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KODIAK, ALASKA-The Amak Site excavation may be over for the year, but the lab work continues. In archaeology, the general rule of thumb is that every hour in the field generates 2 hours of lab work. And if you include writing up the results of the dig into a book or some sort of publication, then you better count on even more hours of work out of the field. Lab work and analysis is what I do at the museum in winter. And now it begins.
Not that lab work is all drudgery – some of the most exciting discoveries are made in the lab. In fact, yesterday when we were cleaning the artifacts, I was shocked to see what looks like a tiny Arctic Small Tool tradition end scraper that I never saw in the field because someone just assumed it was a flake. Arctic Small Tool tradition peoples didn’t live on Kodiak, but we do find the occasional tool. This one is made of basalt, a type of rock not found on Kodiak, and was probably picked or brought from the Alaska Peninsula where peoples bearing this culture did live.
In the lab, the first task is to clean and catalog all the artifacts and samples brought back from the site. Each sample and artifact arrives from the field in a bag with its locational information written on the outside. Thus we know where the piece came from – the site, square and level where it was found. We also know the initials of the particular excavator who found it and the date – this latter information is important if I need to refer back to my notes and jog my memory about what was going on that particular day in that particular area of the site. All of this information goes into a catalog of the artifact collection for the site, and each artifact is affixed with a tiny paper catalog number that refers back to the catalog. For all time, all anyone interested in an artifact has to do is look its number up in a catalog and they will know who found it, and when and where it was found.
During analysis we can use the catalog to see if there are activity areas on the site- areas where we found many more of particular types of tools. What activities took place in a particular structure we excavated? Or we can check and see how the types and frequencies of tools changed between levels, or even, how the site compares statistically with other sites around Womens Bay. Do my impressions about what we found during excavation hold up to the cold light of statistical analysis?
Another task that we do right away is drying out all the samples – particular bits of carbonized wood (charcoal) collected for radiocarbon dating. We also pick the charcoal our of samples from the features and levels we want to radiocarbon date. We pick out the individual grains and chunks of charcoal and sent them off to a lab in Florida where they do radiocarbon analysis. In a few months they send back the results of their analysis and we know within a few hundred years when the tree or shrub that supplied the charcoal died. This helps us to have a better ideas of the age and relationship of different levels and features at the site.
The lab work and Analysis begins!