Ryder Glacier Expedition 2019 logo

Reports from Ryder Glacier 2019

Start August 5 in Thule
Follow Oden's position online here https://oden.geo.su.se/map

horizontal line

Farewell to Lake Beer Sausage | September 9

researchers on rubber boats on a lake
Coring in Lake Loonatik.

It is time to wrap up this scientific event. 20 days did I spend on the soil of northern Greenland. More than any other scientist on the expedition. Did it do anything good for science? I would like to think so. I have investigated archaeological sites that has not been known since they were abandoned thousands of years ago, I have held flint tools that has not been held since they were lost thousands of years ago, and I have participated in collecting sediment cores from Lake Beer Sausage and Lake Loonatik. These lakes will surely be remembered, I would like to think for the science that we did there, but more likely because of the confusion we will have created for future name researchers and cartographers. Next thing is to turn all this stuff into published papers, so it all becomes useful in research. Only when it is published has real science been done. That will be done from a sofa on Södermalm and an armchair on Öland, those are great places to write stuff up that needs to be written up. But first I will make my way back to Södermalm and Öland.

view of Lake Beer Sausage, moutain on background
Saying farewell to Lake Beer Sausage.

pil up icon

Eigil Knuth, the northern pioneer | September 7

sand bank
Solbakken from some distance with Eigils piles

Eigil Knuth was the pioneer of archaeology in northern Greenland. He excavated up here for half a century. Him and only him. And boy did he excavate! During the latest weeks I have visited some of the sites he worked on. Actually, in some cases I may be the first to visit some of these sites since he was here 50 years ago. Eigil would certainly have approved of our helicoring. He was most likely not a friend of the finer instruments or delicate techniques. Yesterday I visited one of his premium sites, Solbakken. The dump-piles were visible already kilometers away, and it was obvious that he had done a thorough boulder-breaking job on all the structures on the site. But no matter what excavation technique Eigil Knuth used, it is thanx to him we know as much as we do about the prehistory from these areas. When I was a teenager, doing teenage stuff, he was in his 80-ies and still up here uncovering this fascinating prehistory.

archaeolgic site post-excavation
One of Eigils structures post-excavation

 

pil up icon

The Besselfjord | September 4

We visited the Besselfjord today. Sunny, bellow 0, mountains and glaciers, and totally quiet. Out of all the places and sceneries I have seen, I judge it to be among the 25 most beautiful. But, as one of my officers in the army used to say 30 years ago, we were there to work, not to enjoy the place. Sadly, I could not stop enjoying my work on the location. My work was to check out, measure, and take photos of a recently discovered paleo-Inuit site, and check the vicinity for more. And what a site it was! More or less an amazing flint-knapping workshop. Flakes, cores, knapping-stones, flint, someone had been making tools here thousands of years ago. And close to it we found a dwelling site of similar age, and also a butchering site. Being from an area where anything older than a few decades is buried under the surface, it is pretty cool to see stuff made 4000 years ago just sitting on the surface, as if they were left there yesterday.

Paleo-Inuit site
A recently discovered paleo-Inuit site.
The Besselfjrod, Greenland. Mountains with some snow and ocean
The Besselfjrod, not a bad place to work.

 

pil up icon

Manual prospecting for lake coring | September 1

Something I really love is the creative madness that accelerates when several scientists are brought together. You know what I am talking about if you have been part of it, and you have no clue if you have not. Instant ideas building upon ideas building up on ideas by people who are professional idea-cultivators. And if there is no sensible person around, it will just take off, since nothing is impossible if the idea is just original enough. Well, here we are, some 45 scientists on the icebreaker, and with only captain Erik and his crew and helicopter pilot Sven to stop us from going all the way out. We want lake cores and lake cores we shall have, no matter what. If we do not get enough cores by Dan and Christian balancing upon a chair in a small (really small) rubber-zodiac on a cold arctic lake while handling heavy iron-rods, then we bring in the helicopters with monster-coring equipment which we built down in the workshop. If the helicoring does not give us what we want, then we stick professor Love Dalén in a survival suit and send him off swimming in a clod lake in northern Greenland in which no one has never even thought about swimming before, to find us the perfect spot for coring!

