Issues in Photography

Throughout my time in the Pacific Northwest Archaeology Lab I have engaged in several small projects.  I started working with ceramics and glass, and have switched my focus into working on the photography of belongings recovered through Field Methods in Indigenous Archaeology. We do photography in the lab because it is important to create a digital record of the belongings we are analyzing. Artifact Photography allows for us to create a visual database that can assist our analysis, as well as enable others to access the belongings and learn from them.

The photo that I chose is of one of my favorite artifacts, it is a plastic bead excavated from the the Grand Ronde School privy.  This picture was the first time I had photographed a three dimensional object where the depth of field was not an issue.  I really appreciate the edges of the artifact in the photo.  Artifact Photography has a very common issue with depth of field.  There are a few very prominent issues in photography one of those being depth of field and another being light reflection when photographing objects such as glass.

Depth of field was the most prominent issue when I first began photography, it made it almost impossible to shoot artifacts fully in focus, as larger items often result in blurring of certain areas of the photo. To resolve this issue, I used Photoshop to merge a series of pictures so as to eliminate the blur.  Photoshop stacking is where you take a series of photos of the same artifact and stack them on top of each other, using the program to extract areas in focus in each image and form a new image, thus solving the issue of depth of field.

The other major issue that I noticed when shooting the artifacts was light reflection making it so that you cannot see the artifact very well.  This mostly occurred when I was shooting glass and made it so that the actual glass was very difficult to see in the picture because the light made the glass shine and impossible to see.  I am excited to see what new skills I will learn in photography; what new challenges will show up, and how I will resolve them next quarter in the Pacific Northwest Archaeology Lab.

By: Zach Stewart

The Foods of Grande Ronde: Digital Documentation of Unidentified Seeds

sample seed – Unidentified spieces of wheat

Identifying seeds recovered from archaeology sites give us better understandings of the type of food that was available during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The seeds in my project are from a late nineteenth and early twentieth century settlement site on the Grand Ronde Reservation, which was the first habitation site on the reservation since removal. My project focuses on photographing unidentified seeds that were collected at the Grand Ronde reservation. I am using a Scalar digital microscope to capture photographs at 50x-100x magnification. The samples are placed into a petri dish filled with sugar. The sugar not only keeps the sample still but it also creates a white background. Tweezers and a paintbrush allow me to gently move the sample into different positions.

Several photographs are required because the microscopes cannot capture depth of field easily. Once the photos are taken they go through a stacking process in Adobe Photoshop to create a clear image with depth. Depth of field as described by Gray (2018) is, “…the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appears acceptably sharp.” There is a gradual change in sharpness as adjustments are made to the lens of the microscope. This can be seen in the photographs below. Different parts of the seed are clearer than others because the lens of the microscope has been moved closer or farther away from the object.


Unidentified Species of Wheat: Creating an Archive 

When I started this project, I thought the photography process would be the most interesting aspect of my research. But instead I found myself excited to see the unique differences between the seeds and their varying characteristics. For example, the wheat sample you see pictured in this post. It has a wrinkled texture with small indentations filled with silt and a small dark bump towards the right tip. I would have never thought these physical attributes existed had I not used the Scalar microscope to photograph several angles of the sample. These varied characteristics are very important for the identification process. Experts will examine these characteristics to properly identify the family, genus, and species of that sample. There are so many options when it comes to plant identification that it is very important to capture clear images that accurately display these physical attributes. Identifying these samples will give us a better understanding of reservation diets and locally available resources. As well as identify plants that may have been indigenous or imported to the area.

Works Cited
Gray, Elizabeth
2018 Understanding Depth of Field – A Beginner’s Guide. Photography Life. Electronic document,, accessed March 2018.


By: Paloma Sanchez

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Comic Book!: Exploring Popular Culture at Grand Ronde

Working in the Pacific Northwest Archaeology Lab, the last thing I expected was to become familiar with the world of comic books. Growing up I was always fascinated by superhero movies, and when a piece of a comic book showed up during the cleaning process, I jumped at the chance to work more closely with this artifact. Finding paper and other materials that do not preserve well via archaeological excavation is rare. The prospect of working to both extract information from, as well as conserve this fragment of popular culture has been such an incredible opportunity.

