Cataloging

Tedious is a word that can sometimes be given a bad reputation. But it shouldn’t. This was one of the discussions that occurred back in the lab at the University of Washington. However, there is no better word to describe lab work. The process goes as follows (and bear with me):

  • Artifacts collected from a unit, let’s use FMIA-SCHOOLHOUSE-07162015-009 as our example, first need to be washed.
  • Afterwards, all the artifacts are laid out on a tray and paper towels with their original provenience information (plastic level bag, paper bag, and bag slip) and left to dry.
  • Once all the artifacts have been dried thoroughly, the cataloger needs to “Check Out” a unit by writing their initials on the Lab Catalog Register.
  • The cataloger then sorts out the artifacts, grouping them into Basic Groups, Material Categories and Artifact Classes. For example, an iron nail (a common find at the Schoolhouse) would be catalogued as European American, Metal, Ferrous which would be abbreviated to EA-ME-FE. All of this information is written out on a Lab Catalog Record form along with the cataloger’s name and date.
  • After all of the artifacts are sorted, grouped and counted, each class is weighed and that information is recorded on a separate Artifact Inventory Form that records counts and weights for common Material Categories and Artifact Classes.
  • Following weighing, the cataloger creates a new plastic bag for each Material Category or Artifact Class and a new bag slip for each of these bags. The plastic bags record basic provenience information including the Field Catalog Number, Unit Coordinate, SC for Surface Collection or Exacavation for an excavation unit, the Artifact codes. Bag slips include this data in addition to the number of artifacts contained within the bag, weight and the number of bags created for the entire unit.

Plastic Bag

  • Once all the artifacts are sorted, weighed, counted and cataloged, the cataloger pulls the Artifact Control Card from the index file, records their name, the date, and total number of bags for the unit and level and refilled within the Lab Control Card index file.

 

Although the process may seem long, in practice t did not feel that way. I worked on a unit that had a high number of artifacts and spent at least 90 minutes on it. A lot of it was repetitive work, rewriting the Field Catalog Number and whatnot, but time flew by real quick. By the time I checked out another unit, I was genuinely shocked at how much time had passed by. Tedious the work may be and time consuming, but all for good measure.

This isn’t the type of lab work where where I was constantly checking the time, but rather was continually surprised when I did check the time to realize how much time had actually passed. It was easy to get lost in the work and just let my mind wander as I washed and sorted and cataloged.

Volunteering in the lab was also an opportunity to see a different side of archaeology. As undergraduate students, we have read endless archaeology-based articles and books related to a class or topic. We know the importance of field research and its role within the discipline. As field school students, we experienced this physical aspect and the great toll of doing archaeology (on sites?  The body?). Getting dirty is part of the job. As students in a lab, we saw the time commitment it takes to catalog everything in an easily tractable way. And it turns out, tedious isn’t so bad. It’s the little details that, although can make us go a little insane, helps stay sane in the long run.

An End and a New Beginning

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Small tables, clean trays. A view of the dorm next door. This is the new field in which I continue my archaeology training. The lab. Ever since pulling the first artifact out of my unit, I have looked forward to taking a much closer, and more connected look at the objects themselves.

The physical act of excavation is exhilarating, intense, and powerful, but I have looked forward most to the analysis and early stages of reconstructing the function, date, origin, and possible meaning(s) or each artifact. First step: washing. Removing just a few years’ worth of soil, or many decades of it, it reveals the beauty that time has hidden away. Then comes the fun part: cataloging. These are the first stages that we take in order to preserve and organize the data we have collected. For many this process is something that many do not look forward to, but for me, it is something that I do in small ways constantly within my daily life, such as my organization of my art, notes, and various other things.  The sorting by type, identifying the many types, counting and weighing, and bagging; what a joy. Though not always as straightforward, the challenges make you stop and think of what you are trying to do with such a collection. All of this organization gave me a much better view of what we found at the site, since each individual does not get the joy to see every artifact whilst in the field.

During the course of the field school each student assumed a leadership role.. A role in which we are able to showcase our talents and interests in an archaeological setting by drawing upon our established skills, or building new ones by exploring and contributing to something new. Mine became artifact illustration. This role has quickly become a dream of mine for a possible career choice in the future. Being able to engage with artifacts on a much closer basis, and by extension their users and makers for me is the closest and most powerful way to go about archaeology. And so I began the illustration of a few of the most interesting artifacts that we came across. A couple of glass vessel fragments, a fragment of a bracelet, and a sardine can key (which was an easy choice, since sardines are among my favorite treats). The process of looking at the materials being used, the amount of decay, and even the colour, and then using my skill to render them upon blank paper brought me even closer to the artifacts and the stories that they tell. It was an experience unlike any other. I enjoy the precision needed to represent fully the details of the object as well as the time it took to capture the simple beauty. Along with this joy came a certain level of difficulty. Every little detail from the slight cracks and breaks to even the level and style of shading had to be perfect.

