The Human Element

Post by Chris Milton, PSU undergraduate and Lab Tech for the Climate Change and Archaeology Project

Entering the doors to room 93, in the basement of Cramer Hall at PSU, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My experience with archaeology had always been in the field, of which most of that was underwater, never in a lab. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was qualified for this? Even if the job that Dr. Anderson had described seem perfectly suitable for my skill level.

pottery1

However unsure I was the first day I worked in the lab, those feelings have long since subsided. Throughout the term, I have put in many hours sorting and cleaning various archaeological materials from Dr. Anderson’s fieldwork in 2012, yet, as I sorted, one particular material type interested me more than the others. For a while I was unable to determine what it was. Is it burnt bone?  Maybe shell? Or just some dried mud? I knew it was very similar material due to its small flat shape and rough texture; therefore, I set it aside to ask further details about the pieces.

After a short inquiry with Dr. Anderson, I found out that what I was looking at was small flakes of pottery. My only previous experience with pottery was in Spain with Roman amphorae from approximately 2000 years BP. I found out that unlike in European where pottery is fired in high heat kilns, pottery in Alaska was fired in low heat fire hearths. The low heat, while important for saving valuable resources like wood, made the pottery much more brittle and prone to flaking. After looking at larger pieces, I could see how these pieces would be prone to flaking but also how incredible Alaskan pottery is. The large fragment in the picture above is a good example of the human element of these pieces. You can still see the figure marks of the people that made the ceramic objects. It is incredible that large pieces such as these have lasted so long, preserved in the ground, and are now being used by archaeologist to create a more in-depth knowledge of the archaeological record.

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