end of summer/beginning of fall

The summer ended up being extremely productive for my dissertation and I got lots of good bones. I’m back at the lab now starting analysis, and already things are getting interesting. Stay tuned!

Things that have happened since my last post:

  • We had an Archaeology Open House at our lab in Iceland. It went really well and a lot of community members and farmers came to see what we’ve been up to. This was a chance for us to showcase everything we’ve been working on for the past three years and have all the material there as well. Farmers were able to see what was happening at other sites, and we got to show off our really cool artifacts. I didn’t get many pictures because I was at my bone station all afternoon telling people about the animal remains we have. I’ll post some pictures that others took though.
  • Kat and I went to the West Fjords to visit our friend Magga and see the site she’s been working on. We also went to Látrabjarg, where a bunch of cliff-nesting seabirds live during the summer, though there weren’t many there since we went at the end of the season. It’s also the westernmost point of Iceland/Europe and it was very windy! And we did geocaching through the whole trip, so we made lots of stops. We went to the Sheep Farming Museum and it was really well done and informative and highly recommended.
  • I knit three socks and I’m about halfway through a sweater. This summer, so many people were knitting that I took it up again. It’s been great on the train and a good way to keep myself occupied at night. It’s helped with anxiety too I think. Plus, making stuff is fun!
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I’m a terrible sock model, but I made these!

  • Bones and flotation samples arrived in Boston, so I went to pick them up a couple weeks ago. I didn’t get to stay for very long, but now I have a lot to work on at the lab.
  • I submitted a Fulbright application and had an on-campus interview for it. It went surprisingly well! (I don’t usually interview or do oral presentations/public speaking very well…I get really nervous and it totally shows) I’m hoping to spend a year in Iceland working on my dissertation research and learning Icelandic. I’m in the process of applying for two more grants as well, one for summer research and another that would fund a whole year of work. Fingers crossed!
  • The crew went whitewater rafting in Iceland and it was amazing!
  • Kat and I co-organized a session for the SAA meeting next year in D.C. on marginality and moments of social and/or ecological change. We got 12 (I think?) papers submitted and it looks like it will be a really good session!
  • I’m starting a 3D scanning project in the hopes of making a very portable comparative collection that we can use in the field. Hopefully this all works out, but the 3D scanner that we have isn’t as easy to use as I’d like, so I might resort to taking really really good photos and having those be comparative. Ideally, I’d have a physical collection to use because there’s really no substitute for actual bones, but good 3D scans might work. There is physical reference material I can access in Iceland, but I would have to travel to use it. We’ll see what happens with this project though.
  • I officially have my M.A.! Now I can apply for excavation permits in my own name!
  • I’m headed to Iceland again in less than two weeks for a mini-meeting and for my friend’s wedding!

 

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Diggin’ Summer

It’s been a month of fieldwork and, as usual, I am behind on everything! Luckily, it’s all going well.

So, what have I done so far? I’ve dug 4 test pits (one 2×2, one 1×2, and two 1x1s). Two of those yielded enough bones for me to write grants for next summer’s fieldwork, though one does not fit my current hypothesis so I have to rethink some things. The 2×2 was an extension from a test pit dug last year at an abandoned site called Kotið, and there seems to be a lot of birds, including most of a cormorant’s wing. There were mostly puffins and guillemot in the material from last summer, so the large number of birds from this year isn’t super surprising. The other site, Vatnskot, was a 1×2 that was full of fish and some really cool artifacts (stayed tuned and follow our Facebook page and blog for updates on these). We also found most of the back half of a neonatal lamb, fully articulated, so of course I was excited about that.

Me, excavating the lamb, in the rain

Lamb in situ

I dug the test pit at Kotið with Kat over 4 days and the soil was really clayey and moist and wouldn’t go through the screen in the field, so I poured most of the screen leftovers into bags to bring back to the lab for wet screening. This worked out really well and I was able to recover a lot of fish and bird bones. It was cold during wet screening and I had to wear a full outfit of rain gear, but it was definitely worth it. ​

 

Bones in the screen

The wet screening process…

My hands were freezing but the view from our hut was pretty great

Of course it wouldn’t be fieldwork if we weren’t coring, though we haven’t been coring as extensively as we did last year. We have a few new students this summer, so we took a day to teach them coring basics and they’ve been doing really well!

