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Michael "Mike" Kunz, Part 1
Mike Kunz

Michael "Mike" Kunz was interviewed on November 14, 2006 by Marie Mitchell in his office at the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Mike shares his knowledge of the development of the Haul Road and the Hickel Highway, and why Haul Road and Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) archeology played an important role for understanding Alaskan prehistory and history. Mike also discusses his interest in archeology, geology, and natural sciences, his studies at Eastern New Mexico University, past and present methods used in archeology, reasons archeology is a valued profession, and the archeological field work he has been involved with in Alaska. He describes his position as Supervisory Archeologist during the Haul Road excavations, his impression of the Haul Road and TAPS archeology, and his memories of the largest construction job in the most remote part of the world.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-28-01_PT.1

Project: Dalton Highway
Date of Interview: Nov 14, 2006
Narrator(s): Michael "Mike" Kunz
Interviewer(s): Marie Mitchell
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) Personal background and childhood

2) Developing an interest in archeology

3) Early days of research and doing fieldwork

4) Importance of archeology and understanding the past

5) Use of radio-carbon dating in archeology

6) Archeology being done for large projects

7) Archeology job opportunities

8) Coming to Alaska

9) History of the Hickel Highway

10) Lack of archeology along the Hickel Highway route

11) Environmental regulations during construction

12) Haul Road and TAPS archeology project

13) Job duties of Supervisory Archeologist

14) Collaboration between archeologists and road construction crews and engineers

15) Stoppage of pipeline construction

16) TAPS archeology team

17) First real job as an archeologist

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Section 1: Mike Kunz was born in Galveston, Texas before World War II. During most of his childhood years, he was raised in upstate New York. Mike was always interested in history, archeology and the natural environment. An anthropology professor encouraged him to become an archeologist.
birthplace -- Galveston, Texas\ World War II\ childhood -- upstate New York\ interests -- history\ archeology \ natural environment\ professor -- archeological field|

Section 2: New York\ childhood\ woods\ exploration\ archeology -- interest in\ Native Americans -- culture\ Native Americans -- interest in\ Native Americans -- Iroquois\ Iroquois -- form of government\ books\ reading|

Section 3: Mike enrolled at Eastern New Mexico University and received his undergraduate degree in anthropology. As a student, he had the opportunity to do field work at the type site for the Clovis culture, the oldest culture in North America. The anthropology department was doing the primary research, which offered him the opportunity to have first hand experience with an archeological site that offered evidence of human occupation in the new world.
Eastern New Mexico University -- attended\ undergraduate degree -- anthropology\ student -- field work\ field work -- importance of|

Section 4: Mike feels that people are interested in their history. For him, he loves the wilderness in Alaska. His grandfather left for Alaska to prospect the Klondike Gold Rush and kept a personal diary. His father, Thomas Kunz, was in Alaska during World War II. His ancestry made Mike interested in Alaska. According to Mike, "Most people are interested in their past history and the region they live in. Archeology is appealing to anyone because it tells people about who they are, where you are, what people were before you". Also, in a scientific way archeology is forensic, finding clues to something that has happened in the past and trying to solve the puzzle. Archeology uses various scientific methods to discover the answers. "Intriguing to people when they learn what archeologists do".
people -- interest in\ history -- personal\ wilderness -- appreciation of\ Alaska -- family\ background\ influences\ diary\ ancestry\ archeology -- description of\ comparison with\ forensic\ archeology -- scientific methods|

Section 5: Mike was involved with archeology at a time when radio-carbon dating technique was introduced. That technique was developed in the early 1950s. It is viewed reliable for determining age, and was a very important advancement.
archeology -- changes in\ advancement -- radio-carbon dating technique\ radio-carbon dating technique -- method\ description\ reliable\ important advancement\ archeology -- methods\ similar\ excavations -- procedures\ similar\ excavations -- purpose of\ waste flakes\ stratigraphy|

Section 6: In the early years, archeology was a dilettante's pursuit. In the early 1970s, federal and state laws were enacted that required archeology surveying on projects that disturbed the surface, like the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). TAPS was the largest pipeline system in the world that transports oil. Alyeska (a consortium of oil companies with exploration rights) was created to design, build, and operate the pipeline. Alyeska contracted the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) for the archeological work.
archeology -- opportunities\ archeology -- dilettante's pursuit\ archeology -- changes in\ federal laws -- archeological\ state laws -- archeological\ construction -- changes in\ archeological requirements\ surveying\ Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) -- largest pipeline system\ TAPS -- archeology\ Alyeska -- description\ Alyeska -- University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)\ archeology|

