Into the Lab!

By Paul Carlson and Drew Eppens

Archaeologists often say that for every day spent excavating in the field, we must spend at least one full week processing the excavated artifacts in the lab. For the next few weeks we are out of the cold weather and working in the warm lab. After several wonderful weeks of excavating, it is time to clean off the dirt and see what we uncovered.

5-1Artifacts before cleaning

In class this week we started by dividing into our excavation groups, with the complete collection of artifacts recovered from our sites. Once in our groups, Dr. Ryzewski gave us a quick overview of what we would be doing and the techniques that we would be using to clean our artifacts.

Certain artifacts, like metal objects and textiles, were not able to be cleaned with water due to the delicate nature of the material. These pieces were instead cleaned using a method called “dry brushing”. This technique consisted of using a small brush to carefully remove and dirt or other buildup that may be obscuring the artifact. Some more intricate artifacts required the use of a dental pick to clean hard-to-reach areas and to define features.

1-1 Mark delicately removes dirt from a battery

The majority of the artifacts recovered were nails. An artifact of interest that was dry brushed included a straight razor used for shaving. After brushing the rust off, we then took the dental pick to remove more of the rust from the crevice to reveal the identity of the artifact.

2-1a straight shaving razor!

Other artifacts, such as pottery and glass, were “wet brushed” with was similar to dry brushing except for the use of water in addition to the brush. This technique was faster than dry brushing and cleaned the artifacts much more thoroughly.

3-1Artifact washing

One of the more interesting artifacts that was wet brushed was a piece of transfer printed ceramic found in Area 1, Lot 4. This was an rim sherd, which is important because we can discover the original size of the vessel that the ceramic sherd is from based on the curvature of the rim’s edge.

4-1Brown transfer-printed rim

Once clean, the artifacts were arranged on a plastic sheet to dry for a minimum of 24 hours.  This was to ensure that any artifacts that were wet brushed had time to dry, in the event that the water weakened the artifact in any way.

6Artifacts drying

Artifacts were arranged according to type and context, in order to preserve the order that the artifacts were recovered. Over the next few weeks we will continue to process our finds by cleaning, quantifying, and researching them.

Stay tuned over the next month for posts featuring the Object Biographies that we are preparing about some of the “special finds” from the excavation.