The Other Side of Archaeology

By Katie Barbour, Archaeology Laboratory Analyst

It starts in a field. A hiker notices ancient pot fragments sticking out of a river bank. A road crew uncovers a forgotten homestead. An archaeologist discovers a disturbed area under ground using ground penetrating radar. Then the work crews come in with their shovels, trowels, buckets, screens, Munsell books and journals. Out of the ground and into bags go ceramic, glass, metal, stone, animal bones. Then it’s off to the lab to clean off the dirt and get things ready to catalog. That’s where I come in.

The "clean lab."

I work in what is called the “clean lab” at the Indiana State Museum. It’s called the clean lab because, once artifacts end up here, they should be as clean of all field dirt as they possibly can be. I take the material and begin the slow and exacting process of sorting, identifying, cataloging, tagging and numbering each item. It takes a special person for this tedious, uncelebrated task and, for better or for worse, I am that person. Continue reading