Some of the newbies along with senior students Kat and Alicia on Learn to Core Day!

Kat coring

I had to climb over a barbed wire fence and yell numbers at my coring buddy

 

No summer in Iceland would be complete without farm dogs and I even got to see some of the same furry friends from past years. We’ve made some new friends this year too…

This is Lúri and he likes to lick hands

Pétr, a friend from last year who is very into watching us do archaeology

New non-dog friends. They yell a lot and always expect us to have food for them but we never do

Tutti, the domestic goose

Lúri tried to climb into the ditch while we were taking loss on ignition samples for Kat’s dissertation work

Trying to look cool with Pétr but failing

Also, here’s some landscape photos because Iceland.

Lounging at Þrælagerði on a geophysics day

Svanavatn

Working with Alicia at Svanavatn and the view is great

Hiked up the back of Svanavatn in search of a bog and found this little lake and these horses

The sky at Gerði last Thursday was unreal

Packing 101

Hi I’m in Iceland! I’ve been here almost two weeks now, and we just had our first full day of work today. I thought I would do a post on what I pack for the field and maybe it will be useful to someone. I’m also hoping it will remind me next year of what I brought and what I can pare down or what I wish I had. (I’m a notorious overpacker. I once clothed myself and another archaeologist when her bags got lost on the way over. COMPLETELY. Shoes and rain gear included. For a week. That’s how much I pack).

Keep in mind, I work in Iceland and my field situation is SWANKY compared to other projects. We live inside, we go to the pool every day, someone cooks us dinner, we can do laundry, I can go to the store if I forgot something or if something breaks. Not at all struggling there. I’ve been to Alaska where I actually had to be prepared for anything and if I forgot something at home, I was out of luck. I packed totally differently for Alaska. So, this might not help anyone who works in a more rural setting.

Also, I’ll link as many things as I can in case someone might see this and be interested in any of the gear I have. Please note that I’m not affiliated with any of these companies and I’m not getting anything for suggesting them (though if Uniqlo or REI want to sponsor me, I’M IN! Send me an email and I will test out gear and get a bunch of dirt and probably poop on it). Also, I don’t shy away from the “weird” stuff, so get ready to hear about my field bathroom tricks (I actually might make a whole post just on this topic or on the topic of being a woman in the field) and all the over the counter medicines I bring (it’s hard to even get Tylenol in Iceland, okay?!).

First of all…what do I pack in? I used to bring a large rolling bag, but now I pack everything in a giant backpack, the Gregory Deva 70 Pack. I also bring the Patagonia Black Hole 32 Daypack as my carry-on and my field pack. The Patagonia is a great field pack because it’s waterproof and the zipper runs all the way down one side for easy access.

I used to bring multiple pairs of boots, but now I’ve settled on one pair–L.L. Bean Storm Chasers. These are waterproof, warm, not super heavy, and offer a bit of ankle support. Of course I also bring slippers or flip flops for my inside shoes (Icelanders don’t wear shoes indoors) and one pair of sneakers for every day wear. I think I’m bringing better running shoes this year (my everyday sneakers are not good for running…learned that the hard way last year). For socks, I love REI merino hiking socks for field days (with a spare pair in my bag just in case!) and my regular colorful Target ankle socks for every day.

I’m a big fan of these Carhartt pants for fieldwork. They’re just stretchy enough, they accommodate my thermal layer, and they have lots of good pockets. I also always have these rain pants in my bag, since the weather can change in an instant. The full-zip sides make it easy to put these on over boots and keep my tops tucked in to avoid drafts.

I live for these Uniqlo HeatTech tops and wore them all winter at home too, sometimes even as a shirt on their own. I also like the REI top counterpart to those bottoms I linked above. Layering is key in the unpredictable Icelandic weather, so I usually have some form of baselayer top, a fleece pullover, down vest or jacket or sometimes both (Uniqlo again, surprising no one), and a raincoat when necessary (I bring two, one for the field and one for wearing around town when I don’t want to be covered in dirt). The Uniqlo down jackets are really great because they’re not super expensive and they pack up really small. They’re not the warmest jackets, but with my layering system, honed over two years working in the same area, I’m usually pretty cozy.

