The Dalton Highway: A Multi-Media History of Alaska's Arctic Road

Archeologist: John Cook

Select a section below to listen to the interview segments.
Interviewer: Marie Mitchell and Willliam Schneider John Cook John Cook  
Date: November 20, 2006
Identifier: H2006-28-05, tape 1 & 2
Approximate Length: 120 min.
Biographical Information: Born January 17, 1938 in Paris France (U.S. citizen)
John Cook has enjoyed all aspects of arctic and sub-arctic anthropology, particularly historic, enthohistoric and prehistoric archeology. Cook attended Dartmouth College and Brown University, and earned his Ph.D in Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin in 1969. With his educational background and professional work experience in anthropology, Cook was a pioneer in bringing archeology to the rarely researched area of the Arctic, especially along the Haul Road.
Summary of Interview: Cook discusses the reasons for securing archeological field work along the Haul Road and Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System (TAPS) route; the significance of recording archeological sites; the role and influence archeology had in employing women to work along the Haul Road; the need to analyze the data collected from the Haul Road and TAPS archeological field work. His responsibility on the Haul Road included Project Management for Haul Road and TAPS archeology.

Click to listen to John's "Beverage: delivery - destroy" and a "Wolf Encounter" story.
Click to listen to John's "Yellow Gas Cap" and the "Artificial or Archeological Finger Mountain" stories.
Click to view the introduction to the book "Pipeline Archeology, Volume 1" edited by John Cook
(University of Alaska, Institute of Arctic Biology, 1977).

This interview has been edited. Original recording is available at the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections Archives, Elmer E. Rasmuson Libary, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Segment 01) John was born in Paris, France. His mother worked for the Paris Herald Tribune newspaper. His father served in the U.S. Air Force. John relocated to the United States when he was one or two years old. He was raised by his aunt and uncle in Florida, and by his grandparents in Washington. By fourth or fifth grade, John lived in Maryland. John spent his time in the local cornfields picking up pottery, arrowheads, and other artifacts, which influenced his interest in archeology. After high school, John attended Dartmouth College majoring in engineering and anthropology. In 1959, he earned a degree in anthropology. After graduation, he enlisted and served in the Air Force for two years in Alaska. After his service, he enrolled in graduate school.

family -- background\ father -- U.S. Air Force\ stationed -- Paris\ birthplace -- Paris\ mother -- employed with Paris Herald Tribune\ United States -- relocation\ father -- multiple jobs\ traveled\ aunt and uncle -- raised by\ Florida\ grandparents -- raised by\ Washington\ Maryland -- relocated to\ hobbies -- multiple\ artifacts -- interest in\ archeology\ Dartmouth College -- enrollment\ engineer -- position\ anthropology -- degree in\ U.S. Air Force -- enlisted\ duration\ graduate school -- Brown University|

Segment 02) John became interested in arctic archeology. He was influenced by Robert McKennan and Elmer Harp, arctic specialists. After his service with the Air Force, he worked for the National Museum of Canada in the Yukon Territory. Later, he was invited to view the archeological sites around Healy Lake in Alaska. (He worked with Bill Workman and Ann Shinkwin).

arctic archeology -- interest in\ McKennan, Robert -- mentor\ arctic specialist\ Harp, Elmer -- mentor\ arctic specialist\ Air Force -- served in\ field work -- Yukon Territory\ Alaska -- archeological site\ Healy Lake, Alaska\ Healy Lake --involved with\ excavation|

Segment 03) Arctic specialist, Robert Mckennan, invited John and his crew, who were working in the Yukon Territory, to assess artifacts that Fred Kirstetter found at Healy Lake. Kirstetter had been collecting materials from his home near the site and wanted McKennan to view the materials. John viewed the materials and wrote a proposal that eventually became his PH. D dissertation "The Early Prehistory of Healy Lake."

McKennan, Robert -- arctic specialist\ Healy Lake -- archeological site\ archeological field crew -- Cook, John\ village site -- Healy Lake\ resident -- homesteader\ collection -- personal\ historic\ donation of\ materials -- review\ dissertation|

Segment 04) Archeology was changing from descriptive methods to an analytical process, asking "why was a site there and why people lived there." Archeology now added an explanatory analytical element. John applied the newer method to the Healy Lake site, comparing the activities at that site to other sites. Archeology in Alaska was minimal, particularly in the Interior, which was attractive to a graduate student to study unknown territory.

archeology -- changes in\ methods -- changes in\ methods -- types of\ descriptive -- older method\ analytical -- newer\ explanatory\ archeology -- Alaska\ minimal\ opportunities -- wide open\ archeology -- coast of Alaska\ boreal forest -- no archeology\ Interior -- minimal archeology\ graduate students -- opportunities\ archeology -- past limitations|

Segment 05) Healy Lake was one of the first archeological sites in the interior of Alaska to be excavated in detail. Previous excavations were scattered, and materials not readily available.

