An Archaeological Repository Minion and Ph.D. Student

I generally spend about half my time doing Ph.D. student things, and the other half working in the Repository of archaeological collections at the Arizona State Museum (ASM). Throughout this summer, and this day is no different, my day starts with boxes from Grasshopper Pueblo Field School (excavated 1963-1992), an old collection (also called a “legacy” collection) that the Repository is currently transferring from decaying and generally ill-labeled paper boxes and bags to new archivable plastic boxes and bags.


We also interpret and transfer information from the original field bags to new, acid-free “worksheet” tags. We call this process “rehousing” a collection. We then take these bags and organize them by year (each year has its own accession/project number), material class (e.g., ceramics, chipped stone, ground stone, pollen samples, etc.), and pueblo room number. Once we organize the bags into meaningful categories, the boxes with bags are inventoried into an access database, which will eventually be uploaded to the master inventory of all artifacts, bags and boxes housed in the museum’s Repository. My general role in this project is to create the database of bulk research collections, which occupied me for the morning.


For each bag, I record all relevant information and look for inconsistencies in the way we may have interpreted bad handwriting during the rehousing process, recorded information that is just unclear, which in many cases can be resolved by reading the excavator’s field notes. I am also trying to standardize information recorded on each bag which is generally different for each year and amongst the different areas of the pueblo. The database currently holds ~17,500 records of bags and we’re just finishing rehousing boxes from the 1972 excavations! We are hoping to finish rehousing this project in the next year, making the collection available to researchers who want to work with materials from this fascinating and important archaeological site.

The next order of the day was a special treat, a brown bag lunch discussion! One of our fellow Repository minions, Melanie, went to the Smithsonian in early June to learn more about the barcode system used to track catalog collections within the National Museum of the American Indian. Today, she presented the intricacies of this new system. We may be adding barcodes to our arsenal of record-keeping strategies!

MacFarland-Slide 3

After lunch and a stimulating discussion, we got back to work on the next order of business for the day, moving whole vessels from one the rooms containing the Grasshopper Pueblo catalog collection to the Pottery Vault in the ASM North building. Over the next few weeks we will be moving three types of vessels, medium sized, large, and very large. Today our focus was very large pots that need to be moved on carts, 4-5 at a time.

 The Process:

1) We move the carts from the basement of the ASM South building, to the connected Anthropology building, up the elevator, and back to the main floor of the ASM South building.


2) These vessels are currently stored in a room on the top floor of the Arizona State Museum South building. Our job is to carry them down the stairs to the waiting carts, ready to carry them to the ASM North building.


3) You can see the doors on the left of the middle picture in Step 2, but we can’t take the pots that way, since there is no ramp. We have to go back through the ASM South Building and down the elevator to ground level.


4) Then, we take the pots outside, through the Women’s Plaza of Honor (we call it the plaza of bumpiness), to the ASM North building.

MacFarland-Slide7 5) Once inside the ASM North building, our destination is the climate controlled Pottery Vault, home of the largest collection of American Southwest pottery in the world, with 20,000+ whole vessels.


6) Once inside the vault, we arrange the shelves to accommodate the height of the vessels.


7) Luckily, we don’t have to move vessels as large as those! Yikes!


8) Place the vessel in its new home


9) Record the location.


10) Start the process again!


Once we completed three trips, we called it a day on moving vessels. Then, I went back next door to my desk in the Lab of Traditional Technology to work on data collection for my dissertation, which has nothing to do with the archaeology of the American Southwest. Currently, I’m populating a database that I created to document all artifacts associated with inhabitants of central Eurasia in the Iron Age (ca., 1,000 – 100 BCE), commonly glossed as Scythians, Saka, and Xiongnu. Right now, I am recording artifacts documented in published museum catalogs, increasing my dataset before I submit applications for grants to complete data collection for my dissertation. If all goes well, maybe next year for the Day of Archaeology I’ll be at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk, Russia documenting artifacts from sites within the Altai, in the final stage of my dissertation data collection. Fingers crossed!