Section 7: When new federal environmental laws were enacted, there was a need for professional archeologists. Companies first contracted with universities. Some universities developed a branch that provided archeological services. This led to the development of private archeological consulting firms. Today, probably more archeologists are employed by private companies than universities and government. Today, you can make a comfortable living where as the opportunities were much less in years past.
archeologists -- need for\ archeology -- changes in\ universities -- involved with\ contractor\ federal environmental laws -- effect of\ private archeological consulting firms -- development of\ employment\ archeology -- opportunities\ contractors\ employment|

Section 8: Mike Kunz was a graduate student at Washington State University. His lab partner, Jeff Mauger, who received a Bachelors of Science Degree from University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), shared similar interests. During the summer, Jeff worked for John Cook (Project Manager, UAF Professor) at the Healy Lake archeological site. Jeff contacted Mike to relocate to Alaska and work for John Cook in 1970.
Washington State University -- attended\ graduate\ lab partner -- Mauger, Jeff\ Mauger, Jeff -- Bachelors of Science Degree\ University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)\ summer\ employment\ Cook, John (Project Manager, UAF Professor) -- employer\ Healy Lake --archeological site\ Mauger, Jeff -- influence of\ Kunz, Mike -- relocation\ Alaska\ Cook, John|

Section 9: In the winter of 1969-70, an exodus of machinery traveled north along the Hickel Highway from Livengood to the Yukon River (the Hickel Highway then routed toward Anaktuvuk Pass to Sagwon). From the Yukon River, construction camps were built along the proposed TAPS route. The first camp was Hess Creek -- midway between Livengood and the Yukon River. Next camps were at Five Mile, Prospect Creek, Dietrich River, Galbraith Lake, Toolik Lake, and Happy Valley. These were small preliminary camps with a capacity to house 30 people. At that time, Alyeska did not exist. Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was managed by employees of major oil companies with exploration rights in the Prudhoe Bay field -- Exxon, Shell, ARCO, British Petroleum, and Texaco. The companies donated employees to oversee the development of TAPS. This process was not working for many reasons. In 1971 (1970), Alyeska was created, which made the various oil company employees represent one entity instead of their individual companies.
Hickel Highway -- history\ route -- description\ Livengood\ Yukon River\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ Sagwon\ Yukon River -- camps\ Haul Road -- TAPS route\ campsites -- construction\ campsites -- location\ Hess Creek\ Five Mile\ Prospect Creek\ Dietrich River\ Galbraith Lake\ Toolik Lake\ Happy Valley\ Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) -- description of \ ineffective\ Alyeska -- development of\ purpose|

Section 10: Hickel Highway had no archeological work completed during the project. At that time, no regulation required archeological recognizance. Most of the land was federal. John Cook worked along the preliminary survey route of the TAPS Pipeline and the current Haul Road.
Hickel Highway -- no archeology\ archeological recognizance -- not required\ Cook, John -- archeologist\ project manager\ TAPS\ route -- TAPS\ Haul Road\ Hickel Highway -- pre--Haul Road\ Haul Road -- pre-TAPS\ purpose of|

Section 11: By the time TAPS was constructed, there were regulations already in place. If contractors did everything mandated, they would not have been able to complete a project under existing funding. That is the same today as it was in the past. Someone decides which procedure to follow.There were a number of regulations that prescribed what was to be done. A decision was made by the federal government for the TAPS to follow all the environmental regulations that were in place, because it was the largest construction project in the world. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company knew that this project would be the crown jewel of a huge construction project, so wanted it to be environmentally sound.
TAPS -- federal environmental regulations\ federal environmental regulations -- changes in\ process\ TAPS -- regulated\ largest construction project\ publicity\ Alyeska Pipeline Service Company -- awareness of\ TAPS -- successful|

Section 12: The Haul Road started from the Yukon River, then north to Prudhoe Bay over pristine virgin country. The only thing along the route was Coldfoot and some towns from the Klondike Gold Rush. None of these communities had road access, except for mining or trapping trails. The archeologists hired for TAPS archeology were looking at historic mining sites along the Haul Road corridor from Livengood to Prudhoe Bay. Only two towns, Wiseman and Coldfoot, were considered mining towns. Archeologists searched for other archeological and historic sites in the area. There were no burial grounds, nor permanent village sites, though they did find sites related to burial. The major concerns were to make sure archeological sites were not impacted, and to determine if the sites were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. There were five supervisory archeologists, the UAF contractor for Alyeska, and a Project Manager (John Cook).
Haul Road -- route\ Yukon River\ Atigun Pass\ Prudhoe Bay\ Arctic -- pristine\ communities -- Coldfoot\ Wiseman\ communities -- remote\ no road access\ winter trails\ gold mine trails\ TAPS -- archeology\ archeology -- reasons for\ historic mining sites\ historic sites\ archeological -- findings\ descriptions of\ archeological sites -- concerns with\ National Register of Historic Places -- eligibility of \ archeological -- crew\ supervisory archeologists\ Alyeska -- UAF contractor\ Project Manager -- Cook, John|