But any challenge presents growth and the new possibility to grow. Especially one that could lead to something that one day might define me. Now having finished the illustrations, I can sit back and enjoy the outcome as well as the feeling of creating the image while still waiting for the next opportunity to give new life to objects using the power of art.

Realizations

Coming home to my own bed and my own coffee maker was great. I do miss the ravens cawing in the morning, though I’m sure fellow classmates would disagree. Looking back on the time I spent in Grand Ronde I came to a few conclusions. First of all I learned a ton. An understatement for sure, but accurate nonetheless. I learned about the area and community I was a part of for the duration of FMIA. The Grand Ronde Tribal Historic Preservation Office and wider community offered a wealth of knowledge about practice, place, person, and time. If you have read any of the other blog posts about the technology we encountered and learned how to use in the field you would know we had our work cut out for us.
Second conclusion-you can’t turn archaeology off in a person. A few days ago I finally came home and the next afternoon my brother and I went fishing out on the river. We hadn’t talked much while I was in Oregon so we were catching up, or mostly I was asking a million and one questions about the river and the fishing spot we were headed out to. Until finally, Kyle (my brother) turned around with a grin and said, “I am so happy they finally got you to stop questioning if a question is stupid to ask, now you ask all the questions.” We laughed and that’s when it hit me, I’ve always asked questions, not they are just more direct and come in a sequential pattern. As an archaeologist, how you approach a situation or discovery is critical. Asking good questions, in the right order may affect how you perceive the situation and decide on the next steps to take.
Third, not everyone is interested in archaeology. Yes, I know. Shock. Gasp. It’s alright. Since coming home I’ve explained what FMIA is and what we had done this summer multiple times. Coming from living and working with people who love archaeology to living with my family whose interests range from farming, carpentry, hairstyling to accounting has been a learning experience. I had to remember to explain archaeology in terms that connected with everyone’s different interests in order to make it relevant to how they see the world. Everyone is interested in something, my team and I happen to fall into the category of those who have archaeological interests. I got a one minuet explanation of what I did this summer down rather quickly. This was of course after a few conversations where my audience had glazed over eyes and a lost look to their person. Elevator speech down. Boom.
Lastly, I conclude with thanks. A massive thank you that will still fall short of how much the five weeks spent in Grand Ronde meant to me. FMIA was welcomed, fed, and granted permission to work on tribal property. We were research partners. I am immensely grateful to be a part of a field school where trust and relationships have been established. I know that this field school will have impact on how I conduct research in the future and it will all (hopefully) be community based.

Home Sweet Home: Closing Remarks

kaylaAfter five weeks of sleeping outside, waking up at the crack of dawn and going to bed at sundown, retuning to life in Seattle was very weird at first. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way!). My sleep pattern very quickly reverted to my late-night schedule and one of the first things I did (after dumping all of my camping gear onto my bedroom floor) was sink into my couch and turn on the TV. Home sweet home. While my camping habits fell away very quickly, the lessons and skills I learned while at field school will stay with me for a long time.

I learned how to set up and operate a total station, and while I may need a brief refresher on it in the future or may need to follow slightly different procedures on different machine models, I understand the theory behind how the total station works and how it collects data. Our in-depth training and work shopping with the field equipment is something that not all field school students get. I will not need extensive training or to be taught the theory behind how the machine works which I find to be incredibly valuable know-how. During our project I learned to orient the total station in terms of North-South, East-West, take points on an X-Y grid, how to shoot the laser beam from the total station at the prism, and the delicate task of holding the prism level (your ab muscles are the key!).

I also got to observe how to interact with communities directly connected to the area in which we were doing research, an experience which I think will have a strong hand in shaping my future professional growth. Almost daily we had members of the community stopping by the schoolhouse site as well as at our camp site; occurrences that made me realize how visible we were to the public and how much our work mattered to everyone. Explaining to people what it was that we were doing helped to keep the public informed and engaged in the work being done as well as reaffirmed my own understanding of the project. The overall response to our field school was very positive, and I am thankful for the support we received from the CTGR community.

I encourage anyone who thinks that they may be interested in archaeology to pursue a field school experience. You learn the good as well as the difficult aspects of pursuing archaeological research. You learn how to problem solve when difficulties arise, and you learn which parts of the work you love and which parts you absolutely can’t stand (for me, I don’t want to screen another bucket of dirt for a very long time which is problematic for obvious reasons). A hands-on style is really the best way to learn, and that’s something you can’t get from a textbook. If anyone is looking to pursue a field school in the future, this is definitely one to look out for!