When one hears of an archaeological complex, one thinks of anthropologists and archaeologists pouring over artifacts found in the field. One can imagine volumes of material discovered at a site that was just outside of town or even several states away. However there is another side to any complex or museum. There is an archive to maintain. That is where people like me come in.
I am currently interning at the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex in Moundsville, West Virginia. It is best known for being situated right next to the Grave Creek Mound, one of the largest mounds built by Native Americans in the U.S. I volunteer in the Research Library where I catalog collections of personal correspondence. Among our collections we have mountains upon mountains of papers donated to us belonging to Dr. Donald Dragoo. These papers were donated by his widow, Christine Dragoo, so that they would remain an intact collection. Dr. Dragoo was an archaeologist and also curator at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum (now known as Carnegie Museum of Natural History). In the collection of papers are letters, reports, articles he has written, and articles and reports that others thought he would be interested in reading. It is the museum’s desire that these be cataloged so that we may know what we have and where it is located. I enter the documents into an Excel database and copy them to acid-free paper. I also remove the old staples and paperclips, very carefully, since they tend to rust to the documents. I then replace them with plastic archival clips to keep the documents together. I also must wear gloves while handling the documents because the oil on our fingers contains acid that can speed up the deterioration process. That is the sad truth, there is no way to prevent the process of deterioration, but one must do everything to slow it down.
Someone might ask why I enjoy cataloging papers at a complex full of archaeological finds when I can be busy helping to preserve those artifacts. I am a graduate of Ohio University in History with aspirations to continue my education through a Masters Degree in Library Science. My dream is to work in a museum as an archivist. Poring through papers such as letters and reports from the past is fascinating to me. I also feel it is important to preserve even these as it helps to understand the bigger picture. One can read these letters and understand the feelings of the people involved on a big excavation; the excitement as well as the frustration if luck runs out. One case, for example, is the Cooks Cave excavation in the late 60s in which Dr. Dragoo was hoping to find the earliest known evidence to that date of man in North America. At first as they were preparing and going through the first season of the dig, there was much excitement and anticipation at what they would find. However, as time went on, they discovered that due to damage from water erosion they would not find the results that they had hoped for. Cataloging these letters helps not only archaeologists in knowing previous archaeological events but also historians so we know what to write if and when the topic arises.