Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Flooding in Southeast Asia-Part II

This is a follow up to an earlier post on the recent flooding in Southeast Asia. The flooding inundated several World Heritage Sites including Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, Watmahathat and Wat Chaiwattanaram. Specialists with the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization assessed these sites for deterioration last week.

Salt stains. Image by The Nation.
The assessment revealed that algae in the bricks, fungi in the murals and general salt staining are the most significant conservation concerns at this time. Now that these concerns have been identified, additional assessments by experts and research can take place to determine the most appropriate conservation plan.

The UNESCO specialists also recommended restructuring canals and creating overflow ponds to prevent extensive damage to these sites in the future. It seems that a few of the existing canals were blocked. Goes to show the importance of checking the emergency plan and environmental safety on a regular basis (and of course creating an emergency preparedness plan, if there is not an existing one in place).


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Presenting Native American Heritage Month and Thanksgiving

November is Native American Heritage Month and November 24 is Thanksgiving. I wanted to take a look at how archaeological artifacts are being used to celebrate Native American Heritage and Thanksgiving. The following are some of the events, exhibits, and activities that I found. Enjoy! And Happy Turkey Day!

A few museums have come up with their own traditions. For example Garvies Point Museum & Preserve has hands-on activities and dish up their well-known popcorn soup in their annual Thanksgiving Native American Feast. Some of the activities include displaying and using Native American tools, and also face painting with natural pigments. 

Other museums and collections have taken the opportunity to pull out rarely seen artifacts and display them. DeSoto Arts Council displayed a ceremonial cat serpent vessel on November 12, 2011. University of Arkansas put together a display of Native American artifacts and photographs to honor Native American heritage.

National Park Services compiled Featured Historic Properties for American Indian Heritage Month. These sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which is frequently dominated by historic buildings. I find this American Indian Heritage list to be a refreshing view of prehistoric  buildings and monuments.


A news article by Gary Daniels in the Examiner (Savannah, GA) also listed Native American sites in Georgia in recognition of Native American Heritage Month. One of these sites is Eagle Rock, a ceremonial location. It's a good month to celebrate birds, check it out if you're in the area :)

This large rock mound in the shape of a bird, known as Rock Eagle, marks the grave of an important Native American chief and is just one of many important Native American sites in Georgia you can visit.
Photo by Gary C. Daniel, 2006.
Of course, Native Americans are also presenting and sharing their own heritage this month. The Cherokee Nation has offered free admission to all Cherokee Museums in honor of Native American Heritage Month. The Siletz Indians have a Restoration Celebration including a Restoration Pow-Wow in November. These events celebrate their regained federal recognition status which occurred in November 1977 and the Siletz Indians celebrate their own heritage, as well as all Native Americans' heritage in November. The American Indian Heritage Month Social Pow-Wow takes place annually on Thanksgiving weekend.

Native Americans are  also reclaiming Thanksgiving. Not as the idealized friendship between Pilgrims and Indians, and not as a Day or Mourning, but as a harvest feast filled with traditional Native American foods. The National Museum of the American Indian provides some interesting information on American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving.

I expected more exhibits specifically related to Thanksgiving or Native American Heritage Month. But the majority of museums that have large collections of Native American artifacts (historical or archaeological), have these artifacts on display year round-it is a main part of the interpretation of the museum or historic sites. Activities and events, like those mentioned above, are much more common.

I only found a couple of exhibits specifically related to Thanksgiving. The Pilgrim Hall Museum: America's museum of Pilgrim posessions takes a special interest in Thanksgiving and numerous historical artifacts have been collected and curated related to the holiday. And the Children's Museum of Manhattan developed an exhibit on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, including original models used for construction of iconic balloons. Including Snoopy, a personal favorite :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flooding in Southeast Asia

Throughout August, September and October, heavy rains have pounded Southeast Asia. The resulting floods covered two-thirds of Thailand and over 100 temples were inundated (news link). This includes several World Heritage sites that are now underwater sites.

October 7, 2011

I was going to wait a couple of weeks for the water to go down and and then post about the problems of conserving these sites, but it has become apparent that water levels are rising and flooding continues.  It has been two and a half weeks and now I just want to raise awareness of what's happening to these people as their homes and their land are still being flooded. Today, people are fleeing Bangkok as the flood barriers are no longer holding (news link). The Thai people are used to flooding but this year is the worst in 50 years and conditions may continue to deteriorate as water creeps up the land.

October 25, 2011

People are making boats out of anything that floats. People are swimming. Some aren't making it. There have been over 800 deaths since July and many of these were kids (news link). This slow flooding isn't receiving the same attention as other natural disasters, although the numbers of causalities is comparable. Thailand has refused offers of assistance and seem to want to handle the flooding autonomously (news link).