Healy Lake -- first archeological site\ interior Alaska\ Healy Lake -- radio-carbon dating techniques\ first application of\ radio-carbon dating -- process\ description\ measurements|

Segment 06) In the past, most artifacts were discovered along a road, a hill, or scattered on the ground, not from excavations. Healy Lake was the first excavation of a habitation site in the Interior. John found many utility items -- skin scrapers, burned bone, and other artifacts. The artifacts were stratified, which determines how life at the site changed over time.

artifacts -- discovery\ locations -- road\ hill \ground\ excavations -- rare\ Healy Lake -- first excavation\ habitation site\ Healy Lake -- utility items\ skin scrappers\ burned boned, artifacts -- stratified\ stratification -- description|

Segment 07) In 1969, John worked the Healy Lake site. A contact from the Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB) met him at the site to talk about employment with University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). While boating, John caused the boat to sink. Ironically, the contact still offered him the job. The job description involved human ecology, with a focus in researching how people survived in the arctic region. Eventually, John worked for both the Anthropology Department and IAB. About this time, the Haul Road and TAPS route was being proposed. Archeologists were needed to view the route for potential sites, as required by federal regulations for large construction projects.

1969\ Healy Lake site -- field work\ Morrison, Peter\ Institute of Arctic Biology -- opportunity with\ boat -- story of\ accident\ job offer\ human ecology -- job\ meaning of\ Anthropology Department -- professor\ Institute of Arctic Biology -- employer\ Haul Road -- construction of\ TAPS -- route proposal\ archeologists -- for TAPS\ duties\ route -- review of\ sites -- potential of|

Segment 08) John Cook negotiated for IAB's contract to do archeological field studies and excavations for TAPS. In 1969, the first phase of the Haul Road had been built from Livengood to the Yukon River. The Hickel Highway was built the previous year without any archeological review, and took a different route. The Haul Road route followed the proposed pipeline route. Burgess Construction was the contractor. John flew over the Burgess route in a helicopter and found evidence of archeological sites, which then caused archeological studies to be instituted.

contract -- TAPS archeology\ negotiations\ approval\ year -- 1969\ Haul Road -- first phase\ location\ Hickel Highway -- unrelated\ Haul Road -- TAPS route\ contractor -- Burgess Construction\ route -- review of\ transportation -- helicopter\ Caterpillar\ archeological field work -- prior to\ non-existent|

Segment 09) John Cook traveled with geologist Tom Hamilton and viewed the Livengood to Yukon River section. He discovered a site with micro-blades. This location was designated to be a materials site for the road construction. John proposed that TAPS provide funding to excavate and to preserve the archeological materials, but not necessarily preserve the site itself. TAPS agreed to his proposal.

Hamilton, Tom\ archeological site -- discovery of\ materials -- type of\ micro-blade\ glacial\ importance of\ archeological sites -- TAPS\ demonstration of\ TAPS -- collaboration with\ TAPS proposal -- acceptance\ purpose of\ TAPS -- funding|

Segment 10) A village site discovered near Atigun Valley would take an entire summer to excavate. TAPS officials decided to reroute toward Toolik. That was the only area where TAPS had to change the pipeline route. In some cases, TAPS would forgo a material site if the archeological site proved to be substantial. A material site is a gravel pit. The gravel is used to form the bed for the road and pipeline. The pipeline and road required a lot of gravel from these material sites. The TAPS officials would inform archeologists of proposed material sites.

TAPS -- concerns\ excavation -- timely\ Atigun Valley -- site discovery\ village site\ pipeline route\ TAPS -- rerouted\ collaboration -- successful\ archeologists\ TAPS\ construction crew\ material site -- definition of\ TAPS\ Haul Road\ materials -- large quantities of\ need for\ archeologists -- informing\ material sites|

Segment 11) The pipeline route was divided into sections for administrative purposes and John had ten archeologists working on each section, from section two through six, which was from Isabelle Pass to Prudhoe Bay.

1969\ Livengood site -- discovery of\ archeological site\ first TAPS site\ Haul Road -- construction\ expedite\ TAPS -- injunction\ construction -- halted\ injunction -- opportunity\ field work\ research\ reviews\ pipeline route -- division of\ sections -- number of\ Cook, John -- responsible for|

Segment 12) John Cook advertised the need for field archeologists through the country. He received thousands of responses from all over the world. He remembers spreading the applications across the floor of his home to view them. He needed geologists, biologists, and archeologists. He could only hire U.S. citizens because of U.S. labor laws.

archeologists -- recruitment of\ applications -- number of\ overwhelming\ jobs -- to be filled\ number of\ fifty\ U.S. Labor Laws -- regulations|

Segment 13) TAPS had a policy of no women on the line. This did not effect the archeologists. The first two women archeologists involved with TAPS were Susan Will and Ruth Croxton. These women were the pioneers in opening the opportunity for women to work on the TAPS.

TAPS -- hiring policy\ women -- not recruited\ Cook, John -- hiring of women\ archeology -- opportunities\ women\ Will, Susan\ Croxton, Ruth\ TAPS -- reluctance|

Segment 14) The first couple of years, John recruited Chuck Holmes, Dale Slaughter, Mike Kunz, Ray Newell, Al Dekin, and Wayne Wiersum as supervisors. He sent them to survey the route for archeological sites. The actual proposed route had not been surveyed yet. The crew flew in a helicopter to a point on the proposed route, then hiked all day looking for sites. If a site was discovered, an archeological field crew was then assigned to excavate the site. The archeologists were just ahead of the dozers while the Haul Road and pipeline were under construction. John worked to establish a collaborative relationship with the road crew laborers.

archeological crew -- hiring of\ supervisors -- responsibilities\ Holmes, Chuck\ Kunz, Mike\ Slaughter, Dale\ transportation -- helicopter\ hiking\ route -- survey of\ site -- goals\ intention\ Haul Road -- under construction\ construction crew -- collaboration with\ sites -- potential of\ informing of|

Segment 15) TAPS was a unique project; nothing like this was attempted before. Contract archeology was also a new concept. The TAPS archeological contract provided a generous budget that was managed by IAB. Fifty people were hired for archeological fieldwork. Supervisors were responsible for managing their section of the TAPS route. John reported findings to TAPS. John was the coordinator and the liaison between agencies. Frequently, pipeline and road construction would halt so the archeologists could excavate a site. Construction crews would "leap frog over them" and then return to that site. Construction and excavation was like a juggling act, and the collaboration was friendly.

TAPS -- unique\ project -- largest\ contract archeology -- initiation of\ new concept\ TAPS -- funding\ budget -- archeology\ generous\ archeologists -- recruitment\ number of\ supervisors -- duties\ Cook, John -- project manager\ communications\ liaison\ TAPS -- collaboration with|

Segment 16) The excavations required people to be physically fit, due to a lot of walking and extreme weather conditions. A number of sites were discovered along the Haul Road - TAPS route. When sites were discovered during the winter, the construction crew held off until the site was assessed and, in some cases, excavated. Richard Stern was hired to catalog and photograph the artifacts. When TAPS project was completed, all the archeological materials, including the field notes, went to the University of Alaska Museum for storage, where they remain today.

archeologists -- recruitment\ number of\ archeologists -- requirements\ physically fit\ weather -- extreme\ archeological sites -- discovery of\ numbers of\ Coldfoot site -- cemetery\ site -- importance of\ sites -- winter\ sites -- marking\ sites -- summer\ excavations\ Stern, Richard -- employed with\ Institute of Arctic Biology\ duties -- cataloging\ artifacts -- storage of\ storage -- location\ University of Alaska Museum|

Segment 17) Logistics, equipment, transportation and communications were provided by Alyeska. Each pipeline section had a node where pipeline and haul road meetings were coordinated. These daily meetings included public officials, engineers, contractors, and archeologists. If there was a problem, John would head to the Alyeska headquarters and meet with John Ratterman, who was the liaison between Alyeska and archeologists. Cook was always in communication with the field crews. The crew worked 7am - 7pm seven days a week, every summer from 1972 - 1976.

