Week 7: Field Lab

We spent last weekend (end of Week 7) at the beautiful Ranguana Cabanas on the beach in Placencia. Shawn has been talking about this hotel for years and I am so glad that I finally got to stay there! The water and weather were absolutely beautiful. We did a lot of reading for pleasure and drinking coffee while gazing at the ocean. Matt and I even got to try Shawn’s mom’s comfort food called “Macaroni Swirl,” which involves LOTS of cheese. It seems whenever SCRAP has access to a kitchen we are sure to make at least one decadent, cheese-filled dish and this weekend was no exception. It was the relaxing and food-filled weekend we all needed before the start of our eighth week of field and lab work.

Most of our blogs have focused on different aspects of fieldwork at Alabama but the laboratory is just as vital to archaeological research. Our week 7 blog post discusses the wonderful world of the field lab. I am the lab director which is kind of like a cruise director except that I am less concerned about making you do the hokey pokey in front of your whole family and more interested in ensuring that the artifacts are washed, catalogued, and organized for storage and future analysis. Okay, so I am nothing like a cruise director but I do encourage organized fun.

We are lucky to have a wonderful field laboratory at Nu’uk Che’il in Maya Centre where we also stay and eat the majority of our meals. The lab is spacious and provides a screened-in area (with electricity and fans!) to do much of our analytical work. When the field crew gets in each day around 4pm all of the incoming artifacts are placed into these labeled bins. Everyone joins in to make sure that the artifacts are washed and then they are placed on a screen to dry. The washing process can be tedious but it is a good time for everyone to discuss their day and the different artifacts coming out of the excavation units. One of the benefits of being on a smaller archaeological project is that we all get to see the artifacts every day and discuss them with each other.

The drying process can take anywhere from one day to multiple days depending on how much it has rained. All of the artifacts are counted and weighed before being stored in plastic bags. Each artifact class (e.g. ceramic, lithic, groundstone) is bagged and catalogued separately. These records are an account of every artifact that was recovered during excavations and form the basis of future analytical work. We give these data to the Belize Institute of Archaeology (IA) at the end of each field season as part of our responsibilities for being granted permission to conduct archaeological research in Belize. We also provide the IA with copies of excavations notes, forms, and pictures at the end of each season.

In addition to my role as the Lab Director for SCRAP, I am also a ceramic analyst. We are just starting to familiarize ourselves with the pottery recovered from Alabama so I will wait until later to write more specifically about the pottery. Stay tuned for a blog called “Pottery: The Best Artifact in the World” or “Know Your Sand, Know Your World” once we have a better handle on the data. Artifact analysis generally takes place over many years, involves different project members with diverse specialties, and sometimes requires exporting materials out of Belize for additional analyses. For example, carbon is exported to acquire dates, obsidian for pXRF analysis to determine provenance, and pottery for thin section petrography to determine provenance and information on how the pottery was made. In order to export archaeological materials, we must get approval and official paperwork from the IA and return the materials to Belize once the analysis is completed (typically within one year). A lot of our analytical work, however, can be done in the lab in Maya Centre. The rest of the crew will join me the last week of the field season to do additional artifact analysis, take photographs, and draw some of the more interesting artifacts (e.g. chert bifaces and figurine fragments) to include in our annual report. We are spending Week 8 conducting fieldwork and lab work and then head to Hopkins for another relaxing beach weekend. One of the many perks of working in the Stann Creek District!

Until next time,

Dr. Jill Jordan