Other gear includes Carhartt beanies (I’m such a big fan! Dear Carhartt please send me many beanies I will wear them forever) and two Buffs–one wool, one polyester. I also always have a bandana around my neck. They’re great for keeping the sun off your neck and for wiping snot onto! I bring a baseball cap for sunny days, which were surprisingly common last year. I use these Atlas nitrile gloves for digging and screening and just recently got fingerless gloves so I can use our iPads for recording without having to remove my gloves on cold days. Sometimes the nitrile gloves work on the iPads, but they’re picky.

Since I spend time in Reykjavik before/after the season and we get to go on short trips on the weekends, I also pack regular everyday clothes–jeans, tshirts, lopapeysa, and a jacket and sweater that doesn’t get worn to the field to keep it dirt-free. I also pack more undies than I could ever need, especially since we have a washing machine.

I don’t usually bring basic toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, lotions, etc.) since I can just buy those when I get to Iceland. I do bring a mini pharmacy since things that are over-the-counter in the States are hard to get there. I bring the typical tylenol, ibuprofen, pepto, eyedrops, cold medicine (my first year, we all got the plague and now I will ALWAYS pack Nyquil), lactaid (I’m lactose intolerant but there’s so much cheese and skyr is so good), gas-x (see lactaid comment), probiotics, and a yeast infection kit. For real, ladies. The field is a place where yeast infections can happen easily and it can be hard to get the medicine or a doctor’s appointment, especially when you’re at a site in the middle-of-nowhere. So, don’t make it weird. Just bring some Monistat or generic equivalent and hope you don’t have to use it.

My dig kit includes:

  • trowel and file
  • string
  • line level
  • folding ruler and retractable tape
  • sharpies, pencils
  • nails
  • Leatherman
  • binder clips for plan drawing
  • waterproof gloves, spare nitrile gloves
  • knife for coring
  • those little heat pack things that you open and then they get hot
  • carabiner for clipping random things to other things

And that’s it!! That seems like way more now that I’ve written it out, even though my bag was completely stuffed on the way over! I did bring a few presents and return artifacts though, so hopefully now there will be room for presents on my way back…

I’m hoping to post more here this summer, but until then, remember to follow our Facebook page, our official blog, and the Instagram account that we just started (@scass_iceland).

*Keep in mind, in this post I’m just giving my opinions on the gear I personally like. Please don’t take these suggestions as gospel and please don’t get mad at me if you try something I’ve linked and don’t like it. I’m not responsible for gear failures! It took me four years of fieldwork to figure out what works for me. Even so, I always find myself wishing I could upgrade something or lamenting the fact that I forgot something that would have been useful. This is always evolving, every year, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. Experiment!!

Winter Break in Iceland! (and Scotland)

So, as I mentioned before, I spent my winter break (so long ago!) in Iceland! I flew in on New Year’s Eve and got to play with fireworks that night and see a huge bonfire and the NORTHERN LIGHTS! This was my first time seeing the lights, since I’m usually there during the summer when it doesn’t get dark enough to see them.

The next day, after very little sleep, I met up with Kat and we drove north to Sauðárkrókur. It started snowing on our drive so what would normally take only 4.5 hours took us a little closer to 6. I ate a bacon-wrapped hotdog at one of our pit stops, so I was prepared to drive for as long as we needed. Kat had been in town on her fellowship, so we stayed at her flat and ate cookies and drank tea and hot chocolate almost every night. It was so cozy!

I got to go to the museum lab space in town and look at some of the animal bones found in Christian cemetery site excavations since 2005. Some of this material will likely become part of my dissertation, so that was promising. I got to talk to our museum colleague about my research questions and she had great feedback and advice, so hopefully we get to implement of these ideas this summer.

I visited the archives in town as well to look at historical documents. I didn’t have any specific documents I needed to see, so I looked at landholding records and tax documents. All of them were in Icelandic, which I unfortunately don’t speak or read (working on it!!), so I took pictures of the pages related to all the farms in my study area.

After a week in Sauðárkrókur, I helped Kat pack up her things to move down to Reykjavik for the spring term. Before her courses started, we went to Þingvellir for an archaeology field trip and then to the secret lagoon at Flúðir to relax a bit. I got to go horseback riding in Reykjavik and it was the best ride I’ve gone on in Iceland! This was also the first time I got to do some of the more “tourist-y” things I’ve never done before.

