Guest blog by Jacinda Sinclair, contract Cataloguer and long-time TMM volunteer.
In Northern Exposure Parts 1-3, Amelia wrote about her experiences excavating. Now I’m going to cover what happened to her artefacts once she got them back to the museum.
Cataloguing is a 7 step process.
Step 1 is sorting. To start, I order the artefacts by matching them to the field records made by Amelia’s team. Artefacts found in the same excavation unit are always grouped together.
Step 2 is cleaning. A bucket of plain water and an old toothbrush is usually the way to go.
Step 3 is identification. This is the hard one. I need to figure out what each artefact is as well as any other information I can gather about how and when they were made. So how do I figure this out? I use a combination of resources: reference books, websites, and the museum’s own comparative reference collection. This information is entered into a computer database. I also add excavation information from the field notes. The computer assigns each artefact its catalogue number and prints catalogue cards.
Step 4 is labeling. I use a special sealant to glue acid-free labels onto artefacts.
Step 5 is photography. Photos create an extra record for the assemblage making it easier for archaeologists to do research. Typically not all artefacts are photographed, but if done correctly, anyone looking at the pictures will have a good idea of what the site was like.
Step 6 is conservation. Damaged (rusty) artefacts need special treatment to protect them from further damage. While I might identify which artefacts need conservation, the museum has a specialist who does the work during this step. The coolest thing about conservation is that sometimes details like maker’s marks are only visible after rust is removed.
Step 7 is storage. Each artefact gets put in a plastic bag with its catalogue card. Everything is filed and placed in climate-controlled storage.
That’s cataloguing! Some of the steps sound kind of fussy and boring, but I’m someone who likes to be moving and doing something (even when I’m watching TV), so actually the whole process is pretty relaxing. I love how sites from the same time period and/or area can turn out to be really different from each other. Finding out how each site is unique is the best part of cataloguing.