June 07, 2008


live blogging the UCLA/Getty Storage Symposium (part 5)

We caught a little bit of fresh air outside and we're back with Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati (Cal State Univ. Los Angeles) who talks about the 10,000+ artifacts and samples from the Tell Mozan (ancient Urkesh) excavation project in NE Syria. The project has lasted over 20 years now. They found a palace and more. The Syrian policy requires on-site storage of the archaeological materials... which by now is becoming really hard due to the quantity. The Syrian authorities recently requested the new finds to be sent to the museum in Deir el-Zor, awaiting the new provincial museum in Hassake being finished. They vacuum pack metal objects. They have a comprehensive html system cataloging and documenting all artifacts and features. They have set up an on-site ceramics library both displayed chronologically and stratigraphically. Last building they added is a metal-sheet and musbrick one to store the bulk of the finds (non-museum objects). They hope the new museum in Hassake will take them eventually.

Next, Molly Gleeson and Chris De Brer (UCLA/Getty) present a paper about Storage, Handling and access to Human Mummy Bundles, Tarapacá Valley Archaeological Project, Chile. How are human remains processed? They need to be available for research and possibly exhibition after first having been stabilized through minimal treatment and safely, securely stored. A local community center and school house them now, buildings that have withstood recent earthquakes. The environment inside the store rooms is being monitored and so far has stayed within reasonable boundaries (no actual equipment is available to ensure stability).

The final paper in this session was given by Vanessa Muros and Allison Lewis (UCLA/Getty), this time about the portable finds from the Lofkënd Archaeological Project in Albania. A multiple-burial tumulus from the Early Iron Age is being excavated. Some finds are dug out as a larger block of soil which is then excavated off-site. The dig house is in a former monastery in nearby Apollonia. The storage space is itself also being excavated by a French team and lacks environmental controls... Humidity fluctuates extremely. The roof leaks. Rodents are also a problem. Therefore, the care taken in the packing and storage of finds is very important. For instance, metal finds are placed in a polyethylene bag with silica gel. Some had to be stabilized first. After testing, it was obvious that humidity still remained a problem for the metal finds. Double-bagging is the latest approach. All labeling and conservation of the finds is checked regularly and problems corrected, e.g., adding an inside label to the one written on the polyethylene bags when observing that the outside, written labels became illegible at times. They are now trying to obtain a more appropriate storage space and are planning earthquake-preparedness measures. I asked about the security measures protecting the excavation site as there is quite some looting of sites attested in Albania. They said there's a guard and they haven't had any problems so far. Also, the monastery is well guarded. During the discussion time, a colleague advised that polyethylene does not keep out humidity and also allows inside condensation if you have large temperature swings. Ms. Muros said that expense is a major reason for using those type of bags. Other colleagues weighed in on this problem. I'll spare you the technical details but bags are definitely a concern.


Live blogging the UCLA/Getty Storage Symposium (part 4)

I had lunch with colleagues at the Student Union: fun. Now we start the 2nd section, introduced by Ellen Pearlstein (UCLA/Getty): "Case Studies of Successful On-Site Storage."

The 1st speaker is Hiroko Kariya (Oriental Institute of the U. of Chicago): Block Yard Storage and Survey of Colonnade Fragments, Luxor Temple[, Egypt]. The Chicago House, the local branch of the Oriental institute, proposed a new facility but this was not approved by the Egyptian authorities. Instead they built small-scale, emergency protection structures of wood and sail to protect the sundry blocks. Exposure to the elements was causing deterioration of the relief and painted decoration of the artifacts. Eventually, a new proposal consisting of stone-built, sturdy shelfs covered by sail was approved. Instead of the 1,000s of blocks originally protected, now 10,000s are safe. A condition database documenting the change through time for individual fragments and blocks has now been set up with lots of detail. Together with a treatment database this allows much improved management of the Block Yard. They also are working on improved access to the material, e.g., by reconstructing some walls and displaying some fragments in situ. The oldest fragments are from the 20th cent. BC but the bulk is dated to the 14th-13th cent. BC (Amenhotep III and Ramses II). The open-air museum will open in 2010.

Amandina Anastassiades represents a team from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens: On-Site Storage of Metal Artifacts at the Athenian Agora. In the reconstructed (in the 1950s) Stoa of Attalos, there was permanent storage space which was however not climate controlled. Metal artifacts esp. were not totally dry and have turned out to show corrosion problems up to the point of totally falling apart. In the 1980s, the most vulnerable metal artifacts were repackaged. Now, they are moving them into appropriate, modern containers. They did on-site tests on the relative humidity and temperature, which was then used as guidance for the new storage: tightly-sealed plastic containers with silica gel that are eventually stored in a metals room under precise environmental control. Long-term storage of uncataloged metal finds is done with Marvelseal 360® and Tyvek® packaging and lining. Key to the improved handling and storing of metal artifacts is collaboration between field archaeologists and conservators. Interesting detail: the excavators perform a triage in that undiagnostic and mundane artifacts (esp. ceramic) are reburied after having been counted.


Live blogging the UCLA/Getty Storage Symposium (part 3)

Ran Boytner represents the people of the UCLA/Univ. of Chile Tarapacá Valley Project. He goes into the history of the linkage of archaeology and politics, starting with Thomas Jefferson, the first archaeologist in the US (also occupied the less important job of US president). The Mapuche were one of the few indigenous groups that was able to resist the Spanish occupation and are iconic in Chile. The War of the Pacific (late 19th century) gained Chile a part of Bolivia on the northern coast. "Chilenization" of the local people in this new territory has not been very successful. The Pinochet coup, likely supported by the US, changed the situation again: the remaning opposition was Communist inspired. Anthropologists allied with them, promoting indigenous rights and reclaiming their history (social archaeology). His project now is in the Atacama Desert, in the one valley that can support human population. The high point of the area was in the 1st mill. AD, later it was included in the Inca empire and then conquered by the Spaniards. Nowadays it is almost deserted. They wanted to have a local museum to store the artifacts, local indigenous people were OK with it, but the centralized archaeological authorities in Santiago didn't allow it. They had political problems with it, saw it as a "recolonization by the Americans." They are now the only foreign-led project in Chile (except for the Easter Island one which is rather unique).

By the way, yesterday we went to the Getty Villa in Malibu and were given a tour of the excellent, new facilities of the UCLA/Getty Archaeological and Ethnological Conservation Program. Then we were treated to a reception in the scenic courtyard in front of the facility. I talked to many interesting colleagues and learned a lot.


Live blogging the UCLA/Getty Storage Symposium (part 2)

I forgot to mention the time of the symposium: June 6-8, 2008, at UCLA Fowler Museum.

The next talk is by Sherry Fox on the Wiener Laboratory of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The current facility is deficient: lack of space, insect isssues, etc. However, money is now available for a new facility to be built soon. They hold comparative collections as well as excavation materials from all over Greece.

Dr. Sonia Guillén (Centro Mallqui, Peru) is talking about her center in Ilo on the south coast. The situation is dire in the region: looting has been and still is rampant. Also, there is urban expansion pressure and problems with getting public support. Perfect conditions for preservation (dry!) are a boon for the many mummies found. Before she arrived there, the old storage facility was totally lacking, no climate control, mummy bundles just stacked. Now a new facility has been built with modern amenities and personnel. They are now preserving and studying the mummies and getting a lot of new information. For instance, in some cases embalming was used. A large quantity of herding dog burials have been found, the same breed as today. They perform rescue excavations due to construction, etc. as well as salvage digs at sites that have been looted. They involve local Aymara women for the textiles. New digs find for example also packaged bundles of human bones. From the inital focus on mummies, they have expanded into more and more biological analyses, e.g., parasites in mummies. In 1979, rumors of mummies found in the cloud forest of Peru: unexpected. The burials at Laguna de los Cóndores were looted and trashed. Still they found mummies: only ones so far from the Inca period. The mummies were "mummified" (treated) here as it is a wet, different climate. The new museum in Leymebamba for these new mummies is attracting tourists and is supported well by the local community. The local people are very interested in their history, feel connected. The Laguna de los Condores mummies are from the Chachapoya (ca. AD 800-1470), Chachapoya-Inca (ca. 1470-1532) and early Colonial (ca. 1532-1570) times.


And now for something "completely" different...

Day 2 of my Aerobic Workout Camp (UCLA campus sure is hilly!) a.k.a. the UCLA/Getty Storage Symposium. Preservation and Access to Archaeological Materials
has started. I am attending in name of the Alexandria Archive Institute and will record my impressions here. Also, I will come back to yesterday’s activity later.

Unfortunately, I missed the welcoming remarks by Charles Stanish (UCLA) and David Scott (UCLA/Getty).

Ernestine Elster (UCLA) recounts the changes that have taken place in the practice of archaeology since she started her career in the 1970s. She mentions that most WPA projects from the 1930s-1940s in the US were never published. She points out that for instance the NSF doesn’t have a publishing requirement for archeological excavations it sponsors. She advocates a stringent requirement for all funding agencies/authorities to no longer give out new grants/permits to people who haven’t yet finished publishing their previous project(s). Abandoned projects are a scourge, I would add. She basically says that irresponsible archaeologists—we all know who you are...—should be “blackballed” in general, also by fellow archaeologists. She compliments the courageous colleagues who have taken on the arduous task of publishing “ancient” projects. A member of the audience brought up the preliminary vs. final report issue as well as restrictions in for instance Central America where a report in Spanish has to be submitted after every yearly campaign and the project cannot be reported by the foreign archaeologists on their own in a foreign publication. Friction is typical. The required local co-director has a lot of control and may prevent publication abroad. Typically, projects are reported in the local publication system.

Next, Ioanna Kakoulli (UCLA) introduces the Negotiating Safe Storage sesson.

The people from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory – Study Center for East Crete (INSTAP-SCEC), represented by Eleanor Huffman, talked about their work in setting up a centralized repository with laboratories and comparative collections in East Crete. They conserve, photograph, illustrate and store the complete find collections from the American and Greek-American excavations and surveys. They also provide a GPS team and have a library. They concern not only with the physical storage of the artifacts but also with the metadata connected to the named artifacts. 85% of the capacity is taken up by ceramic materials. They’re already running out of space... They make due for now with storage containers for the not heat-sensitive materials. Care is taken to repackage the artifacts and organic/petrographic samples in standardized, durable and appropriate boxes and crates that are easy to store, replacing the odd assortment of temporary containers from the field. The facility also provides climate controlled conditions. They even have been able to re-complete some excavation assemblages by getting materials from local museums where they were deposited. These museums may not have adequate facilities or capacity to store them. The institute is struggling with the increasing amount of digital metadata. They already have 1 terabyte and the pace is accelerating. the catalogue is organized by excavation, no artefact types for instance recorded. That means that they can’t just pull up all figurines for instance. Each excavation uses its own choice of software which doesn’t facilitate things...

Update: I corrected the symposium title, fixed some links, corrected a typo and added the 2nd paragraph.

Update 2: I corrected a few more typos—obviously, I was still rusty at this live blogging thing that morning ;-)