Scientist in survival suit swiming in northern Greenland
Love is looking for a good coring spot.
Scientist in survival suit swiming in northern Greenland
A lake with Love and a view.

pil up icon

Archaeology | August 31

Archaeology comes in many shapes. Today when we flew in to Hall Land I had the opportunity to investigate two different sites. First I spent some time at Rode Enkesaede, an Independence I site, probably about 4000 years old. A breath taking place, right by a fjord and on a high terrace. I would not mind eating my BBQed muskox entrecote here if I was a paleo-Inuit. Many structures were still intact even though parts of it had been excavated, and it was simply an archaeological Christmas. Later in the day I also had the opportunity to visit a more recent archaeological site. A very different site. Some kind of semi-abandoned (or in semi-use), meteorological station with cups and chocolate from the 70ies, porn on the walls, rusty gas containers, and matrasses that seemed to be older than me. With a faint smell of butane in the air. Both sites left standing impressions, very different types of impression, but nonetheless standing impressions. Archaeology comes in many different shapes.

An archaeological site in Greenland.
An archaeological site on Hall Land, perhaps 4000 years old.
Room with rusty gas containers, matrasses, cups and chocolate from the 70ies.
An archaeological site on Hall Land, perhaps 40 years old.

pil up icon

Of bones and a new archaeological site | August 29

two scientists in a lab working with ancient DNA
Christian and Love working in the ancient DNA prep laboratory.

Ancient DNA field work, is that training for potential serial killers, or is it rehabilitation for serial killers who are quitting their thing? As it was too windy to fly today, we spent the day on Oden, organizing the samples we have already collected. Bones of all different types and sizes, and from all different kinds of species. Yesterday we flew and did some serious field archaeology though, and discovered a new site again. From previous excursions we already have two unknown sites; one Thule site, and one paleo-Inuit site. Not to mention proof from a beautiful flint core indicating inland usage of Warming. The site from yesterday was also precisely dated with typology. The tent-rings of stones was not paleo-Inuit at least, that was obvious already from the air. Not older than the Thule period I would say, for sure. When looking over the site for artifacts, I dated it to about 1975+-10, based on a metal tent-spike Christian found!

site on Greenland, people and some stones
Our latest discovered site, dated to about 1975.

pil up icon

Message in a bottle | August 27

Message in a bottle, two hands holding a glass bottle and a white paper.
Message in a bottle.

Two interesting things happened today. Both on Wulff Land (there you go, I finally got the spelling of the place right!). First, we found the second known archaeological feature on the peninsula (the already known one is so far to the southeast so it almost does not count). A Thule site it was, a small one with only one tent-ring, but a massive one. Quit similar to a feature in another part of northwestern Greenland (on Stjernborg). Naturally, people must have been here since there are archaeological remains both east and west of Wulff, but this is the first traces we find of them here (if we do not consider the know southeastern Thule site so far to the southeast on Wulff so we should not consider it). Second, Adam found a message in a bottle. Some people belonging to some Bright-eyes expedition in the 70-ies left a partly readable note in a bottle. Archaeology and recent history, what more do one need? And now I have The Police song "Message in a bottle" playing in my head over and over again.

New archeologic site in Wulff, Northern Greenland.
A new Thule site on Wulff.

 

pil up icon

Lake Beer sausage, bad for coring | August 24

The last night in camp, we are flying out tomorrow. We came to northern Greenland to try at least three different lakes, and to bring back at least one decent core. And we have done just that. Lake Hammarlund at Warming was eight meters deep and provided a good full core (it should be noted that Dan Hammarlund was not as enthusiastic as the rest of us about the naming of this lake) while lake Turnstone, also at Warming, was a little bit too deep and only gave us a shallow gravity core. Lake Whisky at Wolfe was way too deep and also only provided a gravity core, while Lake Beer sausage neighboring Lake Whisky did allow for full coring, but the core looks odd. Lake Hammarlund gave us what we need, and from now on it will likely be day trips ashore from the icebreaker. With some coring and surveying. I am planning to get material from a few known but primitively excavated sites, to get good radiocarbon dates for them. Getting good 14C dates will help me work out the colonization history.

Lake Beer sausage, Northern Greenland.
Lake Beer sausage, from which we got a full but somewhat odd core.

pil up icon

That is not archaeology, this is archaeology... | August 23

Snow ball with Musko ox skull. Northern Greenland. Photo: Anders Götherström
Our cute little muskox demon, now melted to a slightly smaller format.

Say that you have a coring problem, say that you want a lake-core full of DNA 26 meters bellow the surface and you only have equipment to core 15 meters down. Then, ofcourse, you call the cavallry. A 200kg coring device swinging in a wire 50m bellow a hovering helikopter. That is what I call archaeology! We are inventing archaeoarctic helicoring here, we are making history. (But I am not going to tell you if it was the helicoring or our own low-tech rubberboat coring in the shallow neighboring lake that got us the core we needed in the end). And I am also very happy that no-one got seriously hurt during the swingcore-operation. I write it down as a successfull day. Even our little musk ox demon, who now has melted down to a cute demon-version of DD8, seems happy.

