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NORTHERN EXPOSURE –PART 4 (CATALOGUING)

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.

Matching field-bagged artefacts to their record sheets. Sometimes figuring out what goes where can be tricky.

Matching field-bagged artefacts to their record sheets. Sometimes figuring out what goes where can be tricky. 

Step 2 is cleaning. A bucket of plain water and an old toothbrush is usually the way to go.

I wouldn’t want to brush my teeth like this, but it’s just fine for artefacts.

I wouldn’t want to brush my teeth like this, but it’s just fine for artefacts.

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.

Labelling tools. Until recently, labels were written onto artefacts using fountain pens. It was harder to do and even harder to read.

Labeling tools. Until recently, labels were written onto artefacts using fountain pens. It was harder to do and even harder to read.

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.

Photographs need to be taken from many angles. Getting things into position can be tricky.

Photographs need to be taken from many angles. Getting things into position can be tricky.

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.

 

Is there the outline of a maker mark on this fishhook? We won’t know for sure until after conservation.

Is there the outline of a maker mark on this fishhook? We won’t know for sure until after conservation.

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.

The end product ready for storage.

The end product ready for 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.

Broken pieces of pipe stems are common at fur trade sites and don’t usually get as much attention as bowls and spurs, but it’s really impressive to see a complete stem laid out.

Broken pieces of pipe stems are common at fur trade sites and don’t usually get as much attention as bowls and spurs, but it’s really impressive to see a complete stem laid out.

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Amelia Fay

Curator of HBC Collection

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Amelia Fay joined The Manitoba Museum in September 2013. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, an MA in Archaeology from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), and is currently finishing her Doctoral degree from MUN. Amelia’s research has focused on Inuit-European contact along the Labrador coast, and her interests are continually expanding to explore Aboriginal-European contact throughout Canada during the fur trade era.

Amelia’s job as Curator of the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection involves building the collection, responding to public inquiries, preparing exhibits, and conducting her own research. Her research interests centre on the interactions between Europeans (including HBC employees) and Aboriginal peoples as they negotiated space, material culture, and their daily activities. Amelia’s goal is to showcase this amazing collection, and highlight the important role that Aboriginal people played in the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company.