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The Lost Towns Project is a team of professional archaeologists and historians, working closely with the government of Anne Arundel County, Maryland to discover and explore the County's rich heritage. The team is committed to sharing the discovery process of this incredible heritage with the public through hands-on experiences, publications, lectures, and exhibits. In this blog, we will share some of our exciting discoveries, updates, and events. Check out our website at www.losttownsproject.org for much more, or to learn how to become a volunteer or intern! No experience is required to assist us in field investigations, laboratory studies, archival research, and interpretive programs. Join us to rediscover the History in your own backyards!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Learning the Lab Process

This week's blog comes to us from intern Dan Martinez.  Dan just completed his internship and discusses our lab procedures and the life of an artifact as he learned it.  

Archaeology Lab at London Town

The lab process is extremely regimented and there are specific steps that guide the artifacts from the field to the display case if that be their fate. The artifacts arrive from the site in bags labeled with their provenience. The provenience of an artifact is the horizontal and vertical location where it was found based on the grid system established. Each bag of artifacts is labeled with a lot number that is specifically assigned to that strat. Lot numbers can be searched in the lot list and are probably the most important thing assigned. That lot number can be used to locate the provenience card which has important information about the strat including numerical values, soil types, notes, summaries of artifacts found, and drawings of features on the back.

Cleaned artifacts waiting
to be sorted 

Once these artifacts come into the lab they are quickly checked in by the site that they came from. The information from the bag is logged including site name, lot number, coordinates, bag contents, and number of bags. The second step of this process is to wash the artifacts. This can be a time consuming tender process depending on the artifacts in the lot. Care must be taken when washing pottery, fragile bone, and anything else that might be damaged. Artifacts that have been separated from the main bag such as in a film canister must receive extra caution. After the artifacts are washed they are separated by type on a screen to dry for at least 24 hours keeping in mind that some artifacts take longer to dry especially if they are large. This separation process places similar artifacts in the same pile (bricks with bricks, glass with glass, pottery with pottery, etc). After washing and sorting, the artifacts must be re-bagged which involves placing them in acid-free bags according to their arrangement. A label must be placed in the bag printed on acid-free paper from the laser printed and labeled with acid-free ink. The acid will deteriorate the artifacts given enough time. Small holes must be punched in the baggies to allow air circulation as the artifacts may harbor mildew if not allowed to ‘breathe.’
Labeling is the next procedure in this process which involves printing labels on acid free paper bearing the site number and lot number. If the artifacts are too small to label with the full tag only the lot number may be used as this is more valuable overall.  Labeling in my opinion can be somewhat tedious and frustrating depending on the size of the artifacts. Small pieces of pottery, bone, and flakes can be challenging.
The last step in this process is cataloging in which the exact quantity and weight of artifacts are entered into a table to make an analysis of the site through each unit easier. Cataloging was not extremely difficult after referring to the binder that contained the abbreviations for each type.

Dan in the deep
Pig Point units

One final procedure I learned in the lab was water screening. This involves using a fine 1/16 inch window mesh to screen the soil for tiny artifacts that would be otherwise missed. Water is necessary to push the soil through this fine mesh and this process can be quite messy. After screening the soil through, the artifacts were dumped into clean mesh with a tag showing the site and lot number and tied up to dry. These may have some extra steps including picking through the pile of miniscule pebbles with tweezers looking for beads and small finds.

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