Posted by: zwangdm | February 18, 2019

Bag It and Tag It

Bag It and Tag It

Danielle Zwang

Archaeology requires the systematic collection of objects that were either made, modified, or used by people. By studying these material remains in relation to the environment in which they were produced, archaeologists attempt to understand the lives of those who used them. The process of collecting artifacts may appear somewhat tedious, but it is anything but that. Processing is a crucial part of an archaeological excavation.

This season as the archaeological assistant for the Industrial Site, I am working alongside Diana and Jan to help process all of the objects that are uncovered. As we continue to look for the production center of the glass and faience industry, we are finding manufacturing byproducts including molds, crucible fragments, and vitreous material, which are fragments of glass and faience. Our team follows a very specific method for processing these discoveries.

Senior excavator, Azib, working in the Industrial Site

As our workmen excavate methodically by layer or level depending on the context, they set aside all of the finds onto a tray. These artifacts are then sorted by type. At the Industrial Site, all of the material can be divided into two major categories, manufacturing debris and objects. All of the material that has been worked or used by ancient craftsmen gets bagged. However, the process for the two types of finds varies slightly.

Left: An unsorted tray of finds from the Industrial Site.
Right: The same tray from the left, after being sorted by object type.

The manufacturing debris, or the excess raw material and product from production, is further divided by type. Remains of the same kind are put together in one bag with its contextual data written on the exterior. Every bag lists the site name; the year; the square number; the level, feature or locus number; the object type, and finally the date found. This process is duplicated for the objects, like beads, molds, and tools. These objects are also assigned a unique number. This number is very similar to the accession numbering system that is used at a museum like The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These artifacts are tracked separately from the manufacturing debris because they are recorded differently as they often tell us a lot more information.

Left: An example of a bag for diagnostic pottery along with its matching tag.
Right: Fragment of a mold found during the 2019 season with its bag and tag.

Afterwards, a tag is created with the same data found the bags. These cards are then placed inside with the sorted material. Creating a tag may seem like an unnecessary and repetitive step, however, it is crucial. The material remains that are found during the excavation are only one aspect of the archaeological record. In order to properly interpret our finds, we need to evaluate them within the context in which they were found. It is therefore extremely important that we keep the findspot information with objects, as well as in our notes. Writing the information on the tag provides insurance that the provenance information will stay with the material in perpetuity. This is essential not only for the JEM’s research, but also for any future scholars who may work at Malqata.

Once the objects are bagged and tagged, they are sent to Diana and Jan for processing. At this stage, they write initial descriptions about each find, as well as their thoughts about any correlation to glass and faience production. In addition, they record the weight of carnelian debris and take record photographs of the manufacturing waste. Subsequently, all of the objects are sent to Ivor for photography.

Right: Diana and Jan writing descriptions of the objects from the Industrial Site.
Left: Ivor photographing objects.

Processing archaeological finds does not stop there. At the end of the season, we will continue to analyze and record information about each piece. In the secondary phase, Diana, Jan and I will draw objects in preparation for the final report and for future publications. Furthermore, all of the data collected will be transferred into a FileMaker database that was designed by Janice specifically for the work at JEM. Having a digital record of this data preserves an additional copy of our work for the season. It will also allow Diana and Jan to continue working on the material for publication outside of Egypt.

Diana and Danielle processing finds at the Industrial Site

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