Section 13: Each supervisory archeologist had a section along the Haul Road. Dale Slaughter and Mike Kunz were responsible for the archeology between two sections, Sections 5 & 6, from Linda Creek to Prudhoe Bay. Seventy five percent of the archeological sites came from Sections 5 & 6. The supervisory archeologist decided which sites to excavate. Any site that had potential to provide datum was excavated. The mitigation technique was to excavate, even though regulations did not insist archeologists excavate to mitigate. The CZW (construction zone width) was the road and the pipeline, plus 150 feet on either side. Archeologists were concerned with those sites inside the CZW. These sites are now documented.
supervisory archeologists -- duties\ Haul Road -- sections\ supervisors -- names of\ Slaughter, Dale\ Kunz, Mike\ supervisors -- responsible for\ Section 5 & 6\ Linda Creek to Prudhoe Bay\ archeological sites -- evaluation of\ assessment\ excavation -- mitigated technique\ construction zone width (CZW) -- description\ CZW -- work area\ archeological\ TAPS archeology -- documented|

Section 14: During construction, archaeological teams were repeatedly called in to investigate previously unknown sites that were disturbed or could be disturbed by construction. The archeological team could do this without slowing down the TAPS project - the building of the Haul Road and pipeline. Archeological teams collaborated with engineers and construction crews. Archeologists attended all the daily meetings, so were aware of the construction schedule and the dirt spread (the dumping dirt and building a road). At each camp location, dirt was spread in both directions of the Haul Road route. Construction campsites are hubs allowing crews to work in both directions. Crews are working toward each other. Archeologists would be out with the surveyors. They would know in advance if crews would be running into something that needed addressing - and before the construction crew arrived with the dirt spread. The only problem was when the construction crews ran into material sites that they could not use because they were archeologically significant.
TAPS -- collaborative\ archeological teams\ engineers\ construction\ collaborative\ meetings -- daily\ attendance of\ construction -- schedule\ dirt spread -- defined\ camp location\ Haul Road route\ construction -- campsites\ description\ acheologists -- surveyors\ collaboration\ material site -- archeological significance|

Section 15: Archeologists started work in 1970. Then the TAPS project came to a halt later that year. The environmental and Alaskan Native community filed an injunction on the TAPS project in federal court. Until the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was resolved, the injunctions stayed in place. The lawsuit was resolved with the passage of ANCSA. The Alaska Native community had been trying to get a Native claims settlement act, so they saw this as an opportunity. There was also a petroleum crisis during this time. There was no construction from the summer of 1971 to the winter of 1974. TAPS archeological field activity started in the summer of 1974.
TAPS archeology -- start date\ TAPS project -- halting of\ injunction\ injunction -- reasons for\ TAPS project -- federal court\ Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA)\ lawsuit -- resolution of\ ANCSA Act -- passage of\ petroleum -- crisis\ TAPS construction -- resumed\ year\ TAPS archeology -- restarted|

Section 16: John Cook was in charge of the archeology for the TAPS project from Section 2 - 6, Isabelle Pass to Prudhoe Bay (contracted to University of Alaska Fairbanks). John Cook contacted individuals to be archeology supervisors. Mike Kunz was hired in March 1974. Dale Slaughter, Al Deacon, Ray Newell, and Mike Yarborough were some of the supervisors. Sections 2 - 4 had two supervisors, a field foreman, and excavators. Sections 5 -6 had one supervisor, a field foreman, and excavators. Each archeologist supervisor worked with Alyeska.
Cook, John -- Project Manager\ responsible for\ TAPS archeology\ TAPS -- sections 2 - 6\ Isabelle Pass to Prudhoe Bay\ University of Alaska Fairbanks -- archeology contractor\ archeologists -- recruitment of\ Kunz, Mike -- TAPS archeology\ employed with\ hiring date\ archeologists -- names of\ supervisors\ Slaughter, Dale\ Deacon, Al\ Newell, Ray\ Yarborough, Mike\ archeologist supervisor -- Alyeska official\ collaboration|

Section 17: Mike Kunz was age 27 when he arrived in Alaska in 1970. At 31, he started work as an archeologist when the TAPS project began. He was thrilled at earning a decent income. This project provided good amenities. Housing and food were paid for by Alyeska. He was paid well on this project, and all income was deposited into the bank. Wages were $5.50 per hour back then, which was a lot of money 35 years ago.
Alaska -- relocation of\ arrival of -- year\ TAPS archeology -- employment\ age\ benefits -- decent\ income\ amenities\ housing -- paid for\ food -- paid for\ wages -- $5.50 per hour|