Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Washing artifacts

Stephanie Hacker washing artifact
At the start of the Fall semester I knew very little concerning archaeology and the details involved outside a text book, but the opportunity I have been given to work in the historical archaeology lab under Dr. Heath has been a wonderful hands on learning experience. I lack field experience but through the archaeology lab I have gained a greater understanding of what is considered an artifact as well as how to recognize certain artifacts. For example, I feel that I now have the experience to distinguish between manmade materials and naturally occurring substances. The first day I spent in the lab I was convinced they had me washing a bag of rocks, until I was told that what I was washing was actually remaining fragments of daub (burned clay) from slave quarters. The difference between what I thought I was washing and what I was actually washing is quite significant.
            My main task in the lab is to wash the artifacts that are discovered by archaeologists in the field. The process is carried out simply with a toothbrush, a trough of water and a drying rack. Before the artifacts reach the lab they are placed into paper bags that record where on the archaeological grid they were found, which site they came from, the date they were found, and the initials of the person(s) who uncovered them. I empty the contents into the water or into a colander that sits in the water and gently brush the dirt off the artifacts until they are clean. Once the artifacts from a bag are is clean I place them into their own position on the drying rack along with the details from the paper bag where they sit until it they are dry enough to be bagged.  
Once the artifacts have had time to dry, they are ready to be bagged. The first task during the bagging process is to separate the artifacts by the material they are made of, for example, all nails together, all lithics together, all glass together, etc. This task is only required if more than one type of artifact was found in the same coordinate. Once the artifacts are properly divided each grouping gets its own small bag which is labeled with the site name, the date they were recovered, the person(s) who recovered them and their coordinates. It is important that an archival pen is used during the labeling process. The small bag(s) is then placed into a larger bag that is labeled as well. The bagging is done with each artifact or set of artifacts until all from that site are bagged. They are then stored in an archival box until needed.
Washing Artifacts
            Although the task is simple, I still feel involved in the work the archaeologists are conducting and gain a lot of pride in being a part of archaeological history. As noted earlier, I have learned how to identify the nature of artifacts since my work began in the lab. Overall, I have been quite lucky to get the experience I have from simply washing artifacts in the historical archaeology lab. 

Stephanie Hacker