Assistant Curator

Archaeology and Appaloosas

Last year, several of my colleagues participated in the Day of Archaeology 2011 (Marks and Swords). I am excited and honored to contribute to this year’s posts. Today, I worked hard to keep up with my various and evolving roles as archaeologist, student, and assistant curator. As a research assistant and graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Idaho, I carry out a variety of tasks for a large historic archaeology project from Sandpoint, Idaho, a cultural resource project I began working on as an technician five years ago (holy cow!) with the companies CH2MHill and SWCA Environmental Consultants. Simultaneously, I am in the throes of thesis research and act as a museum assistant and curator for the Appaloosa Museum and Heritage Center in Moscow, Idaho.

Dakota Smith, a.k.a. Smitty, is a classic example of an Appaloosa horse and will reside in the pasture adjacent to the museum for the summer.

This morning I awake early to tend to Smitty, the Appaloosa horse-in-residence, main feature of the Appaloosa Museum’s live exhibit, and, I’m guessing, a somewhat unusual curation circumstance for a traditional museum. Then, switching gears, I drive to the University of Idaho to put in a few hours of deaccessioning artifacts from the Sandpoint Archaeology Project collection, the largest historical archaeological collection in the state of Idaho. Myself and several other students from the University of Idaho sort through boxes (… and boxes… and boxes…) of artifacts and execute the deaccessioning procedures carefully planned by the project’s principal investigators.

Deaccessioning is a process of officially (and usually permanently) removing items from a collection, museum, or repository, a practical curation necessity in the case of the extensive Sandpoint collection. Deaccessioned artifacts will find new homes in such educational resources as historical artifact comparative collections and teaching kits. For my master’s thesis I am collaboratively developing and evaluating historical archaeology teaching kits and lesson plans based on historical research and Sandpoint project findings. The deaccessioned historical artifacts will add an experiential element to the kits and provide materials for students to analyze.

Archival safe labels, bags, and boxes are used for storing artifacts.

It’s not yet ten o’clock in the morning and I must return to the Appaloosa Museum for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. Though archaeological materials are not part of the museum’s collections, many of my curatorial tasks are similar to those performed at the archaeological repository for northern Idaho, the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology. As a new employee at a small museum I will learn a variety of often-specialized jobs such as collections management, exhibit design and maintenance, and give museum tours. Today’s tasks mostly include accessioning paperwork, data entry, updating website and social media information, greeting visitors, and answering questions. These tasks are all typical of museum work and many of the principles and processes are similar to those utilized in museums and repositories curating archaeological collections.

One aspect that is not so similar to archaeological work is the arrival of the second Appaloosa in residence for the summer, Snickers. Her arrival broke up my day and made Smitty very happy. As I write this, I begin to wonder if technically the horses should be formally documented as loans to the museum… though the horses’ owners belong to the Appaloosa Horse Club, which owns the pasture behind the museum…

Snickers and Smitty settle in to grazing.

At the end of the (official) work day I head home to develop lesson plans for the archaeology teaching kits and begin to draft a syllabus for the teacher in-service I am planning for this fall. The syllabus is a requirement of the in-service proposal I must submit to the University of Idaho and, if all goes well, teachers will be able to earn a continuing education credit while learning about archaeology and the use of the historical archaeology teaching kits (to be modeled after the well-executed in-service offered by Project Archaeology through Montana State University). After several hours our awesome neighbors invite us over to listen to some live banjo music and I take a much-needed break.

This poison bottle, one of many recovered from Sandpoint’s restricted district, is an example of a type of artifact that will be utilized in teaching collections.

Well past midnight and much later than intended, I begin updating the projects page for the Idaho Archaeological Society’s (IAS) website. Next comes this post and finally, before I nod off to sleep, I will pick up where I left off last night by reading about Basque history in preparation for the upcoming IAS archaeology project, archaeological investigations at the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House. Members of the society will be excavating the well associated with the house next to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in downtown Boise, Idaho. A perfect opportunity for publicly interpreting archaeological excavations!

