Moving Archaeology Towards the Future
The Process: Part 1 - Object Rehousing
Our previous blog posts (Organizing the Move Parts 1, 2, and 3) have looked at how the move process was organized and the tools that are being used to ensure that everyone involved is aware of the progress being made. This new blog series will examine the various steps taken by the archaeology collections team to prepare and document the artifacts prior to them being moved. It will include: 1. object rehousing, 2. photography and barcoding, and finally, 3. boxing objects and moving them to their new locations.
Once Registration has inventoried a cabinet (see Ryan the Registrar’s blog), the collections crew is let loose to begin rehousing and stabilizing the objects in preparation for their move. Rehousing an object can range from simple bagging to more complex sink mounts depending on the nature and stability of each object.
Objects that are stable, relatively flat, and have a low possibility of damage (such as lithic projectile points and flakes, glass shards, and ceramic sherds) are bagged in 4 millimeter thick polypropylene ziplock bags, often using a thin polyethylene foam backing for protection and to hold the barcode in place within the bag (Figure 1a,b). The catalog number is carefully written legibly with a Sakura Identi-pen on the bag and if more than one piece is housed together, the count is noted in the bottom corner of the bag. This allows us to get more accurate counts for the collection and to monitor the stability of the object. Objects are then placed (in numerical order) into trays to ensure they remain in order (Figure 1c).
Figure 1. a) ’Before’ and b)‘After’ photographs showing the rehousing method and c) organization method used for flat, stable objects such as lithics and ceramics.
For objects that have a high degree of curvature and are not conducive to bagging, simple bumper trays are made using acid-free board and closed-cell polyethylene tri-rod foam (Figure 2). In some cases, trays or boxes are also used in addition to the bumper mount in order to protect the sides or edges if needed.
Figure 2. a) Bumper mount with b) barcode in a visible, scan-able location.
Fragile or delicate objects require more specialized care. These are called ‘sink-mounts’, recessed mounts, or ‘hospital mounts’ and involve creating a depression in polyethylene plank foam, at low hardness, 1.2 lbs per square foot density, that is the same shape as the object (Figure 3) in order to ensure the object is fully supported and to minimize any possible movement of the delicate pieces. The depressions are lined with either Tyvek, acid-free tissue paper, or muslin depending on the nature and composition of the object, in order to protect the artifact from the cut-foam edges. The pieces then either have a custom-made acid-free box made or, as seen here, a clear polystyrene box is used.
Figure 3. Fragile objects a) before rehousing and b) in their new, customized sink-mounts.
The rehousing and stabilization of the archaeological collection will not only ensure the objects are better protected when they move to their new location, but will make caring for the objects a much easier process in the future. When the storage materials begin to degrade decades from now (which all materials eventually do), the old mount pieces can be used as templates for creating new housing for the object. With such a massive archaeological collection under our care, any time-saving strategies are certainly welcome!