technology -- limitations\ rudimentary\ Newell, Ray\ computers -- not portable\ software -- development of\ software -- archeological\ modems -- testing of\ communications -- Alyeska\ pipeline -- sections\ nodal\ meetings -- daily\ location of\ attendees\ Ratterman, John -- liaison\ Alyeska Services Company\ archeologists\ schedule -- field crew\ hours -- number of\ daily\ summer season|

Tape 2 begins
Segment 18) The archeological field crews were trained before heading to a section. Crews were trained in how to record materials, including site location and weather conditions. Excavations were similar to salvage excavations, modeled after highway projects in the Lower-48. However, TAPS was the largest construction project at the time. This was also the first time companies funded an archeological project in Alaska. This was the first attempt to organize and contract a large-scale excavation program. Nothing like this had been done before. TAPS archeology was a groundbreaker.

archeologists -- training\ duties\ tools -- types of\ usage\ TAPS -- largest project\ TAPS archeology -- funding of\ large scale\ funding -- private\ source\ innovative|

Segment 19) John Cook conducted public relations tours, giving Alyeska much credit for supporting archeological excavations. Alyeska could have fought any excavation, because regulations were not in place at the time. The National Historic Preservation Act and the Antiquity Act could have been used as legal arguments if Alyeska refused to permit TAPS archeology. John Cook successfully collaborated with Alyeska.

Cook, John -- public relations\ public relations -- tours\ Alyeska -- credit to\ cooperative\ TAPS archeology -- establishing standards\ Historic Preservation Act\ Antiquity Act\ Alyeska -- collaborative|

Segment 20) John describes the working conditions. John tells of one incident that occurred at Happy Valley Camp, north of Galbraith Lake. Helicopters were used to transport crews. The helicopter he flew in was forced to land in ice fog conditions, so John had to walk the route to guide the chopper back to camp.

archeology -- tools\ tools -- sturdy\ adaptive\ weather -- winter season\ crews -- working conditions\ seasonal\ Happy Valley Camp -- story of\ helicopter -- incident\ weather -- bad|

Segment 21) Overall, the archeological equipment was basic. They did not use any fancy survey equipment. The daily schedule would involve waking up at 6am, packing a lunch, flying, driving or hiking to the site, returning in the evening, reporting findings, and collating the findings. The findings were copied and given to John, a supervisor, and then later to the University of Alaska Museum.

weather -- conditions\ equipment -- reliable\ basic\ crew -- schedule\ schedule -- description of\ tasks\ findings -- copies of\ location|

Segment 22) Any authorized excavation requires a repository. The only logical repository was the University of Alaska Museum. The museum already had an extensive collection, though most unrecorded. Archeologist Richard Stern was responsible for processing and organizing the materials from the Haul Road -- TAPS archeology. After the field season, each TAPS archeologist supervisor would spend time at the lab documenting the collections - describing, measuring, etc.

excavation -- authorization of\ repository\ University of Alaska Museum -- repository\ collection -- extensive\ unrecorded\ Stern, Richard -- archeologist\ responsibilities\ processor\ Institute of Arctic Biology -- lab\ TAPS archeology -- materials|

Segment 23) Supervisors were responsible for reporting their site and section. Reports were completed and given to the IAB lab before archiving the materials with the museum. Cook says, "Not much has been done with the materials since then (from TAPS archeology)".

crew supervisor -- duties\ reports\ Institute of Arctic Biology -- responsibilities\ materials -- processing\ University of Alaska Museum -- responsibilities\ materials -- storage of|

Segment 24) TAPS archeology recorded more than 300 site locations and artifacts. TAPS gave archeologist the opportunity to excavate the material. John informed oil companies and construction crews about the potential of destroying cultural remains. Large-scale projects like TAPS were apt to destroy cultural remains. TAPS archeologists were on the vanguard for testing and developing new methods, such as radio-carbon dating and obsidian dating. TAPS archeology also provided students an opportunity to work in arctic archeology. The impact of the TAPS project was wide spread.

TAPS archeology -- results of\ materials -- collection of\ recording\ preserving\ TAPS archeology -- opportunities\ contracts\ importance\ methods -- development of\ testing\ TAPS archeology -- impact\ positive|

Segment 25) Crews did not have much contact with the Native groups. Only a couple of Native people were hired. The pipeline was routed between Native villages. Analysis of TAPS archeology is not complete, and John feels it may never be. John is still in the process of finalizing the findings from the Healy Lake site.

