Students getting prepared for the field school—-buying excavation tools, getting camping gears, and saying goodbye to family and civilized world; going to the field and doing field works; and then going back home; are they done with it then? No, at least not for me, there are lab works to do.
Part zero/(literal heavy-lifting )
Artifacts and equipments will not go into places by themselves since they usually don’t have legs or wings so it has to be people to carry them up to wherever they are supposed to go. It is supposed to be simple work which might just take a little bit of time, only if everything went swimmingly. Of course an unfunctional keycard definitely does not fit in the category “swimmingly” and because of that we had to call UWPD for help, to help us get into our own department building. So, with the help of one UWPD officer, cart from fourth floor(since the elevator was broken we had to carry it up and down stairs), and our own hands, we successfully finished all the moving process within one and half hour. Finally, equipments and miscellaneous went to the storage and the artifacts were in the lab.
Part one/(cleaning the room)
Before we get our hands on those precious artifacts, these is still a lot to do, actually the work took a whole day: cleaning up the lab room and rearrange the cabinet. To put collections from the first two field school-yes, these ones need to be done as well-away to make space for FMIA 2017 artifacts, we first checked all the old drawers to see if there is anything problematic: mislocated, mislabeled or can’t even be sourced (isolated from nowhere). Fortunately, there is no artifact that we can not find in the database (if so it will be extremely hard for Ian and Yoli to try to track it down). Then we relabeled all the “new drawers” that we rearranged, for FMIA 2015, 2016, and 2017 artifacts. In the drawers, we put all these artifact bags in order as well. And in the end, just to make it look better, we also separated used/blank bag slips and labeled them as well. After that things got nice and easy: cleaning up the room, washing up bins, trays, and plates to be ready for the future works, and making the room tidy, which is not for the artifacts’ sake, but for the people who will work here.
Part two/(washing artifacts)
Only cleaning up the lab room is not enough-lab people don’t usually have mysophobia-i am saying that we need to clean the artifacts and put them into categories(it might not be necessary to do at this step but it will make people’s life easier for sure). It is very interesting that washing reveals how “careless” sometimes people in the field can be, by figuring out that something in the bag that we thought were artifacts are actually good for nothing-natural rocks, twigs, or even just dirt(to be fair, sometimes a chunk of dirt with high percentage of clay could look very alike something worth picking up-but it really isn’t, since it melts in water!). Not everything we can wash in water though, things like wood/charcoal; tiny pieces of unknown material; twines/fibers; and anything that is too fragile to undergo regular washing, we could only use brush to dry clean. No matter which method we use it is always important to be gentle when we are doing it, because it is easier than people think to break an artifact that doesn’t look or feel brittle. One more thing needs to be mention is that when drying the artifacts they must be put on somewhere safe along with the plastic bags that they are taken out of-this helps the future steps-in order to make people’s life easier, like I said.
After drying for a day, the artifacts that have been washed are finally ready to be touched(no, we are still not studying them, not yet). For this step, the ultimate goal is to put these artifacts back into the drawers-organized, classified, and in specific bags(in the same level bag they came from, that is why in the last step we are supposed to keep those plastic bags). In order to do that, there are several paper works that need to be mentioned: check out sheet (for us to check out each time we do anything to artifacts which could be to catalog and to wash), typology sheet (this one contains how many categories we divide one unit into, sometimes artifacts with the same material will be put into different groups), and a isolated sheet to keep record each step we did(this one needs the description of the artifacts). These sheets will go to different binders, there are also paperworks that go into the bags with the artifacts, like the new bag slips(annoying but yes, we have to redo it and throw the old ones away after we have the new one complete). Surprisingly, other than the extra paperwork, there is not really a difference than what we did in the field: put each category in its own plastic bag along with the bag slip; lable each bag as in the field and by the instruction(which could be found in lab), and put all the new bags in the same level bag that these artifacts came from. And don’t forget to put the name on as cataloger.
Part five/(future plans/works)
Something this blog post can not really emphasize is how time-consuming the process I just mentioned could be. It really depends what the artifact is, how many stuff each level bag contains, and how “messy” the stuff we found in the field could be. FMIA 2017 units occupied at least two layers, which sounds not that bad but it took us almost a week to finish washing and cataloging only the surface collection units which is not even twenty percent of the artifacts(it could be that we only have four people working for that week). We have to be really careful and concentrate when we are doing this since it is really difficult to fix problems after we put things back into the drawer. People work in lab have to be patient and invest huge amount of time. Fortunately I learned how to be patient and also I at least have some time to put into lab work. To finish the process earlier so that we can finally “study” these artifacts after all and to make people’s life easier(like I’ve been saying all the time). I will return.