The business world has many concerns about production and the economic affects of the flooding, some are even offering assistance to various enterprises. Meanwhile, local government officials offer assurance that the airports will continue to operate, just as they promised that the flood barriers would protect Bangkok. It may take weeks for the water to recede and months to recover from the flooding.

To end on a lighthearted note, at least the dogs are safe :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anthropology during Economic Depressions

I probably shouldn't take it personally, but I just recently moved from North Carolina to Florida to be closer to family while finishing up thesis. I am hoping to find a job. And I'm an archaeologist. I've felt very welcomed by local anthropological societies and historic preservation societies, although none of the local archaeology companies or state historic sites are currently hiring (in part due to recent budget cuts). And then Governor Scott came out with his statement about not funding social sciences like anthropology because he doesn't think there are any jobs for Anthropologists (click here for original news article). It felt like a slap in the face. I know he wasn't talking about me personally but having just recently moved here and looking for a job, I was a little hurt. How could I not be after statements such as “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” Ouch (for more hurtful comments, click here).

To me, one thing keeps coming to mind: the contrast between Scott's response in this economic recession and Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression. The study of culture (anthropology) was an important part of numerous New Deal programs. Ethnographers and anthropologists scoured the country to record the voices of passing generations as a part of Federal Project Number One. Hundreds of people born into slavery were given a voice, and their words, their thoughts, their feelings can be heard today as a result of anthropologists  Some of the most evocative photographs I've ever seen were taken by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor in 1935 as a part of the Farm Security Administration and the California State Emergency Relief Administration. The cultural projects of the 1930s illustrate the many professionals that add to the cultural and historical records and the many disciplines the compliment anthropology.

Applied anthropology has its roots in the Indian Reorganization act of 1934. Salvage archaeology also has it's roots in these New Deal projects, particularly in the building of new highways and new dams. Just an FYI-Governor Scott, new economic growth stimulates construction which requires archaeologists, assuming you are successful at stimulating Florida's economy, there will be a need for archaeologists in a few years, although you probably won't be around to deal with those problems.

Salvage archeology being conducted 1930s during dam construction. (NPS)
The Federal Writer's Project, the Historical Records Survey, Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps, provided employment and were major stepping stones to preserving our cultural heritage. I don't see how limiting funding to anthropology in any way helps our economic situation. And I'm not the only one, Edward Tenner, geologist turned historian, wrote an article in response to Governor's Scott's words that compares employment in STEM fields and the anthropology field.

Nor did the governor's comments pass idly by the Anthropological community. There were a number of really  great responses (much better than my simple musings) from universities, professional organizations, and the private sector. The American Anthropological Association immediately wrote Governor Rick a letter, noting that his view of anthropology is short-sighted. The Society for American Archaeology also sent Governor Scott a letter, which included Bureau of Labor Statistics and a call for politicians to "base their decisions on factual information." Charlotte Noble, a student at the University of South Florida, put together a presentation, This is Anthropology, which captures the diversity of careers available to anthropologists.

To see what archaeologists are doing today, check out my post on the "Day of Archaeology" project.

More information on New Deal Anthropology and Archaeology:

The difficulty of compliance archaeology, written by Pennsylvania SHPO Archaeologist, Joe Baker.

The Great Depression and Archaeology in Somerset County, PA, written by Bernard K. Means.

The effect of the New Deal on Museums, written by Samuel Redman

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cracker Country-Living History Museum

For free museum day we went to Cracker Country, a living history museum in Tampa. Florida. I chose this site mainly for the various activities available for children. My son had a blast with some of the old toys and games. It reminded me a lot of the summer I volunteered at Old Bethpage Village Restoration and taught similar games to the visitors.

Cracker Country is next to the state fairgrounds and the fair seems to be the main event of the year for this historic site. For special events and during the fair, all buildings are open and there are numerous men and women in historically styled clothing. These are all volunteers and very few attempt to do first person interpretation, which is appropriate considering the difficulty of keeping in character. In addition it meant that I could ask all kinds of questions! :)

I spoke with one of the few full time employees. This man handles all of the historic building repairs and also owns the cracker horse and quarter horse that are mainstays in the historic interpretation of the cracker lifestyle. He had recently rebuilt the corn crib from the ground up based on his memory of the old one. This was rather a large undertaking and usually his projects consist of re-shingling roofs and replacing boards as needed. He occasionally uses reclaimed wood, but more frequently uses bought wood that he lets age prior to use. He uses historic tools and modern power tools. All in all, it seemed that Cracker Country takes the most practical approach towards the building and maintenance, if it needs fixing, it gets fixed up! 

