Friday, June 18, 2010

Following Artifacts from Field to Lab

Post by Tom Wingate, University of Maryland student.

It has been several weeks now since leaving the soiled sweat and sun burn of field work for the air conditioned luxury of the lab. Since Monday, I have had the pleasure of artifact washing at the Maryland State Highway archaeology lab in Baltimore. Artifact washing is a thoughtlessly tedious task, but it is one that I find enjoyment in. Carefully scrubbing and arranging artifacts on the drying racks has an aesthetic appeal that I had not anticipated. It has also been a great opportunity to practice my identification skills. With Nichole’s help, I feel much more confident distinguishing between the cream, white and pearlwares, the ironstone and the porcelain sherds.

While cleaning, I also had the opportunity to rediscover a piece of a Bromo Seltzer bottle that Rick and I had uncovered in Unit 1. The bold blue of the Bromo Seltzer bottle is immediately recognizable and distinguishes it well from the other glass pieces. An example is pictured on the left. Before this project I had never heard of Bromo Seltzer. I am a little embarrassed to admit that now, having been born and raised here in Maryland, but I finally know the name and story behind that memorable clock tower down by the Baltimore harbor. I could tell you all about it if you don’t already know but you’ll have more fun looking it up yourself, so have at it.

The Bromo Seltzer bottle was certainly interesting and I love the nicely painted pottery sherds as much as the next aspiring archaeologist, but my favorite artifacts to clean are the bones. I have had some opportunity to use what I learned in school to identify some bone fragments and this makes me very happy. While my talents are certainly still amateurish, identifying half of the distal end of a large femur as such was an exciting accomplishment.

Working with this project has been an incredibly fruitful experience for me, both the in the field and the lab. I have been fortunate to work with such accommodating and helpful professionals, willing to help me through paper work with patience, describe why it was a given artifact was suddenly rousing everyone’s interest, or provide impromptu pottery lectures. So thank you to everyone for that.

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