Friday, June 11, 2010

Uncovering the past… with a toothbrush and sieve

Blog post by Victoria Lane.

Yesterday I had my first experience with “the washing of the artifacts” with Quentin. Coming on the heels of several days dry- and wet-screening in the field, getting as dirty as a five-year-old whipping up mud pies and digging in the back yard for buried treasure, I expected this latest venture into the world of archaeology to be tamer stuff...which it was. It was also surprisingly engaging, and after hours of scrubbing everything from corroded nails to fragments of ceramic and glass, I found the experience rather Zen: staying in the moment, carefully removing soil from whatever I pulled from the labeled bag, watching the artifact emerge like a butterfly from its cocoon…well, I caught the occasional glimpse of nirvana.

I also flashed back to those childhood years when my mother dragged me through every antique store and junk shop in a tri-state area. Recognizing “flow blue,” “blue willow,” “Depression glass” and Colonial crockery in muddy bits and pieces scrubbed back to beauty with a toothbrush was like rediscovering a native language unspoken for decades and believed forever lost. (Thanks, Mom!) Favorite finds? A serving spoon with shell-shaped bowl and rather elegantly bent handle; part of a plate from the Municipal Hospital (a psychiatric facility, I’m told); a small piece of scalloped, blue-edged ceramic; a few animal bones (Ah! Mortality); and an oddly shaped piece of corroded metal I still say looks like a miniature fertility goddess—I dub thee “Bladensburg Venus.”

In this full-speed-ahead, high-tech age of cyber-this and virtual-that, it’s reassuring to know that some things still require the human touch; that tools can be as simple as a Dr. Du-More’s toothbrush, a common kitchen sieve, a plastic pan of water, and a pair of willing hands. And even though yesterday’s four-hour stint left me with blanched hands and puckered fingers better suited to the corpse of someone tragically lost at sea, I’m ready to head back to the lab and give it another go next week.

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