Archaeology Curation

Emmalee Miller, Center for Archaeological Studies

I completed an internship at The Center for Archaeological Studies (CAS) during the spring of 2013. I decided to complete an internship at CAS because I am very interested in curation, more specifically curating archaeological artifacts.  Since CAS is an archaeological repository this seemed like a perfect fit.  My interest in curating archaeological artifacts stems from my vested interest in keeping said artifacts in proper condition.

CAS is located at Texas State University – San Marcos in Room 120 in the Trinity Building.  CAS was founded to:

Promote archaeological and anthropological research in the new and old worlds; conduct archaeological investigations for federal, state, and local governments as well as private entities as required by law; assist in the cultural resource management of sites associated with Texas Rivers Center at Spring Lake and other sites on Texas State’s campus; provide student training in the field of archaeology through direct research experience; [and to] support public education through a better understanding of anthropology, including archaeology, in addition to history and the preservation of cultural resources. (www.txstate.edu/anthropology/cas/about/mission.html)

Amy Benton is the Collections Manager/Project Archaeologist and was my supervisor while I was interning at CAS.  She overlooks the curation of current and incoming archaeological collections at CAS.  Patricia Christmas, the Assistant Collections Manager, helps Amy with that by primarily dealing with the documents from the archaeological collections that CAS receives. There is also a Project Archaeologist/Geoarchaeologist, Chief Underwater Archaeologist, and Associate Director on staff at CAS.  They assist with funded projects that CAS is involved with.

During my time at CAS I learned how to use the Museum Software PastPerfect, and checked the inventory of incoming collections.  I also cleaned glass and bone artifacts, cut out and organized Object ID tags, exchanged old Object ID tags with new ones, organized bags within the boxes in specific collections, and made temporary box and bag labels.  I helped put together and setup a Projectile Points Display of Spring Lake, and put together a display for the San Marcos Public Library about the Burleson Homestead.

The most memorable experience at CAS was being put in charge of the Burleson Homestead exhibit that CAS put up at the San Marcos Public Library with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.  I picked out the artifacts to display, made the brochure, picked out pictures of objects (that I found online) to display, and made the display look professional.  This was a very extensive project.

 

The first thing I did was research Burleson.  This helped me determine which artifacts I should select based off of his history..

To pick out the artifacts I first had to read through the report generated by the Burleson Homestead excavation to determine which of the artifacts they found were ‘probably’, ‘likely’, or ‘possibly’ associated with the Burleson Homestead at the time of occupation. Once I completed this I had to locate the artifacts in PastPerfect and pull the artifacts from their boxes in the storage room. The artifacts that I decided to display were a whiteware sherd with a maker’s mark (this tells you which company made the artifact) which had a printed ‘horsecatcher’ design and an English Registry mark , a porcelain china doll leg that possibly belonged to Burleson’s daughter Elizabeth, a metal slide buckle (or clasp) that could have belonged to Burleson, an edgeware sherd that had a cockle-edge (a small shell with feather motif), a bottle neck, a patent medicine bottle neck, a handpainted ceramic, a wardrobe lock, a copper cover for a padlock (it took forever to find out what this was – it did not specify in PastPerfect or in the report), a window sash latch, a whiteware cream pitcher spout, and a cotter pin.

At this point we needed to decide how we wanted to display the artifact.  We wanted it to look professional but to fit within our budget constraints.  Amy had a large piece of foam that we decided that we would cover with some kind of cloth.  We found black felt in the storage room of CAS and decided to use that to cover the foam with.  Once we had decided on that I covered a thick piece of foam with black felt and hot glued in down.  I wrapped the black felt around it like I would wrap a present and tried to make the fabric as tight as possible across the front of the foam.  I then hot glued a large piece of cardboard to the back that was a little bit smaller than the foam since we planned to mount it to the back of the display case in the library

We put the exhibit up in the Public Library on March 1st, 2013.  This is an extremely important part of the process.  When Patricia and I arrived we needed to decide how to set up the exhibit so it could look as professional as possible.  We decided to take out the glass shelf in the display case and mount everything on the back wall of the display case.  Later in the day, I found that everything had fallen but had, thankfully, not broken.  We then decided to put the glass shelf back in.  We leaned the piece of foam with the artifacts on it on the glass shelf against the back wall.  We then propped two of the photographs of the selected artifacts on the same shelf.  And put the other two photographs on the bottom of the display case propped up against the back wall including the photograph of the Burleson Homestead.

This was my favorite experience because it taught me about how to put together an exhibit.  Which, even for one as small as this one, is very intensive and time consuming.  Also, since we had a limited budget, allowed us to be creative in coming up with ways to display everything in the exhibit.  It is also the biggest responsibility I had while interning and made me feel trusted by my supervisor.

During my time at CAS I gained an understanding of how to properly curate (care and store) archaeological collections and I learned how to make an exhibit.  I gained critical job experience in this area and I hope to use that knowledge for a career in curating archaeological collections in the future.  My next steps are to start job searching at museums and archaeological repositories in Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.  After a year of working I plan on attending graduate school to receive a Master’s degree in either Museum Studies, Library Sciences with a focus in archiving, or Media Studies.  And I might try to pursue a PhD after that, I have not yet decided.

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