If all goes well, this year will culminate in the completion of the large long-term archaeology project as well as my completion of the master’s program. As an archaeologist interested in public education and engagement, I am continually thankful to work with folks who are supportive of my teaching kit project and are enthusiastic about public education and involvement in historical archaeology.

University of Idaho

Further Reading: Sandpoint Archaeology Project

Excavated by cultural resource archaeologists between 2005-2008 prior to the construction of a byway, Sandpoint’s earliest historic district originally abutted newly-built tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad and ancient shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille before the town expanded across Sand Creek. In the thousands of years prior to the influx of railroad, lumber, and mining industries in northern Idaho at the turn of the century, tribes such as the Kallispel and Kootenai seasonally inhabited the shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille and crisscrossed the region in a transhumance cycle. (Transhumance is a seasonal cycle of moving between traditional lands.)

Though Native Americans traversed the region for thousands of years before settlers, due to the explosion of material production following the American industrial revolution and Sandpoint’s location along the railroad the majority of recovered artifacts date to the occupation of Sandpoint’s historic commercial and restricted districts – including a hotel, pharmacy, jeweler, butcher, dance hall, brothel, bordello, and saloons – along with the Humbird Lumber Mill’s technologically transitional blacksmith and machine shop, a Chinese residence and laundry, and one of the town’s first jail. Analysis of these materials in conjunction with historical research will allow archaeologists to shed light on some of the lesser-known lives of townsfolk as well as add details to the history of the town’s development and role in the beginnings of a globalizing world.

As you may have already learned from reading other great posts, the life of archaeology extends far beyond initial research or field excavations. Since archaeologists finished excavations four years ago we have catalogued the artifacts, presented initial findings at professional conferences and public lectures, are finishing up the cultural resource report for the Idaho Transportation Department, developing content for the project web page, preparing the collection for curation, anticipating the project exhibit at the Bonner County Historical Museum planned for the end of the year and have completed a variety of other tasks, some of which are being discussed by my colleagues. We are only scratching the surface and are excited for many years of analyses yet to come.

This sign was recovered during Humbird blacksmith/machine shop excavations in 2008.


A Day in the Life of a Curator & PhD Student From Down Under

A6008. Roman pendant earrings, 1st-2nd Century AD. Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Image © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

A6008 – Roman pendant earrings. Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Image © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved.

So I thought I’d share some insights into what it’s like working in archaeology Down Under (i.e. in Australia!) – specifically, in my role as an Assistant Curator of Design & Society at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum and as a PhD candidate in Egyptology at Macquarie University.

As a museum curator, I don’t really have a ‘typical’ day. In my position, I work quite broadly across the collection, from my specialist area in archaeology and antiquities (especially Egyptian, of which the Powerhouse Museum has a small but select collection) all the way through to Muslim fashion, Central Asian and African textiles, historical and contemporary furniture, numismatics, ceramics and so on.

I always start the day by answering emails (actually, as I’m always connected, you can often find me answering emails throughout the night as well!) before I turn my attention to the different projects I am working on (rarely, if ever, do I work on a single project at a time – but that’s what I love most about being a curator – the rich variety in what we do!).

Of interest to the ‘Day of Archaeology’ is an upcoming jewellery exhibition I am working on with my colleague, Eva Czernis-Ryl, which is both a chronological and thematic look at the history of jewellery collecting in Australia. I am involved with developing the antiquities section with fellow archaeologist, Dr Paul Donnelly, and have spent the last couple of days researching the nature of ancient jewellery in the many different public and private collections, which span almost all states and territories in Australia. Right now I’m reading the exhibition catalogue to ‘Beauty and Betrayal – Ancient and Neo-Classical Jewellery’ held at the Nicholson Museum, Sydney in 2010 and am liaising with Macquarie University’s Museum of Ancient Cultures with regards to viewing some of their objects which we’d eventually like to have on loan.

