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

From the Desk of the Curator

From the desk of the curator

April 25, 2019

This winter and spring saw a flurry of activity on the lower level of the lab, including several upgrades to accommodate the work we will be doing to rehouse the Angel Mounds collections. With support from the Provost’s Office and the Office of the Vice President for Research, new electrical circuits were installed and a new air scrubber and additional dehumidifiers were purchased.  Rehousing the Angel Mounds Collection and moving the collections to ALF3 will be the focus of much of our work over the next three years.  The curation team has been doing extensive background research to understand how the collection was organized, assembling documents to aid in rehousing, building out databases, purchasing supplies, and conducting pilot rehousing test runs to develop work flows.  Collections assistant and Underwater Archaeology student Amanda Pavot has been writing blog posts on the pre-project work for a museum practicum project. You can find Amanda’s posts at The Dirt, the GBL’s blog. Blogs on the Rehousing Angel Mounds Project will continue over the duration of the project, so be sure to follow the project on our website and social media. Over the winter, the curation staff also processed three loans to IUPUI, two in partnership with Hoosier National Forest.  Researchers and students affiliated with IUPUI will work on collections to complete reports for the 2013 Angel Mounds field school, a pioneer homestead on HNF land, and will complete work on parts of the Rock House Hollow collection for a HNF NAGPRA request.

The GBL collections staff participated in several educational events and outreach activities. Professor Susan Alt’s Midwest Archaeology students were able to work with four collections over the course of the semester for hands-on-learning.  We also provided artifacts, images and consulting for the Indiana Historical Society exhