Post by John Esh, PSU undergraduate and Archaeology Lab Intern
This quarter I’ve spent a good amount of time Dr. Anderson’s lab sifting through, cleaning, sorting, and labeling artifacts from her work in Alaska at the Port Clarence Project. While some may think the work tedious, I find even the smallest of discoveries exciting. After sorting through seal vertebrae after seal vertebrae, finding a two-inch sliver of worked ivory or a fibula with cut marks on it, buried among the cast off detritus of the natives’ cultural processes, to make the time all worth it.
What I find most fascinating though are the layers of cultures found at the various sites. When I pulled out an odd looking formation of a material that I couldn’t identify for the life of me, I was perplexed, but upon showing it to my professor, I found that I was holding the tooth of a mammoth that predated the culture from which most of the artifacts we were examining came from. My eyes went wide and I tenderly set down the massive tooth that was as large as my fist and began to gently clean it using a soft brush and, funnily enough, a dental pick.
In juxtaposition to this, I spied in the cabinet a plastic bag containing what appeared to be four aluminum cans. Getting a closer look at them, they were soft drink and beer cans from approximately 1980. Having grown up in during this era, the slogans “Give Me A Dew!” and “Catch That Pepsi Spirit!” instantly brought a smile to my face. I hastily took the bag and just as gingerly as I had wiped away the years of dirt from the mammoth’s tooth, I cleaned, tagged, and arranged these representatives of the last days of the Cold War.
In short, one never knows what one will find while searching for the answers to the questions being asked about those who lived before us. While neither the tooth nor the cans relate to the immediate queries surrounding the site, they are still fascinating looks and fun diversions into the past, be they from 30 years or 10,000 years ago.