I was also impressed by the handicap ramps on every building. They were seamless with the buildings, unlike so many ramps that stick out like a sore thumb. I also asked about the preservation conditions of the artifacts stored in the houses. In many cases they are displayed till it is no longer practical and then another item is found to replace it, there were also a lot of reproductions used by the interpreters (and visitors) for the actual hands-on activities. Corn cob checkers, ball and hoop games, I got to admit it was a lot of fun!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day-September 24, 2011

Smithsonian Magizine is sponsoring a free museum pass for visitor and one guest!

The Museum Day Ticket provides FREE ADMISSION to one person, plus a guest
Smithsonian Institution building
In the spirit of Smithsonian Museums, who offer free admission everyday, Museum Day is an annual event hosted by Smithsonian magazine in which participating museums across the country open their doors to anyone presenting a Museum Day Ticket...for free.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Logboat Conservation

In 2009, I had the opportunity to assist Sarah Watkins-Kenney and Lauren McMillan with taking samples from logboats at Pettigrew State Park. These boats had undergone sucrose conservation treatments in the 1980s and will need to be retreated because of the increasing deterioration of both sucrose and boats. The logboats were on display in a small shed near the lake which offered some protection from pollutants and weather conditions. The lack of temperature controls within this building led to an increased rate of sucrose deterioration.

The logboats are now awaiting conservation in an environmentally controlled building and their old shack has been demolished. These two canoes were one of a total of thirty canoes found in Lake Phelps. These were discovered in 1985 and twenty three were recorded in the late 80s.

Logboat from Lake Phelps at Pettigrew State Park. Photo by Lauren McMillan.
The Maritime Studies Conservation Lab at East Carolina University is currently conserving a log boat from Georgia. Nicole Wittig and Susanne Grieve, who are overseeing the conservation of the logboat sent me the following update and picture:

Discovered in a mid-river bar, this portion of a prehistoric dugout canoe was hewn from a single log. Currently the dugout is undergoing PEG treatment and will remain in solution for several more months before the drying process begins. In the weeks to come, samples from the canoe will be placed under scanning electron microscope (SEM) to determine effectiveness of PEG impregnation.

Emily Powell and Susanne Grieve in the PEG tank, mechanically cleaning the logboat. Photo by MSCL.

This last weekend, I visited Weedon Island Preserve and learned about their long logboat.  The Weedon Island Logboat is 39'11" but may have originally been even longer. In March, the canoe was excavated and is currently undergoing the initial stages of conservation. Phyllis Kolianos and Dr. Robert Austin are overseeing this project and discusses both conservation and curation (including environmental controls and exhibit design) during news interviews.

The dugout is soaking in a PEG1450 solution. Unfortunately, algae is growing like crazy which is a very common problem with waterlogged wood conservation. The algae problem continues and a number of solutions have been attempted. I had the chance to go and take a look at this dugout and seeing it first hand helped illustrated the significance of the problem. Luckily, both Phyllis Kolianos and Dr. Robert Austin are dedicating a lot of time and research to this project, to make sure that the dugout receives the best treatment possible.

Other prehistoric canoes of the Southeast-
Chattooga Canoe, SC
Cooper River Canoe, SC
Newnan's Lake Canoes, FL
Lake Munson Canoe, FL

For two decades, maritime and nautical archaeologists have focused on shipwrecks, for the most part sea-going vessels. In the United States, there has been very little focus on prehistoric boats or vessels, but I think this is starting to change. Two of these sites, Lake Phelps and Newnan's Lake had dozens of prehistoric canoes spanning thousands of years of habitation. Where else will you find a cluster of boats that offer such a diacronic view of maritime culture? There have also been an increasing number of fish weirs recorded in archaeological ecavations (Elliott 2003; Phelps 1989). I hope that the interest in prehistoric maritime archaeology continues to grow.

Native American Fish Weir. Photo by Joe Cook, http://garivernetwork.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/deserving-design-does-paddle-georgia/

Phelps, David S. 1989. Ancient Pots and Dugout Canoes: Indian Life as Revealed by Archaeology at Lake Phelps.

Elliott, Rita Folse. 2003. Georgia's Inland Waters.

*Additional information added September 19, 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day of Archaeology 2011

A blog has been compiled to illustrate "a day in the life of 400 archaeologists". Four hundred archaeologists contributed blog posts about their day on July 29, 2011. I think this is a fabulous idea. Not only is it a great way to reach out to the general public, it also assists college students with determining what specific field of archaeology they would like to go into. Furthermore, it is wonderful for those of us working or studying in the field to gain a scope of worldwide archaeology. Feel the force of archaeology moving in the world, recording and excavating the remains of ancient cultures (play bad theme music). But seriously, browsing through the posts was fascinating.