I’ve also been down in our basement re-looking at some of our ancient jewellery, including our Egyptian amulets, faience beaded necklaces and beautiful Roman pendant earrings. At this early stage, we’re gathering our corpus of ancient jewellery objects from which we can potentially choose from to narrate our story (note – the exhibition is not scheduled to open until October 2013). We’re most interested in details like provenance (where was the piece excavated and how did it come into the collection?), interesting stories (around ownership and use) and of course, more practical matters like condition (is it suitable for display?) and costs (since loan objects involve fees, including insurance).

When I’m not ‘curating’, I’m studying for my PhD and doing other things ‘Egyptian’! My thesis topic is on the typological dating of false doors and funerary stelae of the First Intermediate Period (specifically, the reigns of Pepy II to Mentuhotep II – roughly 2400 – 2100 BC).

In brief, the First Intermediate Period was the first time in Egyptian dynastic history where there was a collapse in central kingship and a shift in administration from the Memphite capital to the provinces. My reason for studying false doors and stelae (slabs of inscribed stone usually placed in the west wall of the tomb) is that they are one of the best examples of Egyptian material culture which can be traced continuously at this time, which means they potentially offer an important benchmark for dating other objects and events of the period.

At this very moment, for example, I am transliterating and translating the stela of nfr-TbAw from a private French collection, one of almost 600 false doors and stelae I am working through. Apart from transliterating and translating them, I am also recording information about the owner and his/her titles, the collection location, acquisition/excavation details, bibliographic references, suggested date, commentary, parallels etc. Simultaneous to this, I am starting to test certain dating criteria on subsets of my corpus – like the writing of the Htp dj nswt offering formula as it applies to all those tomb owners holding particular groupings of titles.

To top things off, I’m in the preparation stages of a fairly long visit to Egypt! In September I will be heading to Tell el-Amarna to do some cataloguing work and will be returning again in November-December to work at the South Tombs cemetery. InshAllah or “God Willing”, as they say, I am also scheduled to lead a couple of tour groups through Egypt and the Western Desert. Never a dull moment, I can truly say I’ve found my calling in archaeology!

Now where did I put that archaeology?

My name is Emma Traherne and I am Assistant Curator at the Museum of Farnham.

My job involves a little bit of everything. I help with education and outreach, I manage the website and social media, I create exhibitions, help manage the volunteers and deal with enquires from the public. This is all brilliant I hear you say but what has it got to do with archaeology? Although I do all of the above I still consider myself an archaeologist. I studied archaeology at university, I have been on excavations and I try to keep up to date with the news and current issues affecting the sector. The Museum of Farnham also has an archaeology collection and as Assistant Curator I assist in the care and management of the collection.

Along with archaeology we also have a very fine collection of costume (shoes, fans, lace, dresses, hats etc.), an archive (paper documents and photographs), fine art and social history (generally non paper objects which are not considered archaeology). So you can see that archaeology is just one small part of the collection that the museum holds. This is why when I came in this morning I asked myself ‘Now where did I put that archaeology?’ as I wanted to make sure that I had some archaeology to talk about on the Day of Archaeology.

A vessel from Iran in Washington DC: Digging Artifacts and modern Archives at the Smithsonian

Many Greetings from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC!

Living in DC, there is an active archaeology program on the early history within the beltway with many exciting discoveries. What is visible for the hundreds of thousands who visit the Smithsonian every year for free, though, are artifacts from the past and present of many cultures around the world. Over the decades, the Smithsonian was also actively involved in scientific excavations (Think Shanidar in Iraq in the 1950s! Think Tell Jemmeh! in the 1970s! Think the fantastic Archaeology Conservation Program!), and while being studied and researched upon, artifacts from around the world are on display to promote an understanding of responsibilties and shared cultural heritage.

