scissors cut paper for rocks
neat handwriting please
Meghan and her crew took some time to work in the lab during the worst of our last Mid-Atlantic heat wave. The crew is washing the artifacts they’ve found so far and labeling them with provenience data. This information details where the artifacts were found on a site. Here in the US, it usually includes the official site number recorded with the state and a “lot number.” The lot number is shorthand for the field location, which is often too long to fit on small artifacts.
Try writing something like “18XY9999, F1 SW1/4, TU 1, 20-30 cm” on a quarter—you won’t see much of the coin’s face when you’re done. But “18XY9999 / 39” (where 39 is the lot number) takes up much less room. 18XY9999 is a fictional site number. The 18 represents Maryland (which was the 18th state alphabetically when the system was established). XY is shorthand for a county name (totally fictional—no county name in Maryland begins with an X). 9999 is the next number in the county list that was assigned by the state.
F1 SW1/4 means the southwest quarter of Feature 1. And TU 1 means Test Unit 1. Large features (such as a cellar) are often excavated in sections. On a project like Meghan’s, she won’t excavate the entire cellar. She’ll drop a couple test units in it to see what shows up. 20-30 cm represents the depth below surface where artifacts are found. Archaeologists work in the metric system, so it’s centimeters and meters for us, not inches and feet.
When the artifacts are bagged up for museum storage, an inner paper tag and the outer plastic bag (or box) will be labeled with the full provenience information such as below. (We’ll print sheets with multiple paper tags and cut them with scissors. Many get used in bags of stone artifacts. Hence, my attempted play on the old standby for making choices.)
Meghan’s crew is well-skilled. They’re not only excellent field archaeologists and lab technicians, but they’re also good at artifact analysis. They can tell the difference between 18th-century English manganese mottled earthenware and 19th-century American Rockingham yellowware. In my experience, not all archaeologists can.
There’s been some rain, and the worst of the heat has broken. The crew will be heading back to the field soon. Soils should be easier to excavate now that rain’s fallen, at least for a short while. But summer’s not over by a long shot, and we’re still in drought conditions. Still, the fieldwork will wrap up soon, and Meghan will get started on the report. She won’t have to worry about impossible artifacts and unexpected visitors like Madeleine OBrien of Death Out of Time does.