From the Desk of the GBL Curator – Spring 2020

Collage of three images: on left is curator at desk, middle is a group of people working in type collection room, right is artifacts in numbered bags.

This is the last newsletter before we officially merge with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures to become the Indiana University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (IUMAA). While the GBL will retain its identity and spirit as part of the IUMAA, this seems somehow like a moment to pause, if only for a second. We really have not had much time to reflect on all the changes that are rapidly taking place with the flurry of packing, tracking, moving, lifting, bar coding, and ordering supplies (more carts please!). A pandemic was certainly not part of the plan. But here we are. I was a student at IU in the 1970s and had the good fortune to work on projects and collections at the GBL. One of the best parts of my job now as Curator is working with students who are just starting their careers. The few times I have been in the building since closing reminds me of just how important all of our graduates, students and volunteers are to the work we do. They truly are the backbone of the place, and for me the inspiration to get through all of the packing, moving, rebuilding, restructuring, and merging. When we reopen, the GBL will be an improved laboratory for learning, exploring and research. Despite the flurry of the BIG MOVE OUT, we also managed to conduct some business as usual:

  • We began the second year of the three-year IMLS/SAT Grant – Curating Angel Mounds Legacy Collections. The faunal collection rehousing was completed and by March 12 we had rehoused 12% of the ceramic collection boxes. By March 12, 359 rehoused Angel boxes were deposited at the new IU repository, ALF3.
  • We continued to provide curation services for collections under a cost share agreement between USDA Forest Service, Hoosier National Forest and IU/GBL.
  • We facilitated transfers and documentation work for IU NAGPRA and Hoosier National Forest.
  • The registrar team continued work on accession files.
  • We accepted two donations. From the Arkansas Archaeology Survey, Parkin Archaeological State Park, on behalf of Robin Gay Walker of Wilsonville, Oregon, we received a stone pipe from the Bone Bank site. From IU alum, Kenneth Tankersley, University of Cincinnati, Department of Anthropology and Geology we accepted items from his research at the GBL, including color slides from 1984 excavations at the Arrowhead Arch site and speleothem petrographic thin sections from Wyandotte Cave.
  • We facilitated access to the collections for three visiting researchers. Cheryl Munson, Indiana University, Department of Anthropology selected carbonized botanical samples from Wyandotte Cave for identification and carbon dating. Munson also conducted research on aragonite pipe fragments from the Mann site and Arrowhead Arch. Pat Trader, Gray and Pape, Inc. conducted comparative research on partially reconstructed ceramic vessels and sherds from the Martinsville Plaza site (12Mg52) comparing them to ceramics from other recently excavated Oliver Phase sites in the White River valley. PhD student and GBL Assistant Curator, Amanda Burtt, initiated exploratory research to study the diets and health of dogs from Angel Mounds. Melody Pope provided exploratory work and training in the Materials Science lab for IU graduate student Ryan Peterson who is researching ancient copper technologies (Figure 1). These varied research efforts are exciting and demonstrate the breadth of the GBL collections and the kinds of research they support.
  • As for the Big Move Out, 3,757 boxes have been deposited at ALF3, and one quarter of the type collection has been packed. This was a huge effort and accomplishment on the part of the GBL collections team (Figures 2, 3, and 4).

A BIG THANK YOU to the entire GBL collections and registration team!!

Melody Pope, Curator of Collections

Fighting Fungus – Know Your Enemy

by April K. Sievert, GBL Director

Hot and rainy summers are certainly hard on the climate within our repository! In order to preserve the artifacts collected 80 years ago by Glenn A. Black at the Angel Mounds site, we need to contend with environmentally-related dangers to both staff and stuff. One of these is mold, tiny fungal bodies and spores that feed off organic materials. Molds love to grow where its dark and moist, and the inside of a box of archaeological bone may be ideal places under rising heat and humidity. Normally, as GBL Director, I don’t get the chance to get down and dirty, so I was happy to be able to arm myself with protective gear and start to figure out what we are dealing with .

April Sievert starting some mold research

We discovered serious mold problems at around the same time that we received news that we were awarded funding for Curating Angel Mounds, through the Save America’s Treasures program of the National Park Service, administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The first task was to have an air quality test done. Results of this test, which is facilitated by IU’s Environmental Health and Safety Department, shows higher levels of a common mold family—Aspergillus/Penicillium— in the air in our Angel Mounds Repository. The report indicates mold likely originating from within the room itself. This mold was likely being generated by moldy materials, most likely the acidic brown paper bags used for artifacts, some of which show both water damage and signs of mold (molds love acidic materials).

Test results on mold identified in the air the Angel Curation room

Mold produces spores from tiny branching filaments called hyphae. The mold can be inactive (dried spores that look like dust and can remain dormant for years) or active, meaning that the hyphae are happily making new spores. The hyphae are like tiny straws that suck water out of the substrate (whatever the mold is growing on) so that they can grow and make more spores. Active mold presents as smeary, fluffy, or hairy patches on surfaces. Molds grow well at temperatures between 60-90° F and RH above 65%. We deployed a large noisy air scrubber to remove the spores from the air, and extra dehumidifiers to bring the humidity down.

There are two quite different kinds of mold on the bags and artifacts from Angel Mounds that are visible with the naked eye. One presents as a white deposit adhering to a scratch on the bone surface.

White deposits in crevice on faunal bone

The network of hyphae and spores become visible under high-power magnification using the polarizing filter on our metallurgical microscope. White deposits on at 500x magnification show a blurry mass of filaments the represent actively growing mold.

White mold hyphae

The white mold is consistent with the Aspergillus/Penicillium group and appears to like cuts or crevices in the bone cortex. Softer spongier bone provides easily accessible nutrients for the fungus. A very different brown mold that flourishes on a small proportion of bags shows up as fuzzy dots.

Bag fragment from 1939 showing brown active mold

Bones within these bags sport dense patches of hyphae with dark brown spores. After initial cleaning, the location still had a tenacious colony of brown spores.

Brown mold with well-developed fruiting bodies and spores (500x magnification)
Mold colony after one cleaning with alcohol (500x magnification)

The clearly-seen spores are about 10 microns long and 6 microns wide, appear iridescent under polarized light, and are quite lovely. We’ll be sending samples of these beauties to a lab for more precise identification. So, stay tuned for more on mold, and the conservation treatment we are using!