Southeast Archeological Center a
  • 3D Rendering of Shiloh Mound

    Southeast Archeological Center

    Cultural Resources National Park Service

Life of an Artifact

Life of an artifact in curation

  1. What happens when the artifacts leaves the field?  Once an artifact has been removed from the ground, it immediately begins to degrade and suffer damage.  The curation aspect of archeology encompasses many areas some of which focus on capturing data about the artifact and its context (cataloging), reducing damage to the artifact (conservation), and providing access to artifact information (research). In this series we are going to take you through the process of curating artifacts.

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  1. Cataloging is important to capture the distinguishing features of an artifact and the artifact’s provenience (context), to facilitate access to collections for researchers, and to fulfill the National Park Service’s obligation of archeological stewardship to the public.

This collection comes from the Lamar Site at Ocmulgee National Monument (OCMU) and was excavated from 1934-1938 by the Civil Work Administration (C.W.A.), Civilian Conservation Corp (C.C.C.) Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.). In this image, washed, unsorted bags of artifacts are awaiting cataloging.  Mention that this is the presorting stage             Description: A:\Outreach Photos\Life of an Artifact\Bag Presort 4.JPG


  • Bag on a tray with W.P.A. card—Original documentation is used to determine the provenience, or context, of the object. Provenience is the specific location of an artifact within an archaeological site. Often, an object’s provenience is just as important, if not more so, than the object itself.  During cataloging, objects with the same provenience are processed together. This photo shows an unsorted bag of artifacts with its original provenience documentation recorded on a card filled out by the W.P.A. workers in the 1930s. WPA card (tie in WPA card with it being original documentation)
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  • Photo of tray—Once a bag is emptied, the archeologists start by sorting the objects and matching like objects with like objects.  In many cases matching “like with like” begins with identifying the material of the artifact, such as ceramics (left, center, and bottom) and stone (top right). Other distinguishing features such as an artifact’s manufacturing technique, decoration, design, color, and many other physical elements are considered during sorting.  These elements are then used in conjunction with resource materials, to enable each artifact’s identification and classification into more refined groups.   Mention what “like with like” might be (designs, tools, specialty objects).

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  • Photo of sorted objects--- Once the artifacts have been sorted, identified, and classified, they are counted, weighed, and put into new bags. These new bags are labeled with the object’s provenience information, item count, weight and a brief description.  Now the artifacts are ready to be entered into the electronic catalog database and given a unique, identifying, catalog number.  We will be highlighting more artifacts in SEAC’s collection in our “Artifact of the Week” posts.
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  • Highlight a few objects on tray—See final sentence above.

  • Shot of Rediscovery screen: At SEAC, as well as throughout the NPS, we use the cataloging program Re:Discovery. LINK:  A brief glimpse is shown to illustrate the complexity in managing artifact data, provenience data, and storage location information for The National Parks in the Southeast Region.  An electronic catalog allows multiple users to input data as well as look up data and location information for research purposes.   Once all of the information has been captured, archive quality tags are printed with information about each artifact. Caption here
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  • Shot of data entry in action.

  • Shot of artifact labeled next to numbering tool in fume hood. (bag, tag, numbered artifact, B-72, goggles, pens, ink), (Numbering supplies-describe them, Applied number-why do we do it, what is a catalog number, Tags with barcodes)
  • The Numbering Process: ( go into paint and label/arrow the items with names to reference)
    Image 1.This image shows one of our numbering stations.  Once an artifact has been entered into Re:Discovery and given a unique catalog number, the archeologists label the artifact with that same catalog number.  Not all artifacts, however, will have a number directly affixed.  If the artifact is delicate or made of certain materials where the numbering process could damage the artifact, alternative techniques are used.  All of the techniques we use for numbering must not damage the artifact and must be reversible.
    In a typically setting, we use a solution of Paraloid B-72 and acetone to affix a thin lacquer barrier-coat to the artifact.  Then, we use permanent black ink with either crow-quill or Rapidograph pens to write the catalog number on the artifact. Once the ink has dried, we seal the number with another coat of the B-72 solution.  For personal safety, we use a portable fume hood and clear goggles.
    The artifacts in these two photos are from the Magnolia Plantation at Cane River Creole National Historical Park (CARI).
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  • Image 2. In this image, catalog numbers have been applied to historic glass and ceramic fragments.  Neat handwriting is very important for the numbering process, as can be seen here. The tags, with the unique catalog number, counts, keywords, and accession information have been printed from the electronic database. These tags have been placed into the artifact bags to accompany the numbered artifact.

  • New packing in boxes/Boxlist: Once all of the information has been captured and the artifacts have been numbered and bagged, the artifacts are placed into a white box with archive quality box-lists.  This box-list features the storage location information that is found in the electronic database.  The box-list aids researchers in finding a specific object when they need to access a collection.  Now, the artifacts are ready for storage.  Caption here
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  • Storage facilities photo (Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Paramount Pictures)
  • The storage facilities at SEAC serve as the repository for the entire Southeast Region.  The facilities are temperature and humidity controlled to halt the degradation of the artifacts, and they are restricted to ensure the safety of the artifacts.  Due to this restriction and our security measures we can’t show you our storage facility, but it is cleaner, better organized, and easier for researchers to access than this…Description: A:\Outreach Photos\Life of an Artifact\Repository Indiana Jones.jpg