Archaeology Curation

Brooke Privette, Center for Archaeological Studies

This spring semester of 2017 I curated a set of archaeological artifacts known as the Moore-Hancock Collection for an internship with the Center for Archaeological Studies, or CAS, on the Texas State University Campus. In this report, I will discuss the history of the Moore-Hancock Farmstead, how I worked on organizing and caring for this collection, and then how this collection relates to a growing crisis regarding the permanent storage of archaeological collections.

The history of the farmstead is compiled in the Moore-Hancock site report (Collins 1993). The Moore Hancock log house is the oldest continuously occupied home in Austin, Texas, dating back to the 1850s, and the house is still currently occupied to this day. The main building of the site is a dog-run log cabin, which was fully restored by Dr.Collins between 1989 and 1993.  The 1,237 acres of land that the home was built on originally belonged to Gideon White, but when he was killed in 1842, the property was left to his wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth then allotted 521 acres to her daughter in 1846, also named Elizabeth. When Elizabeth White was married to Martin Moore, they built the dog-run cabin on the land and lived there together until the end of the civil war in 1866. Both Gideon White and Martin Moore had come to Austin in 1839 when the town was first being built. Together Gideon White and Martin Moore started the first mercantile store in Austin. Due to the invasion of Mexican troops in 1842, the capital of The Republic of Texas had to be moved. Gideon White would later be killed in 1842 by Native Americans in Shoal Creek. Before his death, Martin Moore had married White’s daughter, Elizabeth. In 1849, Moore decided to leave his store in Austin and move with Elizabeth after the house was completed, and use the land for farming and raising stock. The site report tells me that most likely Moore had hired professionals to build the log house with the money he had made from the store in Austin. Martin Moore would be killed by a horse in 1859, but Elizabeth would continue to live on the land and in the home until 1866.

The land and home were purchased by a local Austin judge, John Hancock, in 1866. Hancock was involved in Austin politics in many ways. He was a lawyer, a legislator, as well as a US Congressman. It is not believed that John Hancock ever lived on the land himself, but rather had his nephews occupy the home, as well as manage the farm. He also owned several homes built in the surrounding areas; it is known that in these regions, he let his family, as well as his freed slaves, live. One of the most known of these freed slaves was Orange Hancock, and he and his family are the ones assumed to have lived on the land. Hancock and his nephews maintained this land as a dairy farm. Hancock later passed in 1893, but his relatives would remain on the land until 1899, when it would be sold to Franz Fiset, who was still related to the Hancocks. Fiset would go on to be the one who split up the land and sold it to others. At this point, the land, along with the farmstead was sold to John Wallis, who continued to utilize it as a dairy farm. The property would later be sold to a land developer.

After the land had been purchased by a property developer, various additions were made to the house. These additions were simply built around the original structure of the home, and during excavation, each layer was peeled away to reveal the previous layout. During the 1950s under the ownership of Harry Newton, the home would receive indoor plumbing and many room additions. The home then switched ownership many times and just eventually ceased being properly cared for, and then in 1987, the house was condemned by the city of Austin. Michael and Karen Collins would purchase the property in 1989, and excavations would begin that same year and last until 1993 (Collins 1993).

The Moore-Hancock collection contains basic historical artifacts, including personal items, wood, glass, and guns and ammo, and finally projectile points. Additionally there were also artifacts that were not common finds in a historical collection, like fossils, animal remains, and fauna. The section of this collection that is being housed at CAS contains about 35 boxes, there is also an unknown amount housed at the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory at University of Texas at Austin. Along with the boxes of artifacts there are also numerous photographs stored in Michael Collins personal archives. I was also able to find artifacts that ranged from pre-historic, like a fossilized shark tooth, all the way to more modern day artifacts, like a chip dip lid, and a dragon stuffed animal. There were many artifacts that had some sort of writing on it. These will need further attention in order to get an exact date from.

