Archaeology Lab 101

Much of the scientific rigor involved in archaeology is related to the careful documentation of what often appears to be a proverbial needle in a haystack: tiny flakes of chert stone, potsherds, or obsidian can be found in the layers (or lots) of a dig unit.

In this tropical environment we’re dealing with wet, loamy earth, so those stone or pottery fragments are frequently covered in mud, and who better to clean much of these items than interested novices.

Due to the obvious learning curves, Phil and I were working with probably the least valuable artifacts – nondescript sherds of pottery, of which hundreds had been found. (Side note: It was interesting to learn this new word; shards are from glass, sherds are from pottery.) The process was simple – wash all surfaces of each piece firmly but carefully with a toothbrush, place on the screen prepared for that lot, repeat.

In addition to these jig-saw puzzle sherds, the team had previously found some elaborately crafted pieces that could be the feet of vessels, and in the case of the upper left-hand piece, a small bird shaped ocarina (an ancient wind instrument).  It was fascinating to see these items, although obviously it wasn’t our task to clean them.

I look forward to learning more about the tagging process another day, as well as how the pieces are ultimately interpreted.

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