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Öxarárfoss at Þingvellir

After a week in Reykjavik, I went to Scotland to visit a friend (made through archaeology!) and see some colleagues. I delivered skyr and chocolate covered raisins, two of our favorite Icelandic treats. I climbed a mountain (Ben Lomond), frolicked up Arthur’s Seat, drank lots of whisky, saw a castle, ate some haggis, played many board games, saw a ship (RRS Discovery!), had dessert every day, watched Trainspotting, and went to a ceilidh. It was a short trip, but it was good fun.

I got home just a few days before spring semester started, and somehow I managed to post that update first. I’m a mess!

Coming soon…how do I pack for the field? (But really, how do I do it? I have to pack soon and I always overpack and I’m trying not to this time but it is tough!)

Local grad student emerges from lab…

I always say this but…it’s been really busy around here! I never mean for so much time to go by before posting, and then it happens. I’m sure summer posts are more exciting anyway, and the photos are so much more picturesque, so at least those are slightly more regular.

So, updates. That huge exam? PASSED. Glad that’s over and I never have to do it again. The rest of fall semester? Spent it recovering from said huge exam by writing final papers, so I didn’t have any time to spend in the lab. That was a bummer. Winter break? Iceland and Scotland…post coming soon.

In other news, I made up for fall by spending most of spring semester frantically identifying bones so I could finish various projects. So, I finished a lab report on a site called Stóra-Seyla in May last year, but, unfortunately, that was just for the material excavated in 2008 and I was trying to finish the 2009 material so I can report on the whole site. Well, I didn’t get through that in the fall, so I put it on the backburner for a bit.

Why didn’t I finish the Seyla material? Because the bones from last summer’s excavations in Hegranes arrived! They were sent to Boston, so I got to go pick them up and visit the rest of the SCASS folks, which is always great fun. I returned some finds and gave them a few mysteries too…

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returning these “charcoal nubs” and “weird lava rocks”

I got the Hegranes bones in mid-February and had to identify them all by the end of March. That was a crazy couple of weeks! This material was part of the presentation I just gave at the SAA in Vancouver, so I had an actual, hard deadline. It all worked out in the end and the presentation went quite well, so it was worth it.

The most interesting pattern so far, and keep in mind that the sample sizes are small, is the number of bird bones at one particular site. The site is the most coastal of the farms on Hegranes, and all the identifiable bird bones (190-something of 492 bird bones) are from alcids—mostly puffins but quite a few guillemot too. Both of these birds migrate to Iceland in the summer to nest on sea cliffs. They occupy different zones of a sea cliff—puffins like the tops where grass grows so they can build suitable burrows while guillemot like the cliff-face, usually towards the top of the cliff—so the two birds are able to cohabitate. Hunting them today is a cooperative endeavor, and it likely was the same in the past.

The past two summers, the SCASS crew has been lucky enough to go out to Drangey, an small sea-stack in the fjord where Grettir the Strong spends his last years. Our guide, Helgi, always tells us the part from Grettis saga that takes place on Drangey. He’s also very knowledgeable about the birds that nest there. He told us that last summer, there were 75,000 mating pairs of puffins on Drangey. This nesting ground is clearly a rich resource, even today. In the past, it seems clear that people exploited this resource as well, as it is the closest place where these birds can be found in such numbers. It isn’t easy to get to the top today, even with modern ladders and handholds, so I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been in the past…

But the view…

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Back to where it all began…

It’s very busy around here right now and I have a huge exam coming up in 9 days (AHHHHHH). I’ve been busy studying and working on my normal coursework, so I haven’t been able to do any faunal analysis since I got back from Iceland. I’ve been pretty out of touch for a while, but just recently an article and paper came out about some really cool finds from the site where I got my start in archaeology, so I thought I’d share a little of my side of the story.

My first field season was in Cape Espenberg, Alaska. It’s a spit of land sticking out of the Seward Peninsula and it’s made up of a bunch of beach ridges that have formed over time because of waves and wind. It’s quite remote, and we had to take small 4-seater planes out to the site. We landed on the beach and camped for all of our 5 week season.

