by Sarah Snare
Archaeology is very hands-on. Excavating sites. Taking photos. Cleaning artifacts. When COVID-19 pushed everything online, I thought for sure that I would have no chance at finding an internship. What helpful work could I possibly do virtually?
To my surprise, the SCDNR Heritage Trust Program offered me a virtual position as an Archaeology Intern. While I don’t get to go into work and all the meetings are online, most of the work I am doing is actually extremely hands-on. This year, the SCDNR interns are cleaning artifacts at home.
Archaeology at home may sound strange – impossible even. But it’s not so bad! With the right set-up, it’s almost like we’re still in the lab. Key word: almost.
This article is your VIP pass to the world of at-home archaeology. I’m going to show you the good, the bad, and the ugly of taking your artifacts home with you.
To start the day, I wake up to this lovely view.
This is my home lab. It sits two feet from my bed. As a college student living in an apartment, I have taken drastic measures to make sure the dirty water doesn’t splash onto my walls or carpet (I really need that security deposit back).
I am working with material from the Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve in Port Royal, South Carolina. I pull a few handfuls at a time out of the white bag on the floor and onto a cafeteria tray. Here is a “before” shot.
As you can see, it doesn’t come out looking too pretty. But that’s what I’m here for! The white tub has a colander in it and is filled with water. Each piece gets a turn in the bath with a toothbrush, and they come out looking like this:
So much prettier! I usually clean for about an hour before my first meeting of the day. Then, I head over to my desk.
If you can’t tell, this job has taken over my entire bedroom. The box of artifacts even has its own shelf in my closet. Anyways, I hop online for an anthropology workshop, with topics ranging from photogrammetry and videography to underwater archaeology and forensics. Note the headphones in the above picture. Super important. If I didn’t have these, my roommates would hate me for the constant stream of meetings and music that they would hear through our thin walls every day.
Between meetings, I continue cleaning. These bags include lots of oyster shell, along with nails, pottery, glass, and the occasional clay pipe. I also find a lot of tabby mortar, which composes Fort Frederick’s walls.
I quickly learned that being hunched over a table cleaning artifacts all day can make your back and shoulders hurt. A lot. On day three, I started actually getting up for my Apple Watch’s hourly reminders to move (a notification I usually ignore). I do some stretches and jump around for a minute before getting back to work.
At the end of the day, everything gets laid out to dry (another thing that has its own shelf).
After the artifacts have dried completely, they go into their respective labeled baggies.
You can see some unique shell in the front and a clay pipe stem on the right. Not pictured are the giant bags of oyster shell that live next to the artifact box in my closet.
It is essential not to pour the post-cleaning dirt water down the sink. I did that the first day, and at the next morning’s meeting our supervisor said, “Oh, yeah. Don’t do that. It can clog your drain.” Therefore, it is a nice bonus if you have some plants you can gift this water to. These are the bushes that I make happy every day.
And now, you have virtually experienced a day in the life of at-home archaeology. Like everyone else, I really wish I was working in person, interacting with and learning from the SCDNR Archaeology team. However, I am so, so grateful to have an internship this summer and to be able to use my socially distanced time for educational and professional development. I hope to be able to meet my fellow interns sometime in the future, but for now, I’ll keep happily cleaning artifacts in my bedroom.
For more information about the SCDNR Heritage Trust Program, visit http://heritagetrust.dnr.sc.gov/.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.