Tiny Pieces and the Big Picture

Artifacts from Old Colchester such as a olive glass bottle finish fragment, sherds of tin glazed ceramic, a pipe bowl fragment and broken pipe stems

Artifacts from Old Colchester

By Julianne Powers – Lab Archaeologist & CART Archeobotony

After artifacts are excavated by our field team from Old Colchester Park & Preserve, they are bagged and then what happens to them? The field crew brings them into them lab where they get a scrub down in some fresh, clean water with a soft toothbrush to make sure all the dirt comes off! Then the artifacts are put on racks to air dry and put into clean, acid-free, archival bags, sorted by material.

After that, artifacts are studied by one of the lab staff to identify them. Archaeology is about asking questions. We ask many questions about each object that comes into our lab. On our catalog sheet, we use lots of three-letter codes to describe what the artifact looks like. For instance, SCO signifies that a historic ceramic is scalloped, and DRD means a lithic is drilled. When we catalog we note characteristics such as color, type, material, size, how it was made, what part of the object it is and significant features on the artifact. We combine all of these codes into one record of entry into our access database called AMAS (Artifacts Material Analysis System). The record combines the artifact data with information about where the artifact is from in order to create a full picture.

It is important to use artifact location data so we can tell more about groups of artifacts. For example, if many of the artifacts from a single test unit are lithic flakes, someone might have been making stone tools nearby. If there are several pieces of ceramic that don’t mend but have the same pattern, we might be able to tell that they were a set. Using AMAS, we can understand more about our artifacts and our site as a whole.

Our paper cataloging sheet with lots of codes! By reading these codes, we know what each artifact is!

Our paper cataloging sheet with lots of codes! By reading these codes, we know what each artifact is!

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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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