Our excavation focused on prehistoric houses, with three different houses excavated in 2011. They were all a little bit different, all very interesting, and I was hooked on archaeology. The Thule occupied the houses over the winter, and so they are semi-subterranean with long entrance tunnels to keep the cold out. Thule houses in the western Arctic are square-ish with a wooden perimeter, so we had a lot of architectural material to work around, including the tunnel, roof collapse, floor, and wall pieces.

About 8 of us left after five weeks, and the rest of the crew stayed on for another week or so to finish up. A day or two after I left, my good friend Jeremy Foin found a metal buckle with a bit of leather attached. The buckle appeared to have been cast in a mold and was clearly not Thule in origin. Although they used metal, there was no smelting in Alaska so we knew it had to be from somewhere else. We all knew this would prove to be a very unique find and we were pretty excited about it.

Flash forward a few months, and I’m working in the archaeology lab with my former roommate (and current grad student), Susan. We were sorting bones from Cape Espenberg into basic categories (something I seem to do a lot of…) to get the faunal analysis process started and she pulled something weird out of one of the bags. She called me over and said she was pretty sure she found a thing made of metal. I looked at it and agreed that it was metal, but we had no idea what it was supposed to be. We thought maybe a whistle or a toggle for clothing (like a button) because it is a hollow tube with a hole punched into one of the walls, but we weren’t really sure. Reading the article that was just published, I learned that they’re calling it a “cylindrical bead.” We called Jeremy and the three of us went to use the XRF (x-ray fluorescence) to determine what the chemical makeup of this mystery metal thing was. It was an alloy of some sort, but, none of us being experts on metal, we still didn’t know what to make of it. Knowing that it came from the same house feature as the buckle though, we were pretty sure it was something even more exciting than we could imagine. We told our advisor and PI and got celebratory burritos for science well done.

Now, this is turning into an exploration of potential long-distance trade networks from Eurasia. Hopefully in the future we’ll know even more about this buckle and the other metal artifacts. Nearby sites seem to be turning up other metal items too, so the story definitely isn’t stopping with Cape Espenberg.

Let’s all get celebratory burritos.

Ends and Beginnings

The field season in Skagafjörður is over and now I’m in Snæfellsnes working on a short project for a friend. It’s always bittersweet when the season ends, but I’m very happy with how everything turned out.

The last few weeks rushed by very quickly and I spent a lot of time in the lab and organizing things and people in various locations. I did very basic identifications (cow, horse, pig, sheep/goat, bird, fish) and counts of the archaeofauna from each test pit we dug this summer to get a little glimpse into what might be going on in Hegranes. The only real analytics that I did was to look at the number of wild resources versus domestic resources used at a site over time. I haven’t yet broken it down by time period, but looking at overall patterns has proven interesting. The size of the farms and their status (abandoned or currently farmed) were the most relevant variables that I could access without having done any in-depth analysis. Not surprisingly (to me), the smaller abandoned places seemed to use wild and domestic resources either relatively equally or use wild resources more. One small farm had pig remains from a more recent context, which is interesting because pigs get phased out relatively early, possibly because they are difficult to keep in Iceland’s climate or perhaps because they are in direct competition with humans over food. Another small abandoned place had a seal toe that I was surprised to be able to identify so easily, since I haven’t seen seals since my undergrad days.

I ended up counting over 3,400 bones in the field, but they will also be shipped to me in the fall so I can do better analysis. Hopefully these bones will be the stepping stone to figuring out my dissertation topic and will help to determine what I’ll work on next summer and where we’ll place the focus for more intensive exploration and excavation to find more bones for me to study.

Now, I’m helping a friend with survey and coring in Snæfellsnes. This is where I got my start in Iceland, with the same people, so it’s a great way to end the summer.

Hopefully I’ll have better internet soon so I can post pictures of the last few weeks in Skagafjörður and this week in Snæfellsnes. I have to say, I’m not looking forward to going home next week because it’s been so hot in New York recently and Iceland has been beautiful, even if the weather hasn’t been ideal the whole time.

Hegranesþing, Kotið, Egg, and Reynir: A Photo Dump and Long-Winded Update

We have been SO BUSY! In terms of coring, last season, over 5 weeks, we took about 1,300 cores. This season, over the past 3 or so weeks, we’ve done nearly 1,000 cores. “More cores more faster” was the motto last year, but this year we are really living up to it.