Helicopter in the air with a 200kg coring device swinging in a wire. Northern Greenland.
Swinging helicoring, that is what I call archaeology...

 

pil up icon

Of demons and coring problems | August 21

Here we are, at camp Wolf Land. On a big plain, filled with musk oxen (we counted over 40) and surrounded by a mountains in the far distance. We are here to do some serious lake-coring, why we have our tents next to a lake. To get juicy DNA from the lake sediments. This is why we brought equipment to core reasonably deep, we can do down to 15 meters. Impressive, right? So why are we then by a lake that is 26 meters deep? With the DNA we want 11 meters deeper than we can reach? That is a very relevant question. Another relevant question is, who put a musk ox skull on our snow man and turned him into a snow demon? At the moment our camp is overseen by something right out of the movie: "A nightmare before Christmas".

Lake Whisky, Greenland. Photo: Anders Götherström
Lake Whisky, where our camp is visible if you look closely.
snow man with Mysko ox scull, in northern Greenland. Photo: Anders Götherström
The muskox demon, overseeing our camp.

pil up icon

Memnon, the arctic Memnon | August 19

Almost exactly 40 years ago Egil Knuth excavated the two Memnon sites on the western shores of Warming Land, right off the Ryder glacier. It is an "Independence I" site, believed to be one of the earliest traces of humans on Greenland actually. The pioneers that crossed over to the island passed through here when they were pushing eastwards, it is hypothesized. While waiting for good enough weather to fly out to Wolf Land, I went on a day trip there with Alan Mix and his people today. The site is in an impressive environment, and I was lucky enough to collect a decent amount of material to eventually date it and analyse it etc. But what really caught me is that it is still just as Egil Knuth left it four decades ago. Check the pictures out, my photo and Egil Knuths photo. Every single stone is still in the same position as Knuth left them, every little pebble, very little has happened to the structure in 40 years. And enough remains after >4000 years to make my heart accelerate.

Photo of a Memnon I structure, and Egil Knuths of the same structure taken 40 years earlier.
My photo of a Memnon I structure, and Egil Knuths of the same structure taken 40 years earlier.
The Memnon sites, right next to the Ryder glacier. Photo by Anders Götherström
The Memnon sites are in a breath-taking environment, right next to the Ryder glacier

pil up icon

"Santa Claus is coming to town" | August 17

Ice breaker Oden deck, with some snow following down. Photo by Anders Götherström
Only Santa and Jenny Nyström would like this weather.

Finns have it that Santa Claus lives in Finland, but I never believed in that. I always suspected he has got his workshop on northern Greenland. And now I am sure of it. The weather outside, only him and Jenny Nystrom would approve of it. Our helicopter pilots certainly do not like it. So what to do, what do we do with the time when we cannot get out in the field. I hear from my zoology colleagues that when animals are stressed, they start to do something they are used to doing. It is the same with us, we start to write papers. So, here is the land-team, snowed in on Oden, writing papers on what we found on Warming Land a few days ago.

The land-team writing in the computers about land-stuff. Photo by Anders Götherström
The land-team writing about land-stuff.

pil up icon

The little camp by the lakes | August 16

Me at the camp site.
Me at the camp site.

The final bear watch at this camp, and when going on it I was saluted by our friends in the pack on the other side of lake Turnstone, singing to me. Howling wolves in the morning, that is something you don't hear every day. We have had several encounters with these little fury beasts, a pack of six, both friendly and agitated encounters. They will probably be happy to see us leave. 14 nice fat lake sediment cores and some 20 bones (the 25km walk to Starvation Point to screen for bones was not a bad walk), plus what proved to be a fine flint core for ancient tool making that Love found. That is what lake Hammarlund and lake Turnstone gave us. Not bad for some genetecists at a little camp by the lakes.

Dan and Christian out collecting bones by the place "Starvation Point". Photo by Anders Götherström
Dan and Christian out collecting bones by the place "Starvation Point".

pil up icon

Bearwatch | August 13

The sky is cloudy just above the camp, but only above us, and the clouds are quit high up. Just behind the camp beyond lake Hammarlund, where we have been coring all day, patches of blue are appearing. On the other side of the camp, by lake Turnstone, the birds are active. They are having breakfast by the lake. The temperature is between 5 and 10 degrees. Far beyond lake Turnstone is the fjord, and behind it there are large cliffs and rocks. Those cliffs are already under a clear blue sky. It looks as if the weather will be good today. The camp is sleeping, but a bird far away tells me that it is awake. And I'm thinking that if one is going to be awake at 3 in the morning, this is not a bad place to be so.

