Same Shell, New Day of Archaeology

Last year for the Day of Archaeology I described my “short term contract to do artifact cataloging”. Well, guess what, I’m still working on artifacts collected from that site. *Wild applause* While it’s not what I pictured I’d be doing a year later, taking this collection from uncatalogued to a collection ready for curation has highlighted for me how important communication, through data and actual talking, is to any archaeological investigation.

Once I finished the catalog, almost 9 months ago, the multiple contracted analysts were able to use the data from it to interpret the site, pulling artifacts based on where the catalog said they were and then using the provenience information to look at patterns through time to create a report about what happened there. As for my continued involvement (aka what I did on the ACTUAL Day of Archaeology) I am sending the artifacts to their final resting place, eventually a museum, but for now into archival boxes and with pretty labels for curation that live on the lab shelf until the client can pick them up. However, like last year, that simple process, artifact -> new bag -> label -> archival box, has its own headaches and with each 4mil inert polypropylene bag I open, I remember how many of those problems could have been solved by good communication.

At both the cataloging stage and curation stage of any project, problems that create slowdowns and cost money come about because of poor communication and planning. You run out of the size of 4 mil bag you need, so you have to use bigger ones because you forgot to estimate how many you’d need before making the curation supplies order AND can’t wait another month for a new order to come in. You start re-housing artifacts and after a days worth of work, get told that those items you re-bagged weren’t part of the curation plan that got changed yesterday, but no one told you about those changes. The people who are the arbiters of the collection ask you why the bags with non-cultural materials have catalog numbers and were kept at all even though you didn’t help with the sorting part of the project.

None of these things derail a project, but in many cases keeping everyone involved with the project informed, even of minor changes, and remembering to ask the right questions can help avoid problems. It helps everyone feel like they are working on the same project, even if they may be working in different cities, and makes everyone a little bit more aware of what’s going on. And you never know who might pipe in and remind you of something you forgot to ask about or give you a good tip to apply to your next project. In many cases, we tend to do archaeology as a solo sport: alone in the lab, digging shovel probes shouting distance from your field mate, or typing up a report after everyone else has left the office. But no matter how often we get trapped in those bubbles, we can’t forget that archaeology is actually a team sport and any good team requires good communication between its members to win.