…And Just Where Did That Come From?

As a curator at Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex in Moundsville, West Virginia, I find myself asking this question often, “…and just where did that come from?”  This facility houses thousands of boxes of archaeological artifacts, many of which were excavated as far back as fifty to sixty years ago. Most of the boxes had been moved here and there throughout the state of West Virginia until our facility was built in 2008.  With all of that “moving,” it is no wonder that some of the artifacts’ “stories” have been lost to time.  On some days, I feel like I’m conducting archaeology on archaeology.

Just yesterday, I opened a box that had simply been labeled “Museum.”  It contained multiple artifacts including both prehistoric and historic material, some from identifiable sites and others with no provenience at all.  Many of the artifacts still had residue from where they had been mounted in an exhibit years ago.  Being a historical archaeologist in a state with such an overwhelming prehistoric archaeology presence can be tough sometimes, so you can imagine my utter joy when I retrieved a few late eighteenth/early nineteenth century artifacts from the box.  There were bone handled forks, tombac buttons, hand painted polychrome pearlware sherds, and musket flints…oh my!  Lucky for me, there was a tiny accession number written on a few of the flint pieces.  What a fortunate find indeed! With a little more digging, pardon the pun, I was able to find out that the artifacts had been excavated from a site in the summer of 1970 by Ms. Bettye Broyles (of St. Albans fame) and a team of students from a science camp being held in the Pocahontas County area.  The site was described as a farmstead that had been inhabited from the late eighteenth century to no later than 1810.  After even more investigating, I discovered that we have six more boxes of artifacts from the site, all patiently waiting to be rehoused into new boxes and bags!  What a discovery!


Bone handled forks, Copper Alloy buckle, and metal buttons from a site in Pocahontas County, West Virginia

Bone handled forks, Copper Alloy buckle, and metal buttons from a site in Pocahontas County, West Virginia

"More Cow Bell" - Ferrous metal bell recovered from site in Pochantas County, West Virginia

I am looking forward to when I have some “free” time to continue my research into this surprising early historical archaeology site from the Mountain State.  Perhaps if you visit the museum in the next couple of months, there will even be a display of the ‘treasures’ that were excavated there some 43 years ago, and I will be able to tell you even more of the story behind these wonderful, early American artifacts.

Archaeology Lab Rat in West Virginia: Day 455

Happy Day of Archaeology 2012 folks!

Presently, I am a curator for the research facility at Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex in Moundsville, West Virginia.  We are the first curation facility for archaeological artifacts built within the state (opened in 2008) and we house thousands of artifacts either excavated by state/federal organizations or personal collections donated by citizens.  The complex consists of not only the research/collections wing but is also home to the Delf Norona Museum.

My job varies on a daily basis but today I continued inventorying artifacts from a Fort Ancient Native American site formerly located in the southern part of the state.  Notice I use the word “formerly.”   Like so many archaeological sites worldwide, the site was destroyed after excavation and no longer exists.  It is now home to an industrial plant, one reason why our jobs as archaeologists are so valuable!  We are recording a past that may not be around for the future due to industrialization, roads, or any number of other destructive changes that can occur to the land.

Shell Tempered Cord Marked Sherds

Around 10:30 am, I looked up from analyzing a few prehistoric ceramic sherds and saw the observation window filled with a group of inquisitive, happy kids visiting the complex for a field trip.  I must admit, it has taken some time getting used to having people stare at you while you work throughout the day, but I now welcome it.  Who knows, maybe there is a future archaeologist in the crowd!

Possible future archaeologists!

This afternoon, we were fortunate to have Christina, one of our regular volunteers come in.  She is currently working on processing a large artifact collection that was donated to the facility many years ago.  She spent a few hours washing  lithic artifacts that will ultimately be labeled, sorted, and made available for researchers.  I don’t know what we would do without all of our reliable, hardworking volunteers!

For me, Day of Archaeology 2012 ended with inputting data into our always growing database (with some background 1980’s genre music playing from the internet radio to break the silence).  While it’s far from being glamorous, it’s priceless work.  At the end of the day, I’m just trying to do my part to preserve a little bit of West Virginia’s past for our future.

Inventorying prehistoric ceramic sherds