Here are a few of my favorites (related to conservation and curation, of course)-

Tattooing Artifacts at the Bishop Museum. I love the Bishop Museum and have spent quite a few hours in the front of the house, researching in the archives and working in the laboratories in the back of the house while I was a student at UH Manoa. I had to include this awesome post about the variety of tools used in traditional Polynesian tattooing.

Curation at Verulamium. This post is by a curator who has been working on collecting oral history interviews of archaeologists who excavated Verulamium (St. Albans, UK). Having just completed an oral history interview with the donor of the collection I was curating, I found this post spoke to what I was doing in my life. In addition, part of the day was spent photographing artifacts, a sometimes frustrating, mundane, but important task.

Easing Artifact Backlog at the Lost City Museum. This post deals with one of the most concerning aspects of archaeology (especially to anyone in the conservation or preservation fields)-what happens to all of the artifacts that are excavated? How can they be preserved and used for further research? This post deals entirely with this problem.

"Managing the Monster", UCL Institute of Archaeology Collections. This post really nails it. This is exactly what your day is like when you "wear many hats" in a museum or a collections facility. And it really illustrates the interfacing with researchers. That takes a significant amount of time and a lot of unpacking, repacking and keeping it all organized. Am I crazy that this is exactly what I want to do with my life? Maybe, but with my insane organizational skills, it seems like a perfect fit . . .

Excavating Artifacts . . . Again. Artifacts in storage are often subject to site formation processes and deposition of additional artifacts and paperwork can sometimes lead to reburials. Post deposition processes can frequently occur when humans rummage for neighboring artifacts. Basically, sometimes you spend a lot of time looking for lost artifacts. This post also discusses the accessioning process.

Cleaning Buttons. One of my favorite conservation labs was the copper mechanical cleaning and chemical cleaning lab. Part of the reason that this was my favorite was because of the writing and decorations that showed up on the copper buttons we were cleaning. Had to include this post!

Olaf the Viking Ghost. Lol!!

Kelsey Museum Conservation. This post includes skeletal material conservation! This is a jawbone with painting on it, differing from recovered remains in that this was an artifact, altered and used by humans.

British Museum Conservation. And Curation.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

UNESCO Collections Storage

Ran across a UNESCO survey and it reminded me that I wanted to post a link to one of their documents that was informative while making me laugh. It is titled Handling of Collections in Storage and it is a great little document. The illustrations are very basic and look like cartoons. I'm not sure if this is because they were going for a very basic approach (an x over what not to do, illustrations of museum staff thinking-complete with thought bubbles) or if it was because they've had problems with more complicated illustrations/documents. Regardless, the illustrations and the bullet points are informative about handling artifact collections.

© UNESCO, 2010. Cultural Heritage Protection Handbook N°5. Handling of Collections in Storage, UNESCO, Paris.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Conservation at the Country Doctor Museum

I had the opportunity to work at the Country Doctor Museum as a Graduate Assistant from May 2010 through December 2010. It is a beautiful site, with two historic buildings and two auxiliary buildings. One of these buildings is a storage building for some wonderfully weird artifacts and some unopened treasures. This is where I spent the majority of my time sorting, stabilizing and storing artifacts in archival material as well as conserving artifacts.

Some of the artifacts I treated include a broken apothecary jar lid, an otoscope, an anatomical human skull (educational), and a doctor's case. In addition, several artifacts required cleaning and adhesive removal. It was great to put into practice what I had learned in my conservation classes from my professor, Susanne Grieve. It was also great to have some flexibility for trial and error-as a graduate assistant, this position was designed to give me some hands-on experience. 

Some artifacts were easily recognized while others are relics of a bygone medical era. Some of these antiquated medicines include arsenic, mercury, phenol, boric acid, belladonna and quite a few unknown patent medicines. While I wouldn't say that dealing with these poisons was a great experience, it was interesting to learn about environmental safety and to assist with recording and removing these hazardous materials.

Before and after images-

In addition to my conservation duties, I assisted the Curatorial Director, Jennie Schindler Graham, and the Curator, Anne Anderson, with a variety of tasks. As is often the case with small museums, these tasks covered a wide range of activities from building maintenance to public education. However, there are a number of projects that stand out in my mind-compiling an apothecary guide with medicinal and historical uses of medicines, preparing an emergency preparedness plan, and leading school group activities (herbal bags and "Frightful Artifacts"). It was a lot of fun. Not only was it fun, but I had the opportunity to be tutored in small museum management by two incredible, intelligent, professional women.  

