by Jean Cascardi – Senior Field Archaeologist
Recently in the CART lab we have begun the process of labeling our artifacts collected during archaeological investigations at the Old Colchester Park and Preserve. As our readers may know the “life cycle” of the artifact begins when it is first discovered in the field. Each artifact from the various unit and level is assigned an FS (field specimen) number. The artifacts are then taken back to the lab to be washed, sorted and cataloged. When the artifacts are cataloged they are given an additional number within the catalog system. Some artifacts collected are diagnostic- meaning we can pinpoint the time when the material was produced. Examples of these types of materials are historic and prehistoric ceramics, nails, projectile points and glass.
The diagnostic artifacts are then pulled for labeling. Currently archaeologists use Acryloid B-72, allow it to dry, write the catalog number on top of the B-72 with small micron pens or with India Ink and a quill pen, then reapply B-72 over the catalog number to seal it onto the artifact. Traditionally, instead of B-72, clear nail polish was often utilized. In an effort to create labels with stability, longevity, and removability, B-72 is considered a far better labeling material.
In recent years, instead of writing on the artifact by hand, many are beginning to use small printed paper labels affixed to the artifacts. The paper labels have the advantage of a legible uniform look and a streamlined process. We are beginning to experiment with the paper label method. We want to be certain that the labels will indeed adhere to the artifact without falling off in a few years. For this method, we use a dry ink laser printer to print out labels in tiny size 4 font onto special cotton rag archival paper. Then we submerge the label in B-72 and apply the label to the diagnostic artifact. Before returning the artifact to the collection the B-72 dries for an extended period of time. This new system is more efficient and will allow more people to take part in the process of labeling artifacts.