Brenna Geraghty – Virginia Museum of Natural History

What could get a college student excited to leave behind her friends, city, and a summer of relaxation to spend nine weeks in a small town on the opposite side of the state?  For me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime paid archaeology internship at a beloved state museum.

This was the situation in which I found myself as the spring semester drew to a close.  Thanks to the support and assistance of VCU professor Dr. Bernard Means and Virginia Museum of Natural History Curator of Archaeology Dr. Elizabeth Moore, I would be moving from Richmond to Martinsville, Virginia, where I had been accepted for a summer internship at VMNH. While I geared up to make the nearly 4-hour drive with all my belongings, friends asked what I would be doing in this town they’d never heard of.  I tried to provide them a vague answer laced with technical terms they were unlikely to understand, such as “curatorial assistance” and “exhibit development.”  I wasn’t trying to hide anything about the internship; it was simply that I didn’t actually know what it would entail.

My first week gave me a glimpse of how the summer would go.  After being given the rundown of the museum and meeting all the staff, my days settled into something of a routine.  The activity I was most often engaged in, however, requires a bit of explanation.

Brenna Geraghty prepping artifacts that were 3D scanned and printed for painting.

Brenna Geraghty prepping artifacts that were 3D scanned and printed for painting.

At VCU, I took a class called Visualizing and Exhibiting Anthropology.  In this class, we were tasked with coming up with the text and images for a museum exhibit on archaeology in Virginia.  We also had to select objects that could be used in our exhibit from an inventory of artifacts that had been 3D scanned by VCU’s very own Virtual Curation Lab.  The chosen items would then be 3D printed in the Lab and painted to look like the originals in order to be put on display.  The class was in partnership with VMNH, where the exhibit would open in the fall.

In all, some 220 artifacts were selected to be printed.  At the museum, we received them in batches from Richmond, and the job of painting all those replicas fell to me.  I spent a good part of most days painting, and over the course of those nine weeks completed nearly a hundred of the faux artifacts.  Many of the 3D printed replicas will make up touchable interactives in the exhibit, while others will simply take the place of original artifacts we are unable to have access to for various reasons.

Not every day followed a routine, however.  There were numerous field trips to pick up collections from other groups or individuals, or for information or media pertinent to the exhibit.  I learned how to weld, pour silicone molds, and cast resin replicas.  Additionally, I was tasked with reworking an exhibit on Virginia’s lithic points through time, and learned a great deal about identifying different kinds of stone tools in the process.  During my last week, I created and wrote labels for a temporary exhibit on wildlife encountered and hunted by Virginia Indians.

As I helped push the exhibit my class had created, called “Exploring Virginia,” along its development track, it became clear to me just how much work goes into the making of a museum exhibit.  If the class itself had taught me to think critically about exhibits for the first time, the internship caused me to truly appreciate the effort involved.  Once the idea is conceived and mapped out (which, remember, took my class of roughly 16 students an entire semester), it must undergo exhaustive review and editing.  Then, any interactives are planned for in detail, and ultimately constructed, often by hand.  Marketing and public relations must be involved to entice people to visit the exhibit once it opens.  Finally, the exhibit goes on display, but has to inevitably be touched up as the wear and tear of visitors takes its toll.  The work seems endless, but also endlessly rewarding.

3D scanned and printed artifacts painted and ready for exhibit installation.

3D scanned and printed artifacts painted and ready for exhibit installation.

All of this gave me tremendous insight into the world of museum archaeology, and despite the obvious and not-so-obvious challenges that are intrinsic to such careers, I can honestly say I’m more excited than ever to pursue one myself.  Many thanks to Dr. Moore for her unfailing patience and encouragement, and to all the VMNH staff for making my internship one of the greatest experiences of my academic career.

Artefact Reproduction as a Trade

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the experimentation of ancient technologies.  Since 2005 we have provided artefact replicas, educational workshops, interactive conferences, craft demonstrations and consultation services for a variety of institutions such as schools, colleges, universities, interpretation centers and museums across Canada and beyond. We also enjoy collaborating on various projects ranging from experimental archaeology to movie sets. Rather than summarize too much information or present one of many projects, I’m offering here a photo essay of various subjects and activities we have worked on since last year’s post.