Alaska Native communities -- interaction with\ minimal\ pipeline -- route\ impact -- minimal\ communities -- not effected by\ archeological findings -- incomplete\ Healy Lake site -- findings\ in progress|

Segment 26) John tells of a story about skinny-dipping. When the archeological crew arrived at the Livengood site, they would skinny dip at a nearby creek after work. The location was close enough for the truckers to see, and apparently the site became popular among truckers and construction crews.

skinny dipping -- story of\ archeological crew -- skinny dip\ location -- Livengood site\ truckers -- reaction\ construction crew -- reaction to\ location -- popular|

Segment 27) The most important goal was to provide a record of the archeology. The material is there, it just needs to be analyzed. Graduate students analyze the findings for their thesis or dissertation projects. The obsidian work did not originate with the Haul Road -- but with the Healy Lake project. John Cook encourages archeologists to follow-up with the TAPS materials. He does not have the time, facilities or resources.

TAPS archeology -- goal\ goal -- description of\ aboriginal studies\ materials -- collection of\ findings\ needs\ follow-up\ graduate student -- opportunities with\ TAPS archeological materials -- opportunities|

Segment 28) John Cook shares a personal story about a well-coordinated delivery. John Cook was with Mike Kunz viewing a site at Slope Mountain. That day a helicopter was standing by. Suddenly the helicopter pilot yelled to John and Mike to return to the helicopter. The pilot flew to Galbraith Lake where a small plane was waiting to escort John to Fairbanks. A bus was waiting to pick up John from the airport to drive him to the hospital. His wife was delivering their first child. Someone called Alyeska, and said, "John Cook's kid is being born". He arrived in time to see the birth of their child.

story -- delivery\ delivery -- coordinated\ Slope Mountain -- site location\ Kunz, Mike\ pilot -- emergency\ transportation -- types of\ helicopter\ plane\ bus\ hospital -- destination\ wife -- child delivery\ first child\ witnessing of\ Alyeska -- coordinated delivery|

Segment 29) The TAPS project was massive. People brought home materials from the camps. What did not get used from the project was thrown into the dump -- office equipment, food, vehicles, appliances, etc. This was a demonstration of waste on a scale that had never been seen, particularly in Alaska. So many supplies were being delivered to TAPS camps that there was a shortage of supplies for Fairbanks residents.

TAPS -- massive project\ supplies -- unlimited\ wasteful\ Fairbanks -- impacted by\ supplies -- delivery of\ bypassed Fairbanks|

Segment 30) Alyeska had a yard sale with equipment and supplies from the TAPS project. This was a sell-off to the locals, who did not have access to the necessities -- like toilet paper, crackers, and flour. The supplies were delivered by railroad to Fairbanks, then shipped north, bypassing Fairbanks and local markets. No one in the state could purchase a Caterpillar, or other supplies.

story -- Alyeska\ yard sale -- Alyeska\ items -- cost of\ types of\ supplies -- priority\ delivery of\ remainder\ items -- $25 each\ supplies -- delivery of\ Fairbanks, Alaska\ pipeline camp\ story -- Catepillar|

Segment 31) The economic boom that occurred in Fairbanks resulted from the discovery of oil in 1968. The economy simmered down from 1969 through 1971, until the construction of the TAPS resumed. At the same time, a recession affected the Lower-48 states, which encouraged people to move to Alaska for employment and opportunities. The pipeline was similar to a gold rush.

oil discovery -- impact\ economic boom\ Fairbanks -- effects of\ TAPS -- impact of\ recession -- lower 48\ people -- migration of\ TAPS -- gold rush similarities|

Segment 32) Most of the gold mining operations had access to the Haul Road corridor route. At Wiseman, there was a cemetery that Sue Will did historical work on but it was a bit off the route. In Coldfoot, the pipeline probably ran through the eastern edge of the town and part of this was excavated by Robin Mills, now with the Bureau of Land Management.

gold mining -- location\ haul road -- access\ Wiseman -- minimal contact with\ Coldfoot -- TAPS\ cemetery site\ town site\ pipeline -- rerouting of\ Mills, Robin -- archeologist historian\ Coldfoot site -- excavation of\ dissertation|

Segment 33)The locations of these archeological sites provide the hunting patterns and the trade networks of the prehistoric people. When obsidian is discovered from each site, these sites can be linked together along with the dating, styles of tools, and cultures.

archeological sites -- description\ importance of\ history\ obsidians -- purpose of\ cultures\ material -- preservation of\ cultural information|

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