The camp in the morning with lake Hammarlund behind it. Photo by Anders Götherström
The camp in the morning with lake Hammarlund behind it.
Lake Turnstone, on the other side of the camp. Photo by Anders Götherström
Lake Turnstone, on the other side of the camp.

pil up icon

“It is not a dog, it is a wolf” | August 12

So did we finally arrive at Warming on Greenland. And when the helicopters let us off, we were greeted by a curious dog. Only that it was not a dog. Or, as a famous cartoon figure would have expressed it: “It is not a dog, it is a wolf.” I’ve never seen a wolf in the wild before, and certainly not at a distance of 5 meters, but my guess is that it was mutual. The wolf had most likely never seen a human before, and certainly not one from Småland. A wider screening of the area showed us that his pack had just downed a muskochsen and were munching away on it. But basecamp is up now, and it is not a bad one. From here we will be coring lakes, looking for ancient bones, and also contemporary species. And the first lake cores have actually been taken, the first ancient flint core has been found, and the first bones have been sampled.

A curious wolf that spent 15 min with us and got as close as five meters. Photo by A. Götherström
A curious wolf that spent 15 min with us and got as close as five meters.
The helicopter flying home after delivering us to Warming. Photo by Anders Götherström
The helicopter flying home after delivering us to Warming.

pil up icon

Ancient Greenlandic DNA, do it right or not at all! | August 9

If you're going to do ancient DNA, you better do it right. No compromise there. A proper ancient DNAer would not even dream of doing any compromises with the equipment, for example. That's why we are bringing more than a metric ton of stuff to northern Greenland, to do it right. If you are a beginner on ancient DNA, or a hobby ancient DNAer, you could get away with some 250kg of equipment, but we are doing the real thing. That's why we need 2000 biscuits of unsweetened Digestives, and 400 Snickers and Mars bars. I wouldn't dream of trying to do ancient DNA without it! Sadly there is a risk that the ancient DNA from Greenland is going to be of a slightly lower quality than most of the ancient DNA out there, as we could only bring half of the 2000 Digestives. The helicopters are not adjusted to proper ancient DNA work and could not bring all of the ancient DNA supplies we need, 1000 of the unsweetened Digestives for example. But tomorrow we are flying out, with over a metric ton of stuff. If we can't make some descent ancient DNA from that, we are not fit to be mentioned as proper ancient DNAers.

Ancient DNA equipment, like Digestives and Mars bars.
Ancient DNA equipment, like Digestives and Mars bars.
On our way to our take-off spot.
On our way to our take-off spot.

pil up icon

Training and waiting | August 8

Breaking ice.
Breaking ice.

Preparing for the field is packing, waiting, training, waiting, and some more packing. The weather forecast indicates that we will be flying out to the sites on Saturday. But all the waiting is not as boring as it sounds. One of the teams that visits the shores for daytrips walked into an archaeological site yesterday. And what did you know, looking at the pictures of the lithics they brought back (the photos, they did of course not collect archaeological artifacts), it appears as if they walked into a large and pretty old site. In only a few minutes they were able to take photos of a number of beautiful bifaces, the kind that is usually assumed to be from some of the first people here. I want to visit that site on the way back! And training is not always boring neither. How could shooting slugs on ice chunks with a repeater Winchester possibly ever be boring?

Training with a Winchester, shooting slugs.
Training with a Winchester, shooting slugs.

pil up icon

Getting there | August 7

There are various ways to travel. Right now we are steaming up the Nares strait on an ice breaker, full of scientific equipment, good food, and nice people. That is a pretty civilized way of traveling. To New York we flew with a modern Boeing, also pleasantly unexciting. But if the destination is northern Greenland, one should also expect some less conventional means. For us it started with a C-17 from New York to Thule. It is not often I am asked to bring a hat and a warm sweater to a transatlantic flight, neither is it often an armed steward deals out earplugs before takeoff. But I will not hesitate to say that I am grateful to the US air force for assisting us in getting to Greenland. Neither will I deny that it was fun in its own way.

The C-17 we flew with to Thule.
The C-17 we flew with to Thule.
Oden, the ice breaker we are presently on board.
Oden, the ice breaker we are presently on board.

pil up icon