Over the past few weeks since my last blog, I have delved further into the world of collections management. The archaeological artifacts that I have been cleaning, photographing, labelling, and cataloging are from the 2017 icehouse dig at the Mahaffie farmstead. The artifacts are kept in a bucket in separate plastic bags or envelopes with labels indicating where, when, and sometimes what the specific artifact/s is or are. I have mainly been working with artifacts found in “Level 1” which is approximately 0-10 cm below the ground. There were many pieces of glass that were different colors and thicknesses that I worked with. It was intriguing to try and figure out how a certain shard was cut or broken in the way that it did. Surprisingly, many of edges were smooth considering the amount of time they were buried and the fact that the land is still a working farm with visitors milling about.
As I spent much time with the glass shards, my eye became more attuned to the diversity of glass found in that shallow level below a humble farmstead icehouse. There were regular clear shards, brown shards, green tinted shards, and some that suggest they came from a decorative or ornamental item. The fact that Kaylee Murphy, the intern who conducted the dig, found all those out on the icehouse grounds raises the question of why fancier pieces of glass were there in the first place. Also among the glass were large pieces of dark stoneware pottery.
Measuring all these shards was a bit daunting as very few of the items were actually a fully recognizable shape. Some had the tendency to be triangular or trapezoidal but because they are only pieces, taking all the measurements was awkward. In addition to this, measuring items that were curved or were thicker in width proved to be even more difficult. A particular corner piece of what we suspect was an ornamental glass item was clunky and getting it to lay flat in order to measure took some time.
In addition to measuring, photographing artifacts can also be a daunting task. Ones that laid at odd angles had to be manipulated into a position to where the object was recognizable but also one that did not cast shadows over the object when taking a picture. I spent quite a bit of time walking back and forth between the collections storage area and the table where the cleaning supplies were to see which area of the basement had better lighting for each specific artifact. The color or shade of the artifact also influences what background you will use to take a photograph. I found that a white background was better for darker objects while clear glass and white objects photographed better on an off-white or slightly colored background to highlight the outlines of the pieces. One also tries to showcase the object in the photo so the viewer can see the object ID if at all possible. I found that glass and pottery were easier to work with regarding labelling than other objects with a more prominent 3-D shape like a bead.