lunedì 1 settembre 2014

Training at the Archaeological Archive - day 2

This post is about my experience at the Archaeological archive of London as a Family and school volunteer. I wrote it in Italian this past January and now it has been translated to English too. You can find the previous post HERE. Thank you for reading!

Trovate la versione in italiano in questo vecchio post QUI

Day 2 of my Training at LAARC (London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre): a tons of things to tell.
Let's start with the digging activity called "The Big Dig". Some huge boxes had been filled with a sort of grit (quite similar to litter for cats), and artifacts had been hidden in them.
Each box represents an archeological site, we had to dig and discover the object using archaeological tools: trowel, shovel, and tray.
Digging with the trowel, you have to be careful and scrape the surface of the soil using the flat lateral part of the blade. You must avoid using the tip of your tool, you wouldn't want to break something very precious, would you?
You can use the shovel to remove the mound of soil you have scraped with the trowel, and if you find an object you have to put it in your  tray. This is one of the activities we will do with children.
Looking at the bottom of the large boxes, you could see a picture of the real site where the artifacts were found. It was a hint, we had to guest: How old are these objects?
My teammate and I found some shards of pottery and some mysterious cubes. Our picture showed a mosaic decorated floor. The mysterious cubes are probably mosaic tiles. 
What Era do these artifacts belong to? Looking at these tiles they were quite bigger than those I used to study during my History of Art course. They seemed a bit rough too. My guess was "Medieval". My teammate disagreed with me, he said "Roman". Who was right? Not me at all (sigh). It was actually a Roman mosaic!
Then Archaeologists showed us some real archaeological maps, photos, and drawings about the area and the artifacts they had discovered. They also described their routine when working at a new site: they have to name each area, writing down information about every soil's layer, taking note of orientation and any thing they will need in order to study the site.

Our next activity was "cleaning & washing" bones. Animal bones though, not human ones which are studied in another department.
Animal bones are more common finds, some of them were used as a tool in the past, others are just the rest of a meal, but they need to be washed in a bowl full of water in order to pull down the soil and find out something interesting.
I washed a pig's jaw, I think my bowl's mate was seriously disturbed by those teeth, but I did not mind it much. What could be more appropriate then cleaning teeth with a toothbrush? Toothbrushes and small wooden sticks are great for this task. But often teeth are not firmly fixed to the jaw and we must be very careful. In order to do that I took off my rubber gloves and put my hand in the water. Did I mention how cold it is in the archive? You can then image how I felt: frozen!
At the end of the washing we felt like little ice cubes. So our mentor told us "Don't worry, I'll bring you in a warmer place". I really thought she said that, but probably I was wrong,  because next place was even colder: a sort of warehouse where trucks deposited buckets full of soil and artifacts. The tour continued in a washing room where pipes of water were used to remove part of the soil off the finds. Then finally a warm room: a red light dried the washed artifacts and warmed us as well.
The archive is huge and full of pleasant surprises.

After having our lunch, we started another beautiful game: "Can you guess what pot I am?" 
We had to sort various pieces of pot laying inside a box, grouping them according to the characteristics of each (material, decoration, use, etc...).
We were given some tips sheets suggesting the real identity of each pot. We learned a lot of things about pottery. For instance: Did you know that Romans didn't use glazed pottery? Glazed pots came in Medieval era and almost all of them were green-yellow coloured. So if you see a green glazed old pot into the archive: it comes from the Middle Ages, not doubt!
Then if you are looking at a nice blue and whited decorated porcelain, it could be a China from the Victorian era. And if you see a "Bearded face" on a brown orange-skin textured jug, you are looking at a Bellarmine jug: pots of German origin very common in London at the time of Shakespeare.
(Pictures of this activity coming soon!)

Last activity of the day was repacking
Some of the boxes of the Archive are very old, the object inside of them had been packed long time ago and maybe the labels are not longer useful. We had to repack them in new bags with new labels.
Volunteers were given some box containing several bags full of finds. Our task was:
1) Open the plastic bag (one at the time, of course) and pull out finds and old label.
2) Copy the info from the old label onto a new one. Usually you can read from the old label the excavation area's code, the context, and the general content of the bag (Pot= pottery; a. bone= animal bone; flint)
3) Repack the finds into a new bag.
4) Put the old label into the bag.
5) Fold the bag in half, making sure all the find stay at the bottom of that, bend it to the side of the label, so you can easily see all the finds trough the other side without opening it, an put a stapler point at the top of the fold bag to close it.
6) Insert the new label in the flap of the bag and staple it so that both labels (the old one and the new one) are visible through the bag. A label stays attached to the bag and the other can be extracted together with the artifacts so you can easily check what the bag corresponding to your extracted finds is and put it all back once you are done.

As I already said, a lot of things to learn, but I really enjoyed these activities and the day passed quickly. 

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