We decided to swap lab day to today as it looked like rain for most of the day and tomorrow is supposed to be clear. Our first order of business was to start washing the masses of material we have been recovering from our excavations. The targets that Jolyane is investigating with her crew are providing a lot of domestic material, which suggests they are in close proximity to one of the other houses we are looking for.
We hadn’t found much yet in the Old Plaster House this year, but yesterday Mary and Sarah were digging in part of the midden, and Danny, Stephanie and Collette were digging at the face of the south wall where we know there were lots of artifacts last year, so we have started accumulating material.
We divided up half the group to wash, and half to catalogue. The purpose of cataloguing is to sort and organize the artifacts in a way that we can use them to tell us interesting information about a site. While you have seen us focus on certain artifacts and what they can tell us individually, we also look at the artifacts as a collective. When we have 12000+ artifacts, there is no way for us make sense of them unless we organise them into categories.
These categories are relatively arbitrary, and there isn’t only one way to catalogue things. Our system has been refined and modified over the years depending on the kinds of site we excavate. It is important to have a system that works with the kinds of artifacts you are finding, and it also needs to be flexible.
The first thing is to note the context and number of the thing we are cataloguing. This forms a unique identifier that we can use to trace and relocate the artifact when it is packed away in boxes. Next, we need to describe the material class of the object. So for our site, we are using these categories:
Depending on the type of site, we might have more categories, or in the case of ancient Indigenous sites, we might only have the categories of: Bone, Shell, Lithics (Stone), and Ceramic!
The next important decision when cataloguing an artifact is the material class. This is a category based on the function of the item. It allows us to group items of different materials into behaviour functions. So, for example, we have a class called Architectural, which is everything relating to the structure of a house. So within the larger category, we can group different materials in sub-categories like so, and further divide them into objects:
- Class: Architectural
- Material: Glass
- Object: Window Glass
- Material: Ferrous
- Object: Nails
- Object: Door hardware
- Material: Brick
- Object: Frogged brick
- Object: Chimney brick
- Material: Mortar
- Material: Glass
Another important class for us is related to Food and Beverage. This catch-all bin collects all the various types of artifacts relating to the cooking, storing, and serving of food. Within Food and Beverage, we can catalogue things like ceramic tableware, metal flatware, stoneware crocks, kitchenware like mixing bowls, along with things like metal cans and glass bottles and jars that contained food.
In particular, the glass and ceramic items are going to be our best date indicators for the site.
It is kind of a fun exercise to hold something in your hand and try and catalogue it. Today, I had some students who found it hard to make a decision about what category to put something in…the main thing is there is no real right answer, the secret is being consistent with the rules that you are using to classify stuff. I think it’s fun, but I agree its not everyone’s cup of tea: (Ceramic > Food and Beverage > Tableware)!
I have a couple I-Spy images today — we didn’t get through all of the material with some of the really fun objects, but here are some things for you to look for:
Tomorrow is Day Nine of the field school, and we are back out on site to see what we can get done before the weekend!
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[…] Leading into the weekend, here are the answers to yesterday’s I-Spy game: […]
Site update for May 11th, and I-Spy answers! – Trent Archaeology Field School