Practical Experience in Archaeology
Faculty Advisor: Astrid Lindenlauf
Field Site: Bryn Mawr Ella Riegel Study Collection
Field Supervisor: Astrid Lindenlauf
Praxis Poster:Elena Teeter_Final Poster
As an archaeology student, I have always understood the importance of fieldwork, especially through excavation. However, after already experiencing excavations, I was curious about other responsibilities an archaeologist may have. After collaborating with Professor Lindenlauf, we came up with a project where I could work with sherds (what archaeologists call pottery fragments) that have been acquired by the college as a study collection. I also happen to be a ceramicist in my free time, so I was very excited about being able to combine two of my interests into this project. The pottery I worked with came from an archaeological site in Egypt called Naukratis. Naukratis is an important site because it was the location of a Greek merchant colony and the pottery I worked with is Greek. There has been a long history of excavation and survey at the site, which was discovered by the famous archaeologist Flinders Petrie. More recently, however, two American archaeologists, William Coulson and Albert Leonard Jr, conducted a series of surveys and excavations beginning in the 1970s.
My project involved numerous tasks. I learned how to take photographs of pottery sherds which was a much more detailed task than I was expecting. I also learned how to edit the photos I took through Adobe Bridge. In addition, I did a lot of documentation on the sherds including measurements and Munsell readings. Munsell refers to a book of color samples much like a book full of paint samples. However, the colors are used to compare to soil (in this case pottery which comes from soil). This means that instead of calling a sherd a color like brown or tan you can give a very specific Munsell reading and someone who has never seen the sherd but has a Munsell book can know the color of the clay used to make that piece of pottery.
My photographs and documentation were all uploaded onto a database known as EmbARK. EmbARK is how Special Collections keeps track of all of the accession numbers (unique numbers given to artifacts to help organize and keep track of the objects) it has. Eventually, art and artifacts get uploaded to TriArte (https://triarte.brynmawr.edu/) which is how the public can view items in the college’s collection. EmbARK was especially important in naming the photographs I took because each photograph must have a different name in order to differentiate it. Photographs were not just of the sherds themselves, I also used an overhead book scanner to take photos of labels from the archaeological survey and excavations. The labels were also added to EmbARK after I cropped and named them.
Additionally, I spent a lot of time learning about collections in relation to archaeological artifacts. I was able to spend some time with Marianne Weldon of Special Collections to rehouse objects. Using special foams and glue I was able to construct a safer storage box for a series of oil lamps in Special Collections. I also did some research with Marianne Weldon on a few reproductions of Greek pottery that the college has. The research was also added to the EmbARK database.
The final component of my project was a final paper. For this final paper, I looked at some of the sherds I was working with for signs that they had been reused or repaired in antiquity. One very obvious sign of repair is drill holes. To repair a broken vessel, holes are often drilled in the fragments so that they can be reconnected to each other with string or metal clamps. Bitumen is sometimes used to seal the cracks after this process. On the other hand, reuse can be identified when there are unusual patterns of wear on a sherd. Broken pottery fragments can often be quite angular but if the edges are unusually rounded or the surface is unusually scratched it could be an indicator that the sherd had another function after the vessel broke but before it was disposed of. My paper is written as an object biography. This means that, much like the biography of a person, I wrote about the sherds as they went through different stages of their “life.” They began as one vessel, but after breaking they underwent a new stage of life whether that be a whole new function or a reconstructed vessel.