by Amanda Pavot
Hello again! The last couple of weeks have been busy busy at the Lab as usual, so here’s a bit of an update on what we’ve been up to!
While big-picture details of the Angel Project are ironed out by other staff members, workers like myself finish up the other projects that need to be done first. This has mostly entailed cleaning up the inventories of other collections and deep searches through archives for various info. Honestly, all the interesting things I’ve found digging through papers from the 1920s through the 1980s could be a blog series all on its own, but that’s not what THIS blog is about. Since there have also been some more projects pertaining to the Angel Mounds collection specifically, those are what will be discussed here.
Digitizing catalog cards
While we have a digital catalog of the artifacts in the collection, the original physical catalog cards that were written up over decades to inventory the Angel Mounds collection are still occasionally referenced. To preserve and make finding them easier, they are in the process of being digitized. There are literally hundreds of thousands of them, so some cards take priority to be scanned first. The cards that contain information about artifacts in the “type collection,” a collection of the best examples of different kinds of artifacts found at the site, are what I just finished working on. There are something like 1,200 of them, so it took literally weeks of scanning almost non-stop for hours at a time in order to get it done. Part of this blog post and most of the last one were written during the process of scanning catalog cards for the sake of a change of pace.
I’ve since started doing inventory of which artifacts of the type collection are in which boxes, which is much cooler because ARTIFACTS. It’s still incredibly important work, because a proper inventory will make finding and keeping track of the artifacts much easier. It’s also a bit of a test for the kind of inventory work that’s going to need to be done to the rest of the Angel Mounds collection. Seeing the kinds of issues that pop up, knowing the amount of time that it takes to inventory these boxes, as well as the personal experience of doing the inventory, will help prep for when the Rehousing gets started. For example, the artifact labels, the numbers written directly on the artifacts, were written on with stuff that has a tendency to chip off, making the numbers on some of the artifacts nearly illegible. Especially when you have a lot of them bagged together, knocking up against each other and rubbing the labels off. I didn’t realize something like that could be a problem. But now that I have more experience reading the handwriting of whoever wrote the labels, this isn’t a big issue since I can guess the correct number by the fragments left behind (and confirm it with info from the database, of course).
cleaning the angel room
As of this writing, we are also in the process of cleaning up the Angel Room, which houses the artifacts, as best we can. This includes vacuuming the fronts of all of the cardboard boxes in the room, of which there are literally hundreds, and wiping down the shelves where boxes aren’t currently sitting. After that comes cleaning the floors. The goal is to get rid of as much dust and dirt as possible for the safety of those who go in there and also for the sake of general cleanliness.
So the process goes like this: put on a respirator to protect you from breathing in bad things; put on a paper gown and nitrile gloves to keep bad things from getting on you; strap on your backpack vacuum cleaner (complete with HEPA filter!); and vacuum box-by-box, shelf-by-shelf, aisle-by-aisle. Then, go back with some cleaning wipes and wipe down the empty shelves. Our collections manager, Jennifer, has been working on doing the top two rows of every aisle because they’re so high up that you need a ladder to clean them. Then Hannah, another collections assistant like myself, or I go in later to clean the rest of it. It can take an hour to do an aisle, so we started doing an aisle each per day. There’s a sign-up sheet outside the room that shows who has cleaned what and, with the progress we’re making, we may even be able to start vacuuming the floors by the time this is posted.
I feel like we all have been anxiously waiting to begin rehousing, but the preparations beforehand are critical to beginning a project as large as this. Especially a project that’s as complex and important as the Angel collection. But little by little, this project is coming together! “Step 1” inspections of the archive, catalog, and bulk collection of artifacts and “Step 2” preparation to rehousing the collection will get us to “Step 3” – the Rehousing! I’ll be back next week with more updates on the Rehousing project and the collections assistant experience!
In September 2018, the GBL was awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant to rehabilitate and rehouse about 2.8 million artifacts from Angel Mounds over the next 3 years. These grants are administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
This “Curating Angel” project will allow us to provide safe, long-term preservation of the artifacts and associated documentation from archaeological work at Angel Mounds and make these collections more accessible for research and education.
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(The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)