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A huge landmark

April 29, 2014

It is week eight of the pottery post-excavation work and we have reached our first major landmark: we have finished washing the entire assemblage! Many thanks to all of you who contributed time and patience to this huge task. The team is now focusing on cataloguing, labeling and counting the sherds, in preparation for the pottery study itself, which will include detailed recording of the decoration and fabric (i.e. the characteristics of the clay ‘paste’ of which the pottery is made) of the vessels, shape reconstruction and sampling for petrographic analysis (more on this later). Claire has been coordinating activities with her usual efficiency to ensure that our next goal – the completion of the catalogue – is achieved in time to include a general assessment of the 2013 collection in the field report planned for the end of May. But for now, we are enjoying a well-deserved feeling of accomplishment.

Meantime, Sandra has been liaising with the project’s conservator to establish protocols for consolidation and reconstruction of selected ceramic vessels and lamps. Now that we are familiar with the specific characteristics and challenges of the Nunalleq pottery, we are also devising  strategies for how best to deal with the pottery in the field: for example, how to pack it as it comes out of the ground,  how best to dry it or maintain moisture levels for wet consolidation later on, how to clean or wash it on site. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in regards to the handling of arctic pottery: burial conditions vary as do the raw materials and manufacturing techniques used. I have been taking a pick at a small assemblage from Nunivak Island, reminding myself of the wonderful diversity of prehistoric ceramics in this part of the world, only to be struck by how fragile the material from Nunalleq is, and how much care its handling requires. We will soon need to start thinking about the best way to package the collection for shipping back to Alaska.



Leonie and Zygi celebrating having finished washing the last box of sherds (left) and one of the vessels Sandra will consolidate (right)


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