As we began to look at the piece more closely, we came to see just how strange it truly is. Initially, we thought it may be a piece of a newspaper, as the paper was of poor qualityand thin with many of the pages stuck together. upon further inspection, and much to our surprise, buried within the layers of paper-a face emerged. The red cape, strong jawline, and confident gaze led us to quickly theorize that we were looking at some sort of superhero, but which one? The red cape seemed to echo a Superman aesthetic, but we couldn’t be sure. Being that that we were without a “comic book expert”, we turned to an unexpected source: Facebook.

Quickly after revealing this mystery face, I began posting on several Comic Book Historian community sites within Facebook, asking for help identifying this character. Within minutes, there were dozens of comments, many even suggesting Flash Gordon as another contender, though Superman is still my personal favorite! Using social media to obtain a further understanding about this artifact was something that had never occurred to me, but for this instance proved to be really helpful.

This is the face that we we able to find within the layers of the piece. We are still unsure as to the identity of the character depicted.

We hope to gain a better understanding of the comic book subject, historical comic book publications, and a images of popular culture at this time.   we do not yet know exactly what kinds of popular culture  the students attending the Residential School would have had access to. Using a rough timeline of the site, combined with a more formal artistic analysis of the fragments, we have been able to tentatively hone in on a date range, placing our piece between the 1930s and 50s. Looking to the future, we hope to be able to pull apart these layers, potentially revealing even more text or a trademark in the next steps of our research.

Though we aren’t able to discern what the text is saying due to fragmentation, the font style and Ben-Day dots on the side provide helpful clues to the dating of this piece.

It’s incredible how much we are continuing to learn about this piece every day. Recently, after working with the Conservation Lab here on campus, we were able to see even more pigment and small designs that we hadn’t noticed before. What I’ve loved most about working on this artifact is how interdisciplinary it has been We have utilized so many different sources to gain a better understanding of what we have and our long term goals include identifying the mysterious face, learning more about what sort of publication this artifact is apart of, and being able to make inferences about the impact that these comics and media had on those living at the Residential School. Until then, we will continue to enjoy taking bets on who our mysterious hero is!

By: Sophie Muro

Be Our Guest: A Contemplation on a Piece from a Child’s Tea Set

Since beginning my learning experiences in this lab, my interest in specific types of artifacts has grown stronger and more focused. Although I was and still am fascinated by everything recovered from the Grande Ronde schoolhouse, I was always drawn to the ceramics that were found, the most compelling of which is a small, hand painted tea set creamer.

I felt attached to this creamer, despite the fact that it had no part in my life before a few months ago. This led me to wonder what caused people to be interested in specific artifacts, as well as why people form attachments to objects  from generations before them. In the context of this artifact, there is a certain familiarity of it, as it is a recognizable object which is almost complete. When juxtaposed with other smaller, less identifiable pieces, this piece stands out and becomes memorable and exciting.

Based on the size of this piece, it appears to be from a child’s tea set. This direct association with children and childhood sparks a feeling of nostalgia for tea sets in my own past, despite the fact that I had never interacted with or even seen this particular creamer prior to working with it in the lab. In archaeology and more generally in everyday life, people tend to be drawn to things that remind them of objects that are familiar to them, such as specific toys that they played with as children or certain scents that are reminiscent of family members or places. My own childhood tea set had a lot of positive memories linked to it, which resurfaced when looking at this one. I expect the same can occur for many other people as well.

While I had an imagined connection to this object, there were likely people in the past who had a connection to it when it was new. A large part of archaeology is evaluating the bonds that people made with their surroundings and belongings to discover what their lives were like. In the lab, the context was changed for how people viewed and interacted with the creamer, but the response remained the same. This showed me an important lesson about the nature of humans, both in the present and in the past, and how we view the objects we encounter throughout our lives. This lesson has taught me to view other artifacts in the same way I viewed this one, as vibrant pieces of a life from long ago. As corny as it sounds, I feel that it was a valuable part of my experience in learning about archaeology.

By: Bay Loovis