2007: Niku V

Expedition

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ApiaSurrounded by land! an odd feeling after weeks of sea and sky. The Samoan Islands are volcanic, with real elevation, running water, and everything. They arrived about midnight and now await the business day and Customs. The flight for Fiji leaves at 2 a.m., leaving plenty of time to pack and ship all the gear that is returning to the States.

Ric is hand carrying the most important artifacts:

  • The pull and slide of a zipper.
  • A snap of the kind used on clothing – both sides.
  • A small piece of flat mirror, such as that found in a compact.
  • Remnants of a pocket knife.
  • Brown and green bottle glass.
  • The bronze bearings.

The Seven Site returned very interesting results, with the outline of a story appearing in the burn features, fish, bird and turtle remains, clothing remains. A castaway lived here, ate here – died here? Did this person die wearing the clothing, which has now disintegrated completely aside from the metal pieces? Did Gallagher fail to find clothing because it was already gone, rotted away?

The zipper is fairly small and is not rusted. It is very plain, with a rectangular pull bearing the name of the manufacturer. On the reverse of the pull Ric thinks he can make out some numbers. This will be the first order of business, obviously, to identify this item.

In a unit slightly outside of the cleared area they found a small medicine bottle with a patent number. One of the team, Bill Carter, is a lawyer with a great deal of experience in patents. He called the U.S. Patent Office and found out the number is assigned to the bottle design, and was issued in 1895.

The team will fly from Fiji on the night of the 9th, arriving in Los Angeles the 9th, having crossed the Date Line for the fourth time this trip. From there they disperse to homes, families, jobs, and Real Life.

All in all, a very successful trip. We’ll be posting photographs and video clips as soon as possible, I hope by Saturday or Sunday for some stills at least. There are thousands of photos and hours of video to sort through, but we’ll get it on the website as soon as we can.

Thanks to everyone for your support.

pat

The final day. The Seven Site is closed and covered. The last day of work there revealed yet more M-1 rounds, and also some more metal clothing fasteners. There will be a lot of research to do to firmly identify these items in the next few weeks. The island has been swept almost clean by Time, using the tools of wind and water. All that remains is the bits and pieces, traces and faint tracks, of the lives that were lived there, however briefly.

Yesterday John, Josh, and Ric spent the day collecting the tide data on the reef-flat which ties together the tide tables for the channel, the flat out by Norwich City, and the base-line data using current tables for Hull (Orona) Island. All the data are now being entered into the laptop for crunching before the seas kick up again and make keyboarding impossible. The total stations are back aboard, packed safely away in their cases, un-dunked and undamaged. At low tide the reef flat is drying completely; this is a cycle, the period of which we do not yet know.

The boat is out of the lagoon, and the team is spending the last day “wildcatting” with metal detectors in and around the village – just in case. Tom Roberts talked one of the Nai’a crew into walking completely around the island with him. Others have done this, but most of the gang think he’s nuts. See the Bevington Diary for a description of an earlier tour.

They expect to get underway before sunset, heading for Apia and a flight back to Fiji on the 7th. They fly out of Fiji at 10 p.m. on the 9th.

Niku sunset

Ric was aboard half the day, scanning through hundreds of frames of photographs from the kite photography, which is a spectacular success. The idea is to find things to go look at now, while they are still there, rather than three weeks from now when we’d have to mount another expedition. There is stuff back in the bush that is totally invisible on the ground from three feet away – but breaks in the foliage make it possible to see from the air.

The tides have cycled through so that they are coming off the island at dead low tide now. This is hairy. One must jump down into the skiff from the coral ledge. The skiff, of course, is moving. There is a tendency to go splat in the bottom of the skiff unless the incredibly strong and well-balanced and co-ordinated Fijian crew can catch you. This is a Good Thing because going splat hurts. The reef flat is dry well past dead low tide.

shark

Ric spent the morning metal detecting in the area of the lagoon that received the overwash from the storm which cleared out everything from the radio shack and beyond (see photo below for July 31). There was only one small hit, which may be interesting. But what was really interesting was the company he had: a shark he’s named Nicodemus after the pursuing shark in Treasure Island. About four feet long, Nick is a black tip reef shark, and usually they are pretty harmless. But this one seems bent on giving anyone he sees the willies. We think he’s the same shark that treed Bill Carter on a coral head last trip. Ric bopped him in the nose with the metal detector and that discouraged him some, but he was still lurking around, singing the shark theme from Jaws, every time Ric looked over his shoulder.

One very interesting find at the Seven Site: the pull to a metal zipper, made by a company that has been around a long time. I’ve got an inquiry in to them; results will depend on how good their historical records are.

