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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Evolution of Archaeo Field Camps Part 2


Starting in 2006 we started to use lightweight teepees and take down wood stoves made by a company called Kifaru.  The wood stove and teepee weighed around 15 pounds total - and suddenly we were living large.  The wood stove was a HUGE change.  I remember the first night in the new Kifaru teepee on a survey on Upper Olga Lake.  It was raining and blowing out, but we were all happily gathered around the blazing wood stove while the tent fabric billowed and the rain pitter-pattered.  No more retreating to personal tents after dinner!

In fact, the comfortable cook tent with wood stove presented a new problem - the crew liked to stay up late by the stove and was often groggy the next day. Still the stove was great for morale and no more putting on wet clothing in the morning!  Also it is much easier to get up in the morning if you know there is a hot stove and coffee waiting in the cook tent.

An unexpected benefit of the wood stove is that we started to cook on it.  We still used the coleman 2 burner, but on extended trips we were using half the fossil fuels that we did in the past.  We also started to look at the landscape differently - looking for wood for the stove.  We learned to appreciate wood resources and actually learned a lot about the landscape and gained an affinity with the ancient peoples and their use of wood.  One big lesson is that these are not 'treeless' landscapes and that willow is GREAT firewood despite what people think of it today.

Field Camp at Penguk Site, King Salmon River 2010

Even with the big top teepee and stove our field camps are still pretty light and easy to set up.  In 2010 at a remote archaeological project on the other side of the Alaska Peninsula we brought along the camp banya, inflatable canoe, a large crew and supplies for 4 weeks and still managed to fit into 2 Beaver floatplane loads.  And it is nice to have camp set up quickly - even at Penguk our camp still took only around 2 hours to set up (and take down).  We also learned that teepees lack mosquito netting. .. ... and other than headnets we still have not figured that one out.

Dinner in the big top - Penguk 2010

Andrew makes use of the banya (camp sauna) - Penguk 2010
By this time my archaeological field camps had influenced what I did in hunting camps.  I now go backpack hunting with a lightweight teepee and woodstove for shelter.  On a recent backpack elk hunt our tent and wood stove combined weighed less than 5 pounds (both made by Titanium Goat - click here to learn more) and all five of us slept inside.  And now, in turn, what I do on hunting trips is again influencing what I do in field camp.

Recent archaeological fieldwork has consisted of river surveys - hence no more base camps.  On these surveys we had to set up camp multiple times.  And, more importantly, we had to be able to fit everything into 2 inflatable canoes.  On our trip last May Jill and I and the 2 rafts, food for a week and all our gear only weighed 690 pounds (our third team member Matt joined us in the field).  Even going so light it was still a tight fit getting everything into the canoes!

These camps are a bit more minimalist - no chairs, coleman 2 burner stove, or cast iron frying pan - but with a wood stove going they are still a far cry from the 'refugee' like camps of 10 years ago.  We now do most of our cooking on the wood stove, and only use a small 'pocket rocket' propane stove to boil water quickly.

Our food is another story, but funnily enough we still eat pretty much the same types of meals that we did 10 years ago.  Rice and bean type meals (Zatarains mostly) with cabbage, onions and hard salami added in.  We also eat a lot of wild greens - nettles, fireweed, lambs quarter, morel mushrooms, fiddleheads.  Nettles cooked with SPAM is a favorite.

Float trip camp - Karluk River 2012

Jill and Matt enjoying dinner cooked on a stove - Karluk River 2012
Anyway, I doubt our 'field camp' is at its apex.  These days electronics (GPS, computers, cameras etc) have become more important in the field and we've been experimenting with lightweight solar chargers.      Also how much longer will I be able to sit cross-legged on the ground while cooking?  It will be interesting to see what our camps look like in another 10 years!  Patrick

1 comment:

Molly Odell said...

Yay for the woodstove!