Friday, August 9, 2013


Clam shell from Area 1. Pieces with the hinge portion are cleaned and kept;  the non-diagnostic pieces are counted, weighed, and discarded.

In many archaeological excavations, there are lots and lots of non-diagnostic materials. These are artifacts that, except for their presence, don't tell much about the site or its people. Diagnostic artifacts give additional information, like dates or social status, consumer choice, etc. On an historic site, like Wiawaka, non-diagnostic artifacts include bricks, mortar, foundation stone, coal, and flat metal from tin cans.

Why cull? There is a real shortage of storage space for archaeological collections; museums and other repositories are literally bursting at the seams. Yet, it is still important to preserve important archaeological collections. One way to help is to cull non-diagnostic materials from collections so that you minimize the amount of storage space needed while maximizing the information held within the collection.

When we were in the field, we kept all the non-diagnostic materials. I wanted to know how much of what I was getting from the different levels and areas of the site (sometimes archaeologists will just take a sample in the field and not collect the rest, but I wanted to get at quantity not just presence). Now that I'm working in the lab, I am culling these. The culling process for this project includes keeping a very small sample (a few pieces) for reference, then counting and weighing the artifacts I'm not keeping (counting gives how many pieces, counts with weights allows for a sense of the average size of the pieces; combined with the total mass these allow for comparison across the site).

Some examples of things culled (all sampled, counted, weighed):

Brick: samples of brick kept. If there were different types of brick, samples of each kept. Preference for pieces of brick with exterior edges so that information on the manufacture was available. Where present, whole bricks (or mostly whole bricks) were kept for measurement. Once measurements are taken, these will also be culled.

Mortar: samples of mortar kept. Again, where different types of mortar are present, samples of each.

Clam shell: All clam shell with the hinge portions were kept, as this is the area that provides the most information. All non-hinge pieces were discarded.

Coal/clinker/charcoal: Samples of each kept.

A bag of flat metal waiting to be sorted into keepers and pieces for culling.
Cans: All seams kept for information on manufacturing technique and dating, as well as pieces of can that can provide size/shape data. All the flat metal from the sides of cans is counted/weighed/discarded. Seams will be grouped by manufacturing technique and described, then these will be sampled/counted/weighed/discarded.

Foundation stone: Samples of architectural stone are kept, with the rest counted/weighed/discarded. Much of the foundation stone that has been recovered exploded from the head of the hotel fire.

All together, so far, over 1,000 lbs of artifacts have been culled from the Wiawaka collection, with more to go as I work through the rest of the boxes.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Huge Thanks

Well, we wrapped up excavations last Friday, and I drove home to Maryland on Monday, with a brief stop-over at the New York State Museum to check out their curation procedures and return the equipment they generously loaned me. I will be working in the lab now, washing, sorting, cataloging, and analyzing the artifacts recovered from this summer. Right now, there are approximately 33 document boxes worth of artifacts, 12 of which have been washed. I'll be posting more regularly here, now that I'm out of the field, and will have a little more brain power left at the end of the day...

Before I completely transition to lab rat, I want to express my sincere gratitude to all those who helped out this summer. I especially want to thank the folks who volunteered their time to help out with the fieldwork through cold and rainy June, and hot and sweltery July. It was an absolute pleasure to work with all of them. I hope they all got something positive out of the experience. I can honestly say that because of them (as well as the staff and Board of Directors of Wiawaka and all the people and organizations that lent equipment) the field season was a huge success.

So... a huge thank you to all these folks:

Jen Allen, Field Supervisor
Greg Anglin
Sandy Arnold
April Beisaw
Gary Bernhardt
Nancy Brennan
Michael Carraher
Declan Dwyer-McNulty
Sally Dwyer-McNulty
Marie Ellsworth
John Farrell
Cameron Felt
Will Fisher
Maureen Folk, field commission to Field Assistant
Sara Foss
John Foster
Sue Gade
Karen Garner
Katherine Giesa
Gregg Griffin
Cheryl Jenks
Lucy Johnson
Sean Keller
Kylie Kerr
Samantha Koslowsky
Chris Manning, Field Supervisor
Marcia Martin
Allison Matthes
Pat Meaney
Monica Mercado
Sarah Mincer
Donna Moran
Rebecca Morehouse
Carol Obloy
Sean O'Connell
Jared Payson
Lily Rozell
Cassie Segrell
Chris Shaw
Penny Shaw
Nellie Slocum
Rebekah Tanner
Nghiem Tran
Kirsti Uunila
Lorraine Wilson
Claudia Young
Joe Zarzynski
Lizz Zieschang

Wiawaka Folks
Christine Dixon, Executive Director
The Board of Directors
Lisa, Karen, Stephanie, House Managers
Joe Wylie, Caretaker and Schlepper of Big Things
Bonnie, Joan and everyone in the kitchen
And all the other Wiawaka staff and volunteers for making it such a joy to be there.

Equipment Loans
Maryland Highway Authority
New York State Museum
University of Maryland Center for Heritage Resource Studies
Vassar College Department of Anthropology
Joe Zarzynski, Amy R., Adam Fracchia

Again, many thank yous.