The Center for Archaeological Studies has a set of curation standards that they follow; this is reflected in a checklist of what a collections condition should be in before CAS accepts the collection into the repository. The primary goal of these standards is to help preserve the artifacts for future research. These include paperwork being filled out and processed beforehand, the collection must also be prepared before CAS will acquire it; this includes not just the artifact but also all of the written records associated with that collection; the photographs, and a complete and accurate specimen inventory sheet. Within that catalog, there must be included the material, the object name, a description, that description should include weight, count, lot number, object ID number, and the box number which the artifact belongs. There are also standards for how the artifacts should be stored before being given to CAS these include; first the use of proper boxes that are to be 18” x 11” x 6”. Secondly, not overpacking the boxes, or having fragile material mixed with heavy items. Third, nothing should be written on with white-out or clear nail polish. Forth, zip lock polyethylene bags that are 4 millimeters thick should be used for all artifacts. Finally all artifact tags should be made out of acid free paper (CAS).

This collection came in with many issues; for starters almost every box in the collection was over packed; boxes were falling apart; artifacts were organized by type rather than lot number; artifact bags did not meet the standard of 4 millimeters thick and were also held together with bread ties; certain artifacts that needed special attention were not housed properly, like wood or rusty metals and other diagnostic artifacts; objects were also written on using white out and clear nail polish, I was able to find written instructions telling the volunteers processing the collection to use white out and clear nail polish; and some pieces of information were missing. I was able to find a few labels and pieces of paper that stated certain artifacts were on loan or displayed somewhere, they never told me where these artifacts are currently on loan, or on display at.

A majority of my time was spent organizing the artifacts into lot numbers and along the way rehoming the artifacts that were deemed to have been improperly stored (fig 1). To fix these issues, I had to first reorganize every box from classification, like boxes of wood, personal items, rock, etc., to being sorted into their lot numbers so that the artifacts can be adequately documented, and processed. While sorting through the boxes, I was able to find the artifacts that needed new bags, and sometimes even new tags. I would either change to the thicker zip lock bag or in some cases the object would require an anti-corrosive bag this was mostly needed for rusted metals and diagnostic artifacts that were in danger of falling apart (fig 2). Some tags were even damaged or almost illegible. I would then transfer the information, that I was able to read, on a new tag, while also keeping the original tag in a separate bag just in case someone else would be able to get more information from it. Working with this collection has shown me a prime example of the curation crisis that archaeology currently is facing.

There is a growing problem within curation that is a result of poor after care of artifacts, and a lack of storage room to house everything that is being collected from an excavation, this is known as the curation crisis (Kersel 2015). Without the proper care from the repository, artifacts would just fall apart, that is why we have the standards of adequate storage boxes, climate control, and appropriate inventorying of artifacts to help keep track. There is also an issue with archaeologists not properly working alongside the repository to sort things out and plan the proper care of the collections after excavation. On top of a lack of space, a lack of responsibility and attention taken from the archaeologist, there is also the issue of a lack of funding to ensure that these artifacts properly cared for. The Moore-Hancock collection is an example of neglectful practices during excavation. The use of bread ties is almost the biggest give away of those excavating having not thought of long term storage afterward. The point of housing this collection is for future research purposes, but some of the items are almost unidentifiable because they were not properly cared for in the field. Some tags have completely fallen apart because they had been placed into a bag with corrosive material and now we have lost the information for that artifact. One way to help is for current collections in repositories to be used for research rather than continuing to dig up and destroy sites and try to create more space for collections in already full repositories.

The end goal for the Moore-Hancock collection at CAS is research. We know from records that Judge John Hancock let his freed slaves live on the land. Through examining the artifacts from this collection, specifically those from the time Hancock’s freed slaves lived on the land, we will be able to tell just how good a life they may have had after emancipation, and just how different that was from other newly freed slaves in the Austin area. This collection can also give us more information on Austin life, to get to this stage in the research process; however, the collection needs to get up to standards and be stored properly in perpetuity.

Brooke Privette Fig1

Brooke Privette Fig2

 

Bibliography

Center for Archaeological Studies, “Guidelines for the Submission of Archaeological Collections and Records to the Center for Archaeological Studies Curatorial Facility.”

Collins, Michael “Moore-Hancock Site Report.” 1993

Kersel, Morag M. “Storage Wars.” Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies 3, no. 1 (2015): 42-54. doi:10.5325/jeasmedarcherstu.3.1.0042.

About the author

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