“Where’s the Duck?”
It all started with one simple question, “where’s the duck?” As a zooarchaeologist, I keep a reference collection of native and introduced fauna of Virginia and neighboring areas. This collection is growing constantly thanks to donations from wildlife rehabilitation centers, colleagues at other museums, local veterinarians, staff cats who are responsible for many rodents and small birds in the collection, and members of the public who find serviceable roadkill and give us a call.
This summer in the Virginia Museum of Natural History archaeology lab, we have had several zooarchaeology projects in various stages of analysis, from just starting to packing for return. These include material from a Middle Woodland (ca. A.D. 400) coastal occupation that has a shell midden filled with microfauna, a 19th century slave quarter assemblage, an 18th century Colonial cellar deposit excavated this summer by Dr. Carole Nash at James Madison University, a sample of oysters from an 18th century French encampment during the American Revolutionary War, a 19th century canal deposit, and an 18th century tavern. Organization in the lab is always critical; especially so when there are several projects under analysis at one time. Nobody wants a cow bone to end up in the prehistoric midden sample.
With all of these different projects underway, the reference collection gets a good workout. Skeletons are pulled out to aid with identifications, and are put away constantly throughout the day. Add to that new skeletons being processed through our dermestids and coming in for cataloging and the reference collection can quickly get a bit messy.
Today, when I was asking (mostly to myself), “where’s the duck?” and it took more than just a couple of minutes to find the exact specimen I was searching for, I knew I had to spend my afternoon doing some cleaning and reorganizing after technicians and volunteers left mid-day. Not one to work in half-measures, I decided to reorganize several cabinets that hold the reference collection, incoming archaeology collections headed for long-term curation, and ongoing projects. I found the duck, everything has a new home, the drawers all have temporary labels which will be replaced with neatly typed labels next week, and the only casualty was my toe when I dropped an empty drawer on it.
I think I’ll re-alphabetize my spices when I get home, that’s just the kind of mood I’m in today.