A Year in The Repository

By Jorge Barceló, ASM Archaeological Repository and School of Anthropology BARA Intern
Spring 2023

Hello, I am Jorge Barceló a senior graduating in Spring 2023 majoring in Anthropology with a Mexican American studies minor. After learning the field practices of archaeology during my Summer 2022 field school session with the University of Arizona and Archaeology Southwest I enrolled in the Bureau of Research Anthropology’s (BARA) internship for Fall 2022 and Spring 2023. Dr. Diane Austin came to visit us at the field camp in Cliff, New Mexico where she talked about BARA and gave some background to the program. I contacted her the following semester for an internship opportunity relating to archaeology.  That led me to being assigned with the Arizona State Museum (ASM) Archaeological Repository under Dr. Kathryn MacFarland to help with inventorying and cataloging the Silver Creek Archaeological Research Project (SCARP) field school collection. The reason for this collaborative internship is to teach my team, Samantha Wingate, Olivia Yaffe, Stella Douglass, Emily Hale, and I, led by Rebecca Harkness and Dr. MacFarland about preparing collections for in-perpetuity housing and curation. SCARP was a field school that worked on 9 sites, of which Bailey Ruin was one and had over 100 boxes. The sites were inhabited by Ancestral Puebloan people from AD 500 – 1400 and feature valuable information on the Mogollon Rim and the people who resided there. Dr. Barbara Mills, director of the SCARP field school from 1993 to 2004, partnered with BARA and ASM to provide this internship opportunity to rehouse the field school collections, prepare them to the ASM Repository standard, and help digitize data associated with the artifacts for inclusion into cyberSW showcasing the variety of archaeological work done.

Archaeology work starts in the field where sites are identified and excavated then moves to the lab where artifacts are initially analyzed and lastly to museums for curation and housing.  While I favor field work, it is important to understand the relationship between the work done in the field and how that is translated in the management of the collection of recovered artifacts.  Interning at ASM showed me what happens to artifacts after they are excavated, bagged, and boxed. First, we started by moving the bulk of the collection from the Southwest Lab down to their new home in the ASM Repository. Next, we began to organize the bulk into the database by sorting through each box, cross checking the contents with their inventory lists. Then, we entered provenience information from the individual bags into the database software. This process was repeated with every bag in each of the bulk boxes until they had all been entered into the database. After this the artifacts selected for catalog undergo another process of detailed photography, along with entering more information into the database like condition and physical measurements. This is the last step before the collection can be forever housed and shown to curious people and researchers.

Although there was, at times confusion related to learning the whole process of working with the bulk of the collection. The process of being persistent to connect information written on the bags containing artifacts, cross-checking this information with the original excavation paperwork, and then entering the contents into the database was my favorite part of the whole process because we got to see and learn about all the different material classes. I especially enjoyed finding a box that had only projectile points in them and getting to go through each one looking for specimens that fit the criteria for being in the catalog. This would mean that, in general, catalog artifacts are temporally diagnostic, have been reconstructed, are unique to the project, or culturally relevant in an important way. It is safe to say we all found at least one artifact in the collection that fit these criteria and would talk about them amongst ourselves. Each box had different contents and it was exciting to find out what artifacts could be within the boxes. The discovery aspect of inventorying and documenting the artifacts in the boxes was like digging in the field where you did not know what would be uncovered. The database part was like the lab work and report writing in the field because it went over the individual bags of artifacts where I could see them up close and learn about how they were found as I inputted their provenience as recorded by the student archaeologists. Every day’s box checks involved the same work but it would also be different as a new problem arose or the artifacts themselves were of a different class than the previous box. There were many challenges in this step of the process, but it was a great opportunity to get to see the whole collection not just what was to be cataloged. 

As my time as an intern at ASM nears its end and my future as an archaeologist begins, I will take this valuable experience with me into the field to make it easier on the museum folks on top of being able to do field work more effectively as I will know what information is required when archiving collections. I would like to thank Dr. MacFarland and Rebecca Harkness as well as the rest of the Repository staff for having to deal with us interns and our endless repetitive questions while making it a fun and enjoyable experience. A special thanks to Dr. Mills and Dr. Austin as well for considering me for the BARA internship in the first place which allowed me to be at ASM.