I was thrilled to get back into the backcountry this summer with a crack team of three MA students from the University of Wyoming. We also brought with us what we frequently referred to as our "fifth crew member": a ground penetrating radar unit rented from UW's Geology Department.
Not only did the GPR and its four gel batteries weigh as much as me, I had to house it in a giant DeWalt toolbox for its long journey to Alaska. The GPR also got a special helicopter ride across the tundra with us for our 8-day stint at Niidhaayh Na', and it was hand carried through bogs and forests for the 1.5 mile hike out to Swan Point.
Why, you might as, would we put up with all of this difficulty for one crew member?
Ground penetrating radar offers the ability to "see" into the ground. It sends pulses of electromagnetic radio waves into sediments. Depending on the conductivity of sediments, these pulses reflect off of dense features up to 15 m below the surface. Essentially, our fifth crew member offered a way for us to predict which areas might have features, like hearths, house floors, or storage pits, without digging up an entire site.
While it will take a while to fully process the data, our field reconnaisance allowed us to target several high probability areas for features at each site. We recovered several hearth features at Bachner using these field results. And next summer, we'll hopefully be able to apply the full results of our GPR survey to select new high productivity areas at each of these sites.
The best thing about our fifth crew member? It didn't eat any of our precious pudding cups.
Bree is an Alaskan Archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming.