Storing ofCopia de
Storing finds is done differently at some sites as opposed to others. At Arbeia finds are stored in either cardboard or plastic boxes packed with tissue paper to prevent damage and then simply stored on shelves. For more fragile finds air tight boxes are used, such as for organic and unstable articles. By unstable we mean things such as wood or leather which may even require being stored with a little water to help preservation and then possibly kept in a fridge to keep them cool. To keep a find dry then a non-indicating white silica gel is stored in the box. Metal is stored with foam or acid free paper to help prevent deterioration and damage during transportation.
Records are kept by the finds supervisor who will record the artefact details and any treatments applied. The conditions of any stored find are regularly checked by the finds supervisor and that person will look for signs of deterioration and / or damage. If any of this is found then the appropriate remedial action will immediately be taken.
Bagging up of finds is important as is the build-up to placing a find into a bag. Several steps are taken to reach this point. Firstly each find that is in the tray needs to be thoroughly washed and if this is not done properly the find will be sent back for further cleaning. Once a find is clean and ready for bagging a cross-check is made of the number on the finds tray and the Finds Processing File and once things are proven to match then the item is crossed off the File. Secondly the find must be dry. Large bones should have extra care taken when being checked because the interior of the bone may still be wet and thus could ‘breathe’ in the bag and go mouldy. Thirdly, and this could be some time later after storage, a separation of the finds in the tray must be made into their relevant fabric types.
The bagging up process can now take place. Items should be placed into bags that are not too small for risk of damage and not too large so that they can move around inside. Larger bags are not filled more than 3/4 full but are ‘carried over’ to second bags. Generally finds from one context number or the same fabric are placed into one bag - even if they come from separate trays.
Once the finds are bagged then a black permanent marker is used to mark each of the three lines on the outside of the bag thus... for a pottery find, the top line would read: POTTERY, the middle line - for our find - would read: 26836 (context number) and the bottom line would read - for our find: SS03 (South Shields 2003). Finds such as iron cannot be marked with ink and so must be bagged with a marker pen used to state the context etc on the outside of the bag and a label placed inside the bag with matching details. All finds after bagging are stored at the end of the year according to their context order.
The ‘final’ part of the sorting process begins here once a context area has been fully excavated and the finds from one bag are sorted into categories of pot fabric etc, i.e. source of kiln (area of the country it came from), and all the finds from one context area are laid out on a table and then looked up from the General Finds List. If a find is not on the list it may be worthless but care should be taken to have it checked out first before discarding it completely.
Further checks here will be carried out to see if the diggers have missed anything such as any of the following... lava quern, water pipes, stamped tiles, chimney pots, worked bone, graffiti, flint and glass. If any of these are found then they should be removed and treated as small finds. Other cross-checks are carried out to see if the sherds can be matched to earlier finds but this can be a very long process and so may only be done if a particular pair of finds spring to mind as a possible match. A database is held at the museum and is extremely detailed as you might expect and possible matches may be found through that.
Finds are then sorted into their types of vessel and are further broken down into the categories of rims, bases, body sherds and handles etc. The most common find is a body sherd. Finds are then quantified by counting the sherds and measuring the rim percentage and then weight of all finds that are of the same type. They are then stored as before but if a find is interesting enough it may be drawn and, if so, is then stored separately under drawn / published pottery. One reason for this is to see if other interesting pieces have been drawn and there could be a match between them. For example, they could both arrive from the same country of origin. These pieces could well be found in later publications if found to be of general interest. The only finds of pottery you will see displayed are the most complete ones as small sherds, found in their multitudes, will not be interesting enough for display as most sherds tend to look the same and would eventually bore the museum visitors.
Finds are then stored on the correct shelves at the end of the year and in the relevant storage area until further investigation is required at a later stage or kept there ‘forever’. Entries are then crossed out from the Finds Processing File and labels are removed from the finds tray ready for the tray to be used again. And so the process has come full circle!