One of my favorite set of artifacts I have recently worked with were mammal bones. As of now, the type of animal the bones come from is unknown but getting to clean them with Q-tips and dental picks was fascinating as I got to see which parts had been darkened by age and the crevices that had been created since the time of the animal’s death. I had several sets of bones- one that looked like bones of the back vertebrae, one that contained skinny bones, and one that had a little bit of everything. On one wide and curved bone, I distinctly saw red spots in the small openings of the bone and would not be surprised if it was dried blood. Although since the red color was pretty vibrant, perhaps it was some sort of stain from plants.
This week, I have begun cleaning and cataloging objects from the Level 2 section of the icehouse archaeological dig which is about 10-20 cm below the ground. I was surprised to find more bones in Level 1 than Level 2 and more equipment like nails on this level. I worked with a blue bead that had found its way into Level 2. I have been wondering how a bead could have gotten into an icehouse in the first place but that was the most intriguing artifact in this layer. I am currently going through all the types of nails they dug up, many of them are wire cut nails, and because the metal is rusted, I use tannic acid to prevent the rust from causing further harm to the artifacts. Although the acid does not cause harm, it does stain which is why I wear latex gloves. It does give off an acidic scent, so I find that frequent breaks between cleaning helps clear my head from the smell. I usually dip a cotton square into the acid and cover the nail with the square before scrubbing with a toothbrush.
For big chunks of residue, that works well but for smaller pieces or traces of residue are more difficult to remove. I find that using the cotton square causes cotton strands to snag onto nails. So instead of using the squares, I experimented with Orvis paste. It is a white paste that looks like solid coconut oil and has about the same consistency. This was the first time I had tried it on artifacts and was pleased with the outcome. After dabbing the nails with the paste, I let them sit for a bit before going back over them with tannic acid. When I went in today, the nails were nearly all black which is the goal when treating rust-damaged artifacts. Amidst the remains of the nails, I began wiping dirt off of a small piece when I realized that it was actually a small mammal bone similar to ones from a previous set I had catalogued. That was the most exciting part of cleaning the nails and I hope in future I will have some time to investigate the bones more closely to try and identify which animal they belonged to.