Muddy Lab Secrets

The mud we slog through in the field doesn’t always stay in the field. It’s wrapped around a lot of the artifacts we find, and ends up in our sample bags. Once we get back from the field, we start the process of washing all the artifacts. As the sediment is brushed away, some of the artifact’s secrets are slowly revealed!

The mud can really hide what colour an artifact is. This flake was a dull grey brown until a “wet brush” made it’s way across one side. Underneath this layer is a beautiful pale quartzite that transitions into a orange-reddish pink the further washing was completed.
quartzite flake_blog

Washing all artifacts in water is not possible. Bone just absorbs the water, which makes it take longer to dry fully. Putting wet bone into a bag will ultimately end up destroying the artifact with mold. Tools we find in the field are also only “dry brushed”. This helps preserve any residue left on tools, which can be used in various residue analyses. A good brushing will help pull out little details though. This thumbnail scraper has been worked around almost its entire edge. The brushing (left) really helps it stand out.
scraper edge_blog

Sometimes, however, a tool is only discovered after washing the mud away. Retouched flakes (as opposed to a formed tool) are often only discovered as the edges are cleaned, allowing the knapped edge to be fully exposed.  The same goes for a utilized flake.  These are flakes that look like a regular flake, but with closer inspection the edge has been chipped and worn from use.  These are often called expedient tools.  The flake’s sharp edge is used until it is dull, after which it is discarded.
retouched_blog

Author: Madeline Coleman

Madeline has been working with the amazing Tree Time Services team since September 2013. She started her adventures in archaeology at the University of Manitoba, where she completed two field schools (one in Manitoba, one in Tunisia). After graduating, she moved to Edmonton in 2007 and learned to love the ways of Boreal forest, Foothills, Prairie and Parkland archaeology. She briefly left to complete an MA at Trent University and have been holding permits in Alberta since 2013. She has worked everywhere between Medicine Hat and Indian Cabins. For now, however, her permits mostly focus on the Slave Lake Region, particularly the Marten Hills. Through the Strathcona Archaeological Society, she has had the opportunity to start her first volunteer project with another member, Amandah van Merlin at the Brazeau Reservoir. The project gives people interested in archaeology the opportunity to learn survey and excavation techniques.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s