The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory: A Model Facility

by Denice Dressel Lab Archaeologist & Preservation Specialist

Colchester Archaeological Research Team (CART) is part of the Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch (CRMPB) of the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA). One of CRMPB’s responsibilities is to serve as the repository for archaeological collections excavated in Fairfax County, both on parkland and county wide. According to Fairfax County Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management Plan, CRMPB’s Archaeological Collections now houses over three million artifacts, all from Fairfax County sites.

I recently had the pleasure of touring the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab), part of the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, in Calvert County, Maryland. Similar to CRMPB’s role as the archaeological collections repository for Fairfax County, the MAC Lab is Maryland’s state archaeological collections facility, responsible for the permanent curation of Maryland’s archaeological collections. Dr. Patricia Samford, Director of the MAC Lab, estimates that the facility houses between seven to ten million artifacts, representing at least twelve thousand years of human activity.

MAC Lab’s two-story compactor collections storage system

MAC Lab’s two-story compactor collections storage system

In addition to being the repository for archaeological collections for the state of Maryland, the MAC Lab is a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory, specializing in the conservation of metals and water-logged organic materials, like wooden ships. In fact, the late 18th century ship uncovered at the World Trade Center site was brought to the MAC Lab for conservation. Information about the discovery of the ship and recovery efforts by MAC Lab conservators can be found here: http://jefpat.org/wtc_ship.html

MAC Lab’s largest freeze dryer used in the final steps of conserving water-logged organic artifacts.

MAC Lab’s largest freeze dryer used in the final steps of conserving water-logged organic artifacts.

Another important function of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory is its role in providing access to its collections for researchers and disseminating information to the general public. A grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training allowed MAC Lab staff to create the Diagnostic Artifacts of Maryland web resource, an on-line identification guide for commonly found artifacts in the Chesapeake region. The Colchester Archaeological Research Team uses this reference frequently. The web site can be found here: http://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/Index.htm

Copper alloy cufflinks with green glass faceted insets set in a plain mount. From Sander's Point 1700 - 1790's.

Cufflinks from Sander’s Point 1700 – 1790’s as seen on Diagnostic Artifacts of Maryland. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Diagnostic Artifacts Project

The cufflinks, shown in the photo above are similar to those found during excavations at Old Colchester Park and Preserve, shown in the photo below.

Cufflinks from Old Colchester Park & Preserve.

Cufflinks from Old Colchester Park & Preserve.

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About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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