After my last post, we tried to go to the abandoned place called Grænagerði. This did not work out. Since last year, they’ve started building summer houses in the area and there is now a gate at the entrance that was locked the day we wanted to go. Instead, we went to another abandoned place called Kotið. We took the new students out and cored the whole area, trying to find a place for a 1×1 test pit. Eventually, we found a decent enough place, and the next day a small crew went out and opened it up. They found something really cool, so be sure to check in on the SCASS blog and facebook page for updates and photos.

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Lunch time at Kotið

The day after Kotið, I went back to Hegranesþing for half a day to set up a grid for the geophysics team. This basically involves marking out long transects 10 meters apart with flags every meter. The flags are different colors (Our scheme for the day was red for odd numbers, yellow for evens, blue on every 5, and white at the 10 meter mark) so it looked like we were getting ready for a party. We had to replace many of the flags we planted on our previous coring trip since the cows get very interested and lick them or knock them over.

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It was a beautiful day! 

After our half day at Hegranesþing, we went to a farm called Egg. It literally means egg (like from a chicken) or “edge” like the edge of a knife. It’s right at the edge of Hegranes, so maybe that’s where the name came from. At Egg, we cored a few different fields, again looking for a place to open up a 1×1 meter test pit. I worked at Egg last year, and was glad to see that the farm dog was still there! She played with us for a bit while we waited for the rest of the crew, then followed us to the fields to make sure we got out there before leaving us to go back to work greeting all the cars and people who arrived.

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She has one brown eye and one blue eye and loves when you throw rocks for her to fetch (which is why I couldn’t get a picture of her face very easily). 

We had another half day at Egg on Saturday which was just more coring. The field that I was working in had very tall grass and it was hard to navigate. We still did a lot of cores though.

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Slightly less sunny lunch at Egg

After our half day, we had all of Sunday off. I woke up early and went for a morning run through Sauðárkrókur and up to the top of a ridge to get a good view of the town. I spent the rest of the day in the lab struggling with QGIS and trying to make maps for my report on the archaeofauna from Stóra-Seyla.

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Sauðárkrókur

On Monday, the dream team (crew that has been here for multiple years) went to Minni-Egg to core. We cored there last year, and the goal this year was, you guessed it, to figure out where we could put in a 1×1 test pit. These test pits are supposed to help us understand what was going on at a site since it became occupied. Usually, we look for evidence of midden (trash disposal!), which involves pink peat ash, charcoal, and bone in varying quantities. At Minni-Egg, we found nothing. Well, the tiniest bit of something, but not enough to warrant a test pit. If it was occupied and abandoned at some point, we haven’t found where they threw their trash. We did take a really great band photo on a pile of rocks though.

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Coring Dream Team. Photo credit to Kat, the one in the pink raincoat.

I spent the rest of this week at a small abandoned place called Reynir, located on Egg’s land. We have already started and finished one test pit, which produced some bones (hooray!) and evidence of people manipulating the landscape along with erosion from higher locations. This test pit was near a mound that doesn’t seem too old, since we did not have much midden below the 1104 tephra. It is still important to dig test pits in places like this though, since it can help us see what else is going on at the farm after its establishment and if practices have changed over time. I’m very interested in examining change in one place over time (the longue duree), especially in their use of animals, so this was an exciting pit for me to dig. While we didn’t get a lot of bones, we had a variety of different species represented–bird, mammal, fish, and shell–so the bone preservation seems very good. On the way back home, we had a different kind of excitement…a flat tire! Luckily, our car had a full-size spare, and we were able to change it out relatively quickly.

On Friday we started and almost finished another test pit, though this one is much deeper than the first. The current test pit is about a meter deep, and we haven’t hit the 1104 tephra yet. At Reynir, we’re now looking for evidence of people before the year 1104, since we believe the farm was established quite early. We saw in the cores for the second test pit (always core before digging a pit! It’s like that whole “measure twice cut once” thing) that there was midden below the 1104 tephra, so we’re excited to finish it on Monday and see what a larger profile can show us.

I’m very proud of all the newbies. They are learning quickly and are doing great! This season has been awesome so far and I’m looking forward to seeing how much more we can get done in the next 3 weeks.

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We’ve had more t-shirt weather so far this season than we had all of last season.

