Researching Historical Archaeological Collections: An Assessment of Current Techniques

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2014

A number of new and innovative approaches to conducting research on historical archaeological collections have been developed since the first decade of the 21st century. Increasing digitization of archaeological data has led to wider dissemination of site and artifact information, to scholarly and non-scholarly audiences. Advances in technology have led to the analysis of historical artifacts on a microscopic-level. This research is being used to reevaluate past assumptions regarding patterns of site formation, including artifact consumption and deposition. This session is intended to highlight some of the unique approaches to studying historical archaeological collections that are currently being developed in laboratories, museums, and universities throughout the world.

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  • Documents (8)

  • ‘Chicken Bones and Bags of Dirt’: Virginia’s Survey to Discover What’s Stored Where and Why (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Esther White.

    The Collections Management Committee of the Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA) recently published a statewide inventory of archaeological collections recording where archaeological collections in Virginia are housed, what resources are curated and how these materials are used by the repositories and the public. Our survey also began to gather data on which archaeological collections have the most potential for additional research and which have the greatest potential to expand our...

  • Cross-mends that Cross Lines: A study of inter-structure cross-mended objects from Monticello’s Mulberry Row (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jenn Briggs. Elizabeth Sawyer.

    In this paper, we examine the spatial relationships between cross-mended sherds in a given object to evaluate depositional practices between structures and work areas on Monticello’s Mulberry Row. When object distributions are evaluated in conjunction with previously established site chronologies, we are able to evaluate temporal patterns between archaeological deposits. With this, we challenge the traditional assumption of synchronicity between contexts that contain fragments of a given...

  • MARS: A Unique Place for Storing Archaeological Collections (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sarah Heffner.

    MARS, an acronym for the Mathewson Automated Retrieval System, is a mechanical system that houses older, seldom-used books, journals, and other materials, in the University of Nevada, Reno’s (UNR) Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. Robotic arms can be programmed to store and retrieve one of over 700,000 items located in storage bins of various sizes and shapes. In addition to housing rarely-used print materials, MARS is home to over 1800 boxes of archaeological materials. In 2010, in response to...

  • The Mount Vernon Midden Project - presenting archaeological collections (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Freeman. Eleanor Breen.

    The Mount Vernon Midden Project website showcases archaeological collections from Mount Vernon, George Washington’’s Potomac plantation. The midden website presents over 700 selected objects, each with catalog information, images and ‘public text.’ Additionally the objects are tagged, and linked to thematic articles (gender, consumerism etc.) and object types (shot, beads, tea etc.). The archaeological collections are also integrated with several primary documentary sources: ‘ a local account...

  • New Boxes, Old Tricks: Reexamining Previously Excavated Collections from Pensacola’s Red Light District (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jackie Rodgers.

    Reanalyzing existing collections can be challenging, especially the task of reestablishing contexts from old excavations. The process, which may include archival research, informant interviews, material conservation, and artifact reclassification, can be rewarding when the results reveal unexpected materials and patterns. Professional terrestrial archaeology in Pensacola, Florida has tended to focus on the city’s rich colonial past, while the city’s more recent American period remains largely...

  • Research Implications for Archaeological Collections Management at a Small Academic Institution (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Douglas Sanford.

    This paper illuminates the common issues of archaeological collections management from the standpoint of a small, liberal arts college, the University of Mary Washington. As seen at other repositories, while collections management has not been a neglected aspect of our archaeological endeavors, it has suffered as a lower priority, contributing to problems that compound over time. My perspective has gained from teaching a new course on the topic, one that confronted our collections’ needs and...

  • The revolution before the Revolution? A Material Culture Approach to Consumerism (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Eleanor Breen.

    What made the 40-year period before the American Revolution unique was that access to goods appears to have opened up for larger segments of the colonial population through a more sophisticated and far-reaching system of distribution for imported items. How equal was this access? How democratic was this consumer revolution? Through a material culture approach that triangulates between three vital sources - George Washington’’s orders for goods through the consignment system, inventories from...

  • Turning Inwards: Collections-Driven Research and the Vitality of the Discipline (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Warner.

    Popular perceptions of archaeology is that the money and the recognition goes to field work, and lip service is paid to the collections that result. This paper explores the potential ramifications for historical archaeology by not confronting the unique circumstances of managing and working with historical collections. Collections-driven research is a crucial part of establishing a ethically-defensible position regarding collections management. Put simply turning inwards to explore the vast...