Storage Building

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Oh poop!

I went to visit some off-site storage this last week. I had been out once before and was prepared for the stifling heat but was NOT prepared for the swooping figure in the dark. I only saw a single swoop before the door closed behind me and I was in darkness. With IT. Whatever IT was. I tried to find the lightswitch. Failed. I opened the door and finally managed to hit the switch. SWOOP. A bird flew by. A quick glance around reveled a bird nest, two birds, along with copious amounts of bird droppings.

Ah crap. I spent a few minutes regrouping. What should I do? I used a spare sheet to sweep dropping off the large pieces of furniture that we store in this building. I covered the few exposed artifacts with sheets. I found the owner and informed of the bird. I was hoping for a look of dismay, or possible embarassment. All he said was that there is no way of keeping birds out of these big metal buildings. WHAT?!?! The lack of appropriate temperature controls was one thing, but the owners just allows birds to roam free with no attempt to use grates or any protective material whatsoever? This isn't just bad for the artifacts, the hospital also stores instruments and furniture with this storage company. Isn't that stuff supposed to be sterile? I was shocked. I think he saw it in my face. He quickly said that he would send a man out to remove the nest. Ok, but what about the next little birdie? Or the one after that . . .

The problem with birds is that they are considered pests when it comes to curation and collections storage. Not only do the droppings have a high amount of uric acid (which willl deteriorate just about anything) but there are a large number of insects that come along with birds. Once you've got insects it is incredible difficult to get rid of them. You can't use insecticides because of the harm to the artifacts and there are few ideal solutions to the problem. I've been given the opporunity to write a mitigation report. I may remove specifics and add a Google Docs link later. Should be fun!!

This pic is NOT from the storage facility. It is just a picture of some bird droppings!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Opposing views: A Grand Piano in Miami and an Improved Estuary in Tampa

There have been a couple of photograph series in different Florida Bays that have intrigued me. Both of these series are contradictory when examining them from a conservationist (ecological) perspective. One is about wildlife and ecology preservation while the other involves polluting the bay. All the same I found both of them interesting from an anthropologist's point of view (what our culture values) and from a maritime archaeologist's point of view (what is abandoned in the water and what is deemed important during clean up of the water).

The most recent is an exhibit by South Florida Museum.


The images are a celebration of the work of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. It is the 20th anniversary of this program and was founded a year after the Bay was determined an "estuary of national significance." The introductory photo is stunning. It is great to read about the difference that this program has made in water quality over the last two decades (especially because I am moving there). It does go back to the U.S.S. Arizona question-which is more important: preserving the historical artifact or protecting the environment? Of course there is the solution of recording as you go. But this sounds much simpler than it is. I do think that there are plenty of opportunities for conservationists, archaeologists and conservators to work together and conserve maritime heritage for the future.

The second series of photos that I have enjoyed are the Grand Piano on the sandbar in Biscayne Bay. The photos are evocative and strike a chord in my soul.

At the same time I do understand that the Grand Piano causes a problem. It is not a natural element and can be considered pollution in the bay (with felony charges). In addition, it encourages others to leave items on the sandbar while capturing their "art" and encourages pranksters looking for attention.

I enjoyed the photos! And without trash and rubbish, archaeologists would have far fewer artifacts (and far fewer jobs).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Paper Conservation

On Monday and Tuesday morning, the small staff of the medical library history collections had the opportunity to learn more about paper conservation. Gloria Bradshaw, Senior Conservation Technician, came to history collections and taught us how to do tape/adhesive removal, staple removal, paper clip removal, label removal and how to deacidify paper. The removal of these material prevents acidic deterioration, one of the largest problems in paper preservation.

It was really great and I was so excited to add another tool to my tool belt. It was also great to have Gloria's help with our Lab Safety (which we've been trying to get up to code-no lab safety procedures/documentation up to this point). I would have to say that one of the best parts was talking to Gloria informally about the conservation field. About the strict hierarchy that academic conservators adhere to (pun intended). All in all, the most important part of conservation is the artifacts!! Not the prestige of the person working on the artifacts. I would like to continue my education in conservation, but I hope I always remember the reason behind the work.

Gloria in action!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Techniques for conserving skeletal material in the field and in storage

I presented on March 31, 2011 at the Society for American Archaeology Annual Conference in Sacramento, CA. http://www.saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/Meetings/2011%20program/37-168.pdf

I presented in a great session but I would like to disseminate this information to a wider audience. My powerpoint presentation is below, audio soon to follow!

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Archaeology, Conservation and Curation by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License