One of the photographs from the kite may be an object that Jeff Glickman of Photek spotted in the 1939 photograph. Film at 11.

More brown glass, burned and unburned, has also been found. Many more bones in yet another fire unit. The picture here is of continuous use over time, not a single “camping” expedition or picnic.

Today was the last full day of work at the Seven Site. The boat must come out of the lagoon tomorrow morning at high tide, and by tomorrow evening they expect to be under way for Apia.

Three full days of work left, then a break-down day and off to Apia.

overwashMetal detecting in the village continues, with lots of little stuff found, pieces of things scattered downstream by a storm overwash. Sometime between 2003 and now enough sea came ashore to cover the north end of the village site two to three feet deep and clear out all light debris. There are no deep deposits of coconuts, no piles of fronds more than a year or so’s accumulation. The overwash would have carried off light metal debris as well, and left behind things that are small but dense – like bronze sleeve bearings. Anything taken by the storm is in the lagoon somewhere.

The kite aerial photography is very successful and spectacular results have been obtained. Something visible in multiple shots is a feature they are calling the “doughnut” – a dark round area just outside of the cleared site (of course). They’ll look at it today and see what it is.

The Official Party was held last night, rather than on the last night at the island. The boat’s crew had a lovo going all day – an earth oven – and an evening of music, kava, and merriment was planned. The sea has backed down a bit so they shouldn’t be so tossed about.

It’s been a hard trip, and drives home the simple message of Nikumaroro: like the sea and the sky, the island is utterly indifferent to humans and their plans. It won’t try to kill you – at least not deliberately – but it won’t cut you any breaks, either. All you can really do is keep your sword bright and your intention true, and your head screwed on tight. The least inattention can cause disaster.

The team meeting on the 29th focused on allocation of assets for the remaining days of active work. As always, there is far more to do than the available person-hours can accomplish. The work at the Seven Site is particularly greedy, but understanding the castaway’s environment and actions is extremely important.

The village is almost done. Three more sleeve bearings have been found, and some smaller bearings and bushings which have no part numbers. If the parts are pre-World War II, this isn’t surprising; it was during the great build-up of manufacturing during the war that the custom of putting a number on each individual part, however small, grew up, to meet the needs of a lesser trained work force.

florin

Also found:

  • Compression fittings for hydraulic lines (?)
  • Very high quality stainless steel wire cable, originally seven strands, with one or two strands removed (probably for local use)
  • Another knob, but this one is intact.
  • Sheet aluminum, not Alclad, cut up
  • A 1953 Australian florin

The Village produces Stuff – items gathered and stockpiled, used and re-used, cut up and shaped. The Seven Site produces bird bones, fish bones, burn features, and – just possibly, if we are lucky and thorough – some human remains. The priority there continues to be raking, scanning, excavation, and screening.

They are still tied off to the Norwich City, but must cast off at night and steam out to sea to avoid being tossed onto the reef. No one particularly wants to be the next Castaway of Gardner Island.

The sea is causing real problems now. They’ve had to move the boat off the anchorage because it was taking 50° rolls and putting the gunwales under water. They are now tied off to the last bits of wreckage of the Norwich City, which works well as long as the wind, current, and swell stay the same. If not, then they must stay under way, standing on and off the island, during the day, and head out to sea at night.  As a result of the rough water folks aren’t sleeping too well, which makes them accident prone. So far no major problems but everyone is on high alert. The landing channel can be especially tricky with cross-currents and rips colliding to form spectacular seas.

At the Seven Site work has continued on a new unit with a lot of burned fish and bird bones; obviously a meal site. More brass from ammunition has been found, including .22 rounds (Gallagher had a .22). A brass ring-shaped object has come to light as well; not a machined part, more like something off the end of a small pipe, approximately ½ inch in diameter with an interior diameter of perhaps ¼ or slightly more.

In the village Gary reported “good aluminum” but Ric did not have details yet when he called me. There is a bit of “tit for tat” going on with this; there appears to be some rivalry between the two teams and a good-natured effort to one-up each other. All is revealed at the team meeting each night.

crabsThe crabs have gone off with the bones. Attempts to track them have been unsuccessful so far; apparently they are going quite a bit farther than anyone thought, so the search will have to be expanded.

The crabs and rats at the Seven Site have grown quite bold with exposure to humans. The strawberry hermit crabs now attempt to climb the legs of anyone standing still, and the rats will plop themselves on the log next to someone eating lunch and ask for a share in the sandwich. The rats also mug the crabs for anything the crabs have scavenged. Funny in this context … but I don’t think it would be such a great place to be stranded.


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