Collaboration with a PhD student from the University of Montreal to make and test Aurignacian arrows. Photo credit: Luc Doyon

Photo credit: Luc Doyon

Collaboration with PhD student Luc Doyon from the University of Montreal to make and test Aurignacian arrows on an animal target.

Educational kit designed for Quebec schools to supplement the teaching program on Iroquoian society through activities based on experimental archaeology.

Educational kit designed for Quebec schools to supplement the teaching program on Iroquoian society through activities based on experimental archaeology.

Part of large order of Northwest coast fishing tools for a Hollywood movie set.

Part of a large order of Northwest coast fishing tool replicas for the movie set of Night at the Museum 3.

Stone axe from our collection used by local archaeology cooperative Gaïa for a dwelling reconstruction experiment. Photo credit: Francine Gélinas

Photo credit: Francine Gélinas

Stone axe replica from our collection used by archaeology consultants Gaïa for a dwelling reconstruction experiment.

Set of stone tools made for a public dig simulation at a local interpretation enter.

Set of stone tool replicas made for a public dig simulation at Pointe-du-Buisson museum.

Collaboration with survival school Les Primitifs to teach a group the production techniques of aboriginal fishing technologies.

Photo credit: Mathieu Hébert

Collaboration with survival school Les Primitifs to teach the production techniques of aboriginal fishing technologies.

Set of prehistoric bone tool replicas for educational activities interpretation in a museum.

Set of prehistoric bone tool replicas for interpretation activities in a museum.

Experimenting the production of a prehistoric pitch recipe based on recent discoveries.

Experimenting the production of a prehistoric pitch recipe based on recent discoveries.

Young apprentice collecting raw materials for cordage production. Most of our replicas are made with materials that we harvest ourselves.

Young apprentice collecting raw materials for cordage production. Most of our replicas are made with materials that we harvest ourselves.

Some pottery tools from our collection used in an experimental workshop with university students.

Some pottery tools from our collection used in an experimental workshop with university students.

Assisting a class of grade school students in a model project on aboriginal people.

Assisting a class of grade school students in a model project on aboriginal lifestyles.

Most archaeologists get covered in dirt. We mostly get covered in dust.

Most archaeologists get covered in dirt. We mostly get covered in dust.

It seems most of our projects begin like this.

It seems most of our projects begin like this.

One of our most popular items: cooked knives. Just as we use it for artifact replication, our customers used it to rediscover old woodworking techniques.

One of our most popular items: crooked knife. Just as we use it in our reproduction process, our customers used it to rediscover old woodworking techniques.

A variety of Northwest Coast artifact replicas for a school program on aboriginal culture in British Columbia.

A variety of artefact replicas for a school program on aboriginal culture.

A custom replica for a European collector. Many of our clients order pieces that they could otherwise have in their collection.

A custom replica of a warclub for a private collector. Many of our clients order pieces that they could not otherwise have in their collection.

Order UP! Artifacts in from the Field, What Happens Next?

Most folks don’t consider what happens to material collected in the field.  The artifacts have to go somewhere.  Where do they go?  What happens to them?  Is there a cost?

A quick overview of the answers to these questions:

Where Do They Go?:  In a perfect world the artifacts/objects/material and its associated documentation (field notes, maps, photographs, journals, budgets, etc.) are typically stored either in a museum or an institutional/agency storeroom or repository.

What Happens to Them?:  Objects and associated documentation are accessioned, assigned catalog numbers, labeled, cataloged, inventoried, rehoused from their field bags/boxes (in acid-free, inert, archival microenvironments), assigned locations within the facility, and stored.  Some, usually the unique or “really cool” objects, are kept out to become part of an exhibit.  Most often the only time artifacts are accessed is for loan to other museums/institutions, further study, or yearly inventory.

Is There a Cost?:  YES – the cost is exceptional:  a facility must be acquired and maintained, qualified staff for accessioning, cataloging, housing, and management are required, temperature and humidity must be regularly monitored, pest control measures must be taken, security measures must be implemented and adhered to, protection from light, fire, and natural disasters must be implemented, and proper supplies must be used to ensure the health of the objects and their life in perpetuity.  (There is a lot of “must” in this paragraph, isn’t there?)

