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Experience as an Archaeology Lab Assistant

Eric with a guest at Christmas Open House 2018

This past year, I have been working at Historic Sandusky as an Archaeology Lab Assistant cataloging artifacts found on the property. Currently, I am an undergraduate student majoring in Environmental Science with minors in Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Lynchburg. Before interning here, I participated in the 2018 Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest Archaeology Field School. In a typical Archaeology Field School, professional archaeologists teach and demonstrate how archaeology is properly done in the field from researching the history of the site, digging with trowels, identifying artifacts and features in the ground, and interpreting data from what was found at the site. I learned an incredible amount of information relating to archaeology and the impacts it has made in understanding history. This program sparked my interests in learning and practicing archaeological methodology performed in the field. In the following semester, I applied for a paid internship in the Archaeology Lab at Historic Sandusky. This position allowed me to further hone my skills and provided me job experience that I can use on my resume to apply to a potential job.

It has been a great experience working in the Archaeology Lab. As an Archaeology Lab Assistant, I was first tasked with sorting and identifying boxes of artifacts originating from Historic Sandusky that were general provenience, meaning where found on the property but the exact location is unknown. There was a mixture of coal, metal objects, ceramic fragments, and glass shards that needed to be cataloged. The process starts with cleaning the various artifact without damaging the object. In most cases, ceramic and glass fragments are washed in the sink using a soft brush to remove the debris. Metal and other delicate artifacts are not washed in the sink to prevent further deterioration. Instead, they are gently brushed to remove any debris on the artifact. After drying, each ceramic and glass shard they need to be labeled with the site number. These artifacts then can be cataloged into the database with a unique artifact number. When artifacts are cataloged in a database, the characteristics it exhibits are noted such as the type of material, weight, and colors on the artifacts. Artifacts are then bagged with a context tag indicating the artifact number and stored within the Archaeology Lab.

In four months, I have made close to 500 catalog entries into the database. This process can be tedious, but it is rewarding work where I learn something new everyday or wash a piece of ceramic to reveal an interesting design or motif. My favorite part of the job is identifying shards of ceramics or glass that fit together forming a single vessel and mending them back together. It is like finding a match on a puzzle. In these cases, B-72 is used to mend shards back together which can provide a greater understanding of how the original vessel was manufactured and better dating of the artifacts. One of my side projects during this experience was piecing together a beer bottle glass dating from the 1920’s to 1930’s. Currently there are six glass pieces forming a complete base and about half of the body with an insignia that reads Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Photos: Top, Eric showing artifacts to guests during Christmas Open House 2018. Above, two angles of the Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle being mended by Eric.


About the Author: Eric Taylor is an undergraduate student at the University of Lynchburg who is currently working towards a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science with minors in both Biology and Environmental Studies. Eric gained his first experience with archaeology attending the 2018 Archaeology Field School at Poplar Forest in Forest Virginia. At Historic Sandusky, Eric works alongside Hurt and Proffitt Archaeology Materials Laboratory Director Keith Adams to process artifacts for both Hurt and Proffitt and Historic Sandusky.

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