Coring Survey and Teaching Moments

Today we cored a small, abandoned area (Ásgrímsstaðir) on the land of a larger farm, called Helluland. These areas are being studied by another PhD student (her blog is here) to explore various questions about erosion rates (especially what happens when people get to Iceland), what people were doing at these small farms, and why they were abandoned. I’m hoping to find evidence of good bone preservation in cores and lots of bones out of the test pits we’ll eventually dig. Hopefully we’ll be able to use both data sets to answer questions about the settlement of this area and explore what people were doing here through time. It was a perfect day to be out coring too. It started out cold and cloudy, but it really warmed up and got sunny. I wished I wore a t-shirt! At least I remembered to pack sunscreen in my backpack!

Since I spent the majority of last season coring, I was chosen to lead a small team (really, just me and one other person) in filling out a 20×20 meter coring grid. We started as a large team since there are five new people, three of us old-timers, and John Steinberg, one of the project PIs, who came out with us for the first half of the day. The new crew got an overview of the SCASS coring protocol, how to use the cores, and what kinds of things we can see in a core profile. There’s also all kinds of fun new technology this year, so we talked about how to use the iPads and apps to make our lives easier (and basically paper-free!).

Once the group felt relatively okay about what they were doing, we broke off into smaller teams to finish off a grid from a previous year’s survey. Since I only had one other person with me, we were really able to sit down and look at the cores and talk through what we were seeing. Luckily, we didn’t have anything too confusing in our cores and he is catching on very quickly. Unluckily, we didn’t have very many identifiable tephra layers, so we weren’t able to get very many dates for the area we worked in. Tephra layers are also hard to describe and I think the best way to learn them is to see them, so it was unfortunate that we didn’t have many today. We were also very close to a bog in our transect, so a few of the cores were difficult to pull out and made funny squelching noises while spewing up water. Sometimes bogs can be great places to core, because the tephra layers show up well and we can see the places people may have cut turf in the past. Other times, like today, the bog is just really mixed up and grey and wet and nothing is visible. But, having a coring partner who is learning so fast and really willing to do all the back-breaking core labor is great! I’ve known for a while that I want to teach once this whole PhD thing is done, but this was a nice little reminder of why I want to do it–seeing someone putting into practice the things you just taught them and doing it well is a really great feeling. Also, it reminded me that I did learn all of this last year, and there was no reason to doubt my abilities. All in all, an excellent day!

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John showing us around a core profile. We put the core in a farm mound and hoped to find some peat ash midden, indicating the presence of people at the site.

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Students with iPads record the depths of various types of soil deposits and tephra layers. The tephra allows us to date the deposit.

Tomorrow, we’re off to another small abandoned place on Helluland’s land, called Grænagerði. We cored there last year and found what we think is some architecture (fingers crossed for a long house!) and some really dark midden with what seemed to be decent bone preservation. We also saw a cute field mouse, which is very important to note. This year, we’ll finish the 10×10 meter grid from last year by filling in gaps and expanding to the north and south. We also want to dig a test pit in the midden. This is super important to me, because middens are the trash pits where people would have thrown their food waste (bones for the zooarchaeologist!) and also other household trash like peat and wood ash and other materials that don’t have any use anymore (occasionally we find artifacts). So fingers crossed for good, datable midden (with tephra!), nice bone preservation, and slightly less bog. Oh, and some farm animal friends to visit us through the day.

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These little Icelandic horses were really interested in what we were doing. We think they smelled the apples we had in our backpacks. The black horse was very curious about all of our bags, and I thought she was going to eat our cookies! The horses are really cute, but I miss the farm dogs we played with last year. Hoping some of the next farms we go to have dogs!

I’m in Iceland!

Just a quick update from the field–I arrived in Iceland on the 6th and headed up north on the 8th. We started work the next day and I’ve been going ever since! We did some work at the cemetery to clean everything up for beautiful kite photos and now we’re off to start coring. 

Yesterday and today I cored at a place called Hegranesþing. It’s an assembly site and a heritage site that is protected. We got permission from the cultural heritage agency to core there and they’ll come out at the end of this week to work with us to figure out what’s going on there. I’ll have more to say then, but for now, enjoy these photos.

The view from Hegranesþing

We had a visitor!

We had a few visitors!

Setting up a 20×20 meter grid for coring. It was a surprisingly warm day (for Hegranes).


(This is being posted from my iPad, so apologies for any terrible formatting)