Washing & Sorting
From the excavation site, artifacts are transported to the laboratory for processing. Artifacts come out of the ground encrusted with dirt or corrosion. Sometimes the dirt makes it impossible to tell what the object is. Other times it obscures important clues such as patterns or impressed patent dates. To remove a century or more of grime the artifacts are carefully washed or brushed. Archaeologists then label each cleaned artifact using pen and ink to inscribe tiny identification numbers.
Once the artifacts are labeled, one of the most interesting stages
laboratory process begins. In order to understand more about the people
whose refuse ended up in Privy 507, it is important to find out not
just what type of artifacts were found in the privy, or how old they
were, but how many of each different type of artifact the privy contained.
This isn’t easy, as many artifacts come out of the ground broken and
shattered. While the faunal specialists sort and analyze the food bones,
the lab archaeologists sort all the other Privy 507 artifacts into broad
categories: glass, ceramics, metal, and ‘other.’ The objects in each
of these categories are laid out on large tables and grouped together
by color and type. For instance, all the aqua colored bottle glass is
laid out in one group, all the colorless table glass in another. Then
comes the fun (or frustration) of piecing together each of the artifacts
in this vast jigsaw puzzle. Some artifacts can be completely reconstructed
while only tantalizingly incomplete portions of others are recovered.
As bottles, plates and glasses are reconstructed using tape, a
three-dimensional portrait of the privy’s contents begins to grow in front of the archaeologist.