t yet sleep through the night and he’s big for his age. My body was in pain, sometimes excruciating pain, all the time. I was exhausted, not newborn exhausted, but pretty dang close. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without having to ask someone to mind Wyatt, and on occasion someone had to mind Wyatt while I ate. Honestly, I entirely underestimated the physical requirements of doing fieldwork with an infant. Everywhere I went, near or far, I was automatically packing an additional 22 pounds with me before even thinking about gear.

Mentally, I grappled with feelings of guilt almost nonstop. I felt guilty for not being able to do more for the team, that my (our) presence was a detriment to the work the team was doing, that I had to ask for help, and I even felt guilty about how this might be bad for my son. Mom-guilt comes in many terrible flavors, but near the end of our trip I realized that I felt guilty because I was doing the thing women aren’t supposed to do. I was selfishly having my cake and eating it! I was maintaining a productive, successful career AND a happy family. I still feel the guilt, but now I just imagine it as a badge of honor I have chosen to wear with the hope that one day making room for families in the field, in the lab, at work (or wherever moms, or parents more generally, need them) becomes normal.

In addition to the guilt, I dealt with a lot of frustration and disappointment. Being in the field is my happy place. I love excavations. I knew it wouldn’t be the same with Wyatt there, but I really wasn’t prepared for how much pain I was going to be in. My body is different after pregnancy – stronger in some ways and weaker in others. These changes exacerbated the aches and pains I felt from lugging bub, bub’s gear, and my gear all the time. However, there were a few days Wyatt either took an epic nap or Ben stole him for a couple hours and I would find my old groove and the pain would just disappear.

I think the most overwhelming feeling I have in regard to the trip is gratitude. Negative feelings and thoughts, even pain – those things are all temporary, but the work we were doing and the memories I made on this trip are important and priceless. I’m grateful to Hollis for the opportunity, her companionship, and for always being my champion. I’m grateful to the Haakanson and Clough families for treating Wyatt and I like family. I’m grateful to the people of Old Harbor for all that they shared with and taught me. I’m grateful to my advisor for putting up with my selfishness without batting an eye, and I’m grateful to the O’Dell Cross family, Patrick Saltonstall, and the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak for their hospitality and friendship. There are a million more things I am so very grateful for, but most importantly I am grateful to my son for completing my life and my husband, Ken, for encouraging my dreams.

Erin Gamble carrying her son Wyatt down the beach at Tanginak, following bear footprints! (PC: Ben Fitzhugh)

Notes on gear: Wyatt was carried using a hiking backpack carrier 95% of the time and a soft preformed carrier or in arm the rest of the time.  I shipped baby food (pouch style) ahead of us and, other than running out, this worked really well for many reasons. I packed very few toys or formal playthings. Wyatt was more interested in watching the world around him and happily played with bull kelp and other treasures from the beach.

The main item I wish I had lugged out with us was a playpen. I decided last minute not to mess with shipping and dragging one around, but it would have been nice to have a place to just set Wyatt down at the site. Luckily, the tent we used for our kitchen tent had three rooms and we were able to setup a makeshift playpen.

Finally, always bring more baby wipes! They’re useful for adults and kids alike. I’m already a believer that kids should be filthy at the end of the day, so I had very realistic expectations about Wyatt’s appearance. I made sure that the important areas were kept clean and dry, but otherwise he fit in with the rest of us working in the field.

I think the last, and most important, piece of advice I can offer is to remember to enjoy your time. Wyatt grew so much in the weeks we were out in the field. He started to notice birds, learned to wave, and figured out how to suck straws! Remember to take notice of how your little one is growing.

Camp Life at Tanginak

As the OHAHP team began planning the 2019 field season, I was most anxious about remote camping on Sitkalidak Island. I had done some camping before, but only in established campgrounds in national parks where there were latrines, water pumps and road access. Sitkalidak is far more isolated. No human communities reside there on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, but it is home to the renowned Kodiak brown bears and, since the past year, a herd of bison that is owned by the Old Harbor Native Corporation. I had no clear vision of how we would sustain a safe and functioning camp.

Erin, Wyatt and Hollis standing on the beach at Tanginak with all of our camp gear. The boat in the background (piloted by Geoff Bechtol) had just dropped us off! (PC: Ben Fitzhugh)

Thankfully, Ben has numerous years of experience setting up and running remote camps, so he led Erin, Wyatt and I in making Tanginak our home for 3 weeks.

Our personal tents set up at Tanginak.

In order to minimize food smells (which could attract bears or other wildlife) near our sleeping areas, we set up our personal tents at a distance from the cooking/eating tent. We also washed dishes at a third separate location and stored bear-attractant foods in a sealed container in a spring. That spring was also our source of fresh water, which we filtered using a hand-pumped spigot. The spring has been running for thousands of years and is likely where Alutiiq ancestors living at Tanginak got their water as well! One of the things I love about archaeology is how it makes plain that landscapes and places connect us through time, even as we write new meanings onto them – the Tanginak spring is but one example.

The Tanginak Spring flowed out from under the knoll where we camped. Our water pump is in the foreground.

It is a lot of work to run a remote camp – keeping things clean, sharing cooking tasks, pumping and carrying water, etc. – especially with just three adults. The close social quarters also created some moments of tension. Despite the challenges, however, it is hard to beat living in such a beautiful place and I am eager to return to Tanginak next summer – hopefully with a larger field team, including students and community members from Old Harbor!

Feel free to comment or reach out on social media if you have any questions about living at Tanginak or about the OHAHP. I would also love to hear your camping stories and tips!