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Potting away

April 15, 2014

The last three weeks of lab work have been quite intense and we are now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel (or I should say, the table tops underneath the boxes). We have washed and cleaned well over a thousand sherds and added over 800 new entries to the artefact catalogue. Thanks to the contribution of many of our undergraduate students (thank you!) and, crucially, to the long hours of hard work that Claire and Sandra, our postgraduate and undergraduate lab interns, have been putting in during the Easter break. And all this work is starting to pay off: we are beginning to see how the pottery was distributed across the site and to recognise differences in the size and appearance of the vessels. As it was expected given what happens at other sites from the same period, much of the pottery is plain or decorated with a horizontal ridge placed either below the rim or halfway down the body of the vessel, but other kinds of decoration do also occur, and we have found some beautiful pieces – to the delight of whoever was washing that particular bag of apparently unexciting sherds.


Emma found the thinner-walled decorated sherd on the right last week, on her first day at the lab. You can image her excitement (and everybody else’s as we gathered to admire it).

In addition to the ceramic vessels, the Nunalleq assemblage includes several clay lamps. In fact, their number seems to multiply every week. Although we have recovered mostly fragments, there are a couple of almost complete small, shallow lamps in the collection as well. They are all in a very poor state of preservation, much worse than that of the vessels, so the plan is to select one or two of the best, more complete examples for conservation. So far, we have not found a single decorated clay lamp, which are common in other regions of Alaska, and we have only identified one stone lamp, which Rick had been ‘hiding’ in one of the fridges.


Clay lamp (before conservation) and stone lamp from Nunalleq

The fridges are wonderful and apparently endless worlds of their own – somehow we keep finding more and more of whatever we are studying each time we open them. For example, last Friday we were about to celebrate having almost finished the washing of the pottery when a last look through the fridges ‘just to make sure’ produced not one but five boxes full of sherds and a very substantial part of a vessel, still carefully wrapped in film. It is a great piece, which Sandra and our conservator will be dedicating special attention to in the next few weeks. We will let you know how their work progresses.


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