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John Cook, Part 1
John Cook

John Cook was interviewed on November 20, 2006 by Marie Mitchell and William Schneider in the recording studio at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks. John's wife, Elizabeth Cook, was also present during the interview and sometimes chimes in with her own thoughts. In this first part of a two part interview, John talks about his personal and educational background, his career as an archeologist in Alaska (especially his research at Healy Lake and along the Dalton Highway), and his role in the large-scale archeological site clearance project when the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and North Slope Haul Road were being constructed in the 1970s. He discusses details of plannng and organizing the project and excavations, hiring archeologists and district supervisors, hiring the first women archeologists, coordinating with construction crews, and dealing with logistics, equipment, transportation and communication among all the crews out in the field.

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Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-28-05_PT.1

Project: Dalton Highway
Date of Interview: Nov 20, 2006
Narrator(s): John Cook
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Marie Mitchell
People Present: Elizabeth J. Cook
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) Personal background

2) Early mentors

3) Becoming interested in arctic archeology

4) Coming to Healy Lake

5) Changes methods in archeology

6) Excavations at Healy Lake

7) Types of artifacts found at Healy Lake

8) Getting hired at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

9) Getting the contract for archeological field studies along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline route

10) Determining archeological sites to excavate

11) Village site at Atigun Valley

12) Archeological sections of the pipeline route

13) Hiring of archeologists

14) Hiring the first female archeologists

15) Hiring supervisors and doing archeological surveys

16) Logistics of contract archeology

17) Physical labor of excavation work, and location of artifacts and project notes after excavation

18) Logistics, equipment, transportation and communications

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Section 1: 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|

Section 2: John's mentors in arctic archeology were Louis Giddings who did early archeological excavations at sites at Cape Krusenstern and Onion Portage in northwestern Alaska, and Elmer Harp and Robert McKennen of Dartmouth College. Harp did a lot of work in the eastern Canadian Arctic, especially in Hudson Bay and Newfoundland. McKennan focused on ethnology in Interior Alaska. As a student, John worked on archeological excavations at Onion Portage, and on an archeological survey in the Yukon Territory with Catharine "Kitty" McClellan who did the ethnology part of the project.
Giddings, Louis\ Cape Krusenstern\ Onion Portage\ archeology\ excavation\ fieldwork\ graduate school\ University of Wisconsin\ Harp, Elmer\ McKennan, Robert\ Dartmouth College\ archeology -- Canada\ Hudson Bay\ Newfoundland\ Yukon Territory\ Chard, Chester\ McClellan, Catharine "Kitty"\ archeology -- survey\ ethnology\ Shinkwin, Anne|

Section 3: 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|

Section 4: 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|

Section 5: 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|

Section 6: 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|

Section 7: 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|

Section 8: 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|

Section 9: 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|

Section 10: 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|

Section 11: 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|

Section 12: 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|

Section 13: 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|

Section 14: 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|

Section 15: 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|

Section 16: 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|

Section 17: 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|

Section 18: 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|