Keep in mind this is just a quick overview and food for thought.  Most museums have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of artifacts in storage with just a few thousand on actual display.  Most educational institutions and repositories have hundreds if not thousands of boxes of material in storage/on-site facility with a small amount out for loan, continued research, and use in classrooms.  Once an object is taken out of the ground we (humans) have a permanent responsibility for its care and future as well as public education.  Museum and Agency Curators are Stewards of the Past and the Future.

Here at Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, objects that are found in the facility or recently received from the field are given a good, clean, safe, and proper home.  We make them accessible to agency staff, Native American Tribes, educators, like agencies or institutions, researchers, genealogists, students, and the public (when appropriate).  We also make sure the collections are searchable in a database so as much study/research can be done prior to accessing actual objects, we prefer them to handled minimally and for as brief a time as possible.

NOTE:  Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission does not actively excavate for artifact and data collection meant only for interpretive or research purposes.  We work primarily with Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firms and Native American Tribes when a development or utilities upgrade/repair is necessary in one of our parks.  We have agency Archaeology staff that manage the archaeology aspect of a project and can and do engage in surveys, shovel probes, test pits, and excavations.  We are stewards of state lands and the state’s cultural and natural resources, therefore, we prefer to work outside the boundaries of a known site or divert a project if a new site is realized.

Mississippian Archaeology in the Midwest Heat

Since 2008, archaeologists have been excavating areas of a prehistoric Native American site that covers roughly 478 acres. The site is buried by a meter or more of historic gravel, slag, and trash in East St. Louis, IL and was present from about 900 to 1200 AD. During this time, archaeologists have dug thousands of storage pits and structures (storage, residential, and otherwise). Parts of this site are being mitigated prior to the construction of the new Mississippi River Bridge.

Notable artifacts recovered from this dig include a small flint clay figurine found early on in excavations. The importance of this figurine is two-fold; one for its importance to the pre-historic peoples that manufactured it, and second to demonstrate how historic development has impacted the site itself. The figurine was recovered within a burned structure adjacent to a historic drainage trench. Had the trench been shifted, even a few inches, the figurine could have been destroyed or lost entirely.

Currently, archaeologists are working in close proximity to construction crews. The bridge is scheduled to be opened by 2014, and our last few excavation areas are situated adjacent to the main construction of the bridge and surrounding roadways.

Once excavations are concluded, years of analysis will follow, yielding data that could change the way we interpret the prehistoric history of the region.

Today, I woke up before the sun was up; my turn to drive the work truck. After Memorial Day we implemented our early schedule so instead of starting at 8am we start at 7am.

At the lab I loaded up the necessary paperwork and equipment for the excavation block I worked in and made my way to the site.

Our supervisor (Patrick Durst) had already made the decision to stop field work at lunch today due to the heat. We did the same yesterday.

The block I’m currently in (EB14) is expansive, but most all of the features have been dug. All that’s left are a storage pit and a complex of structures. The pit only required a photograph of the profile to show the depth and the different fill episodes. The structure complex, however, required a bit more attention.

For me, this block is a bit of a breather. The block I was in previously (EB78) had about 50 people in it at its peak. Granted, there were other supervisors also working in that block. But, it was kind of nice to find out I’d only have to deal with two active feature areas and less than 10 people.

The crew in the structure complex continued taking down the basin fill. Within the fill we found an abundance of chert debitage (flakes of stone removed from larger cores or tools). Actually, that’s all we’ve found for the last two days: trays and trays of white (presumably Burlington) chert flakes.

They got to the floor surface of the structure and we began defining the architecture. Based on initial observances of the floor, this appears to be a pair of wall trench structures from the Stirling Phase (1100-1200AD).

By this time, it was getting close to 11am, so we started wrapping up for the day. Our block is dug down a few feet and foliage has started growing up around it. Add to that the backdirt piles created from the excavation, and the little breeze that is blowing on this hot summer day is greatly minimized. So, we were feeling the bright sunshine and humidity and were grateful for an afternoon in the lab.