In December 2010, I became Assistant Curator at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art, the Freer|Sackler Gallery. Two weeks ago, we opened a small installation on Iron-Age ceramics from the area south of the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran. As a curatorial intern in the Ancient Near Eastern Art Department, Sarah Johnson, co-author of this entry, who worked herself on an excavation in Syria in 2010, has helped to prepare the installation, and is currently doing research on the museum’s collections. This little blurb on a well preserved vessel from Iran currently not on display (S1998.326), gives an idea on only one aspect of what we can do in a museum, and reminds us upon one aspect of archaeology, minutely and more detailed record keeping and publishing.

It is both ironic and fitting that a photograph, we only recently rediscovered in the archives of archaeologist and early Iran explorer Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948) sheds light on vessel S1998.326. Thanks to an early fine pencil label “Tepe Giyan” written on the back of the photograph, the jar can now placed with certainty to the site of Tepe Giyan, a large archaeological mound in Northwestern Iran near the modern city of Nahavand.

The jar had  entered the museum in 1998. It was purchased by Victor and Takako Hauge in a shop at a Bazaar in Tehran between 1962 and 1965.  Interestingly, Herzfeld came by his first Tepe Giyan ceramics in nearly the same way.  In his own words: “In 1926 I found, in a shop at Hamadan … two little vases … They had a prehistoric air, but the dealer did not know whence they came.  Mere chance, a year later, led to the discovery of their provenance—Tepe Giyan near Nihawand—whence some more pieces were brought to me.”  Just as Herzfeld used older excavation records to identify his vases, “mere chance” led us  to discover this photograph of a vessel, acquired by the Hauges, in Herzfeld’s records a few weeks ago.  The vessel and its connection to Herzfeld underline the important connection between archaeology, objects and archives in a museum setting. The gap in provenance for this vessel resulted from the separation of the vessel from the excavation photographs and a paucity of published materials on Herzfeld’s own work at Tepe Giyan and at other prehistoric sites.

The site of Tepe Giyan presented challenges from the start of excavations there.  Herzfeld first became interested in the site after finds from Tepe Giyan appeared in the market. The French held a monopoly over excavations in Iran from 1895 to 1927, but in 1928 motivated by rampant looting occurring there, Herzfeld began hurried excavations at Tepe Giyan. In 1930, he mentions that excavations (he does not provide the name of the excavators, so one must assume it was local archaeologists) have left only one third of the hill standing. This article in 1930 remained his only published material on Tepe Giyan until the 1930s when he suggested in the preface of Archaeological History of Iran that he would complete a three volume work on prehistoric art in Iran.  This work never appeared largely because of political reasons.  In the 1930s, Herzfeld was increasingly shunned by his German colleagues due to the rise of Nazism, and as a result, he lost much of his German funding.  His section on prehistoric art in Iran in the Ancient East (1941) remains his most comprehensive contribution to the study of Tepe Giyan and prehistoric ceramics.  His emphasis on his exhaustive editing of the prehistoric section in the introduction to this book suggests that he had more to say on prehistoric Iran, which was unfortunately never published.  Fortunately, the site was excavated in the early 1930s by a French team lead by Georges Contenau (1877-1964) and Roman Ghirshman (1895-1979), who later received a Freer Gold Medal for his accomplishments in Iranian archaeology. Most of what we know today about the early excavations at Tepe Giyan stems from the published excavation records of Contenau and Ghirshman.

While we can now place S1998.326 at the Tepe Giyan site, one of the many questions we may not able to answer is how the vessel get to the Tehran Bazaar of the 1960s.  Herzfeld often photographed and documented objects not from his own excavations so it is possible that he saw this object in Tehran or at a market of a neighboring town to the site.  Evidence that he sold many of the seals found at Tepe Giyan and other prehistoric sites to a dealer in New York suggests the possibility that Herzfeld himself may have sold the jar.  Difficult to fathom today, archaeologists often played the role of both the collector and the scholar in the early 20th century. The rediscovery of a single photograph is sometimes a testament to the benefits of the recording of artifacts in minute detail.