At the lab I ate my field lunch (half a tomato, half an avocado, two slices of wheat bread, and a peach) and proceeded to the task of preparing for the expansion of the block I was previously working in (EB78).

First I had to go back through the paperwork left in the storage bin from that block to ensure it was all complete and ready to be filed away. Once that was done, I found the maps that would be impacted by the expansion of the eastern edge of the block. Studying the maps I found numerous structures that ran into the eastern wall. I set aside the maps and the notes for these features so that the crew expanding the block will know what to look for. We’ll be able to piece together the partial structures and will be able to assign the existing numbers to these known structures. This way, when the structures are dug we won’t have duplicate numbers and all the data will be in one place.

And that was my day. I wish I could say that something more exciting happened like I saw a wild dog scavenging a deer carcass on the side of the road on the way to the site or that I saw a building ablaze and billowing a thick black column of acrid smoke into the air… But that was Tuesday and Wednesday.

On a personal note, I was given permission by our project direct (Dr. Tom Emerson) to take pictures at the site to document the crewmembers working there. I’ve found that we painstakingly document every feature and every artifact, but when the reports come out the crew are (not intentionally) under represented. As well, I think the general public has a misconception as to what happens at an archaeological site.

What I’m attempting to do is to document people working in a “street photography” fashion. And I’m shooting it on black and white film that I’m developing at home in instant coffee and vitamin C. In the end, I envision some sort of an art-book/coffee table book containing the images in an attempt to mainstream the work we do in a positive fashion. Because yes, the archaeology is important, but equally important are the people that put in the hard work making reports on sites like this possible.

The Business of Archaeology

Michelle Touton

While surveying, you sometimes find unexpected things–like blueberries! Yum.

I’m a project manager at a contract archaeology company, which means I have to be both an archaeologist and a businesswoman.  Anathema to purists, maybe, but in the United States most archaeology is done commercially, as part of an industry called Cultural Resource Management (CRM), and businesses need people doing business-y things to keep them running.  In CRM, developers hire archaeologists and architectural historians to help them deal with cultural resources that will be affected by their development project, in much the same way as they hire environmental scientists, traffic engineers, and architects.  We work for the developer, but our first duty is to the resources.

For me, the 2012 Day of Archaeology was pretty typical.  My primary task for the day, as it has been for the last month or so, is to continue editing a site report.  The archaeologist who wrote the report works mostly on prehistoric sites, but this report is about a historic site.  Since it’s her first historic-period report, we’re taking our time with it to teach her how to do it right.  Historic-period artifacts require completely different analysis knowledge than prehistoric artifacts (e.g., learning to recognize mold seams on bottles or differentiate fabric types in ceramics, vs. categorizing edge flaking in stone tools), which takes time to learn.  You also have more lines of evidence (in the form of historical maps and records) that you need to bring in to your analysis.  Work on the report has been slow-going because I often am too busy with other things to get a chance to work on it.

The Day Begins

My first task upon getting to the office–after brewing a pot of tea, of course–is to check in with our people in the field.  Today we have two field projects going on, both of which are in the monitoring stage.  “Monitoring” means that an archaeologist watches the construction crew as they dig, in order to spot any emerging resources (artifacts/sites/etc.) before they’re damaged or destroyed.  Monitoring is usually done after we’ve already done testing and evaluation of anything we know is on site, and is largely a failsafe to protect things we didn’t know were there.


The John D. Cooper Center series: archaeoLOGIC

At the Dr. John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, we feel it is our duty to not only share Orange County’s heritage with our residents, but with the world. So we started The Cooper Channel! Our very own YouTube channel where we can educate the world the wonderful and rich history that Southern California has.

This series is called archaeoLOGIC, an archaeology quiz show, where Cooper Channel host and archaeologist, Diana Gurfein, presents local artifacts for our viewers to try and guess.

So in honor of Day of Archaeology 2012, we are presenting a few of our best episodes of archaeoLOGIC. Give it a watch and see if you identify the artifacts.

Good Luck!

For more information on the Cooper Center, visit our websites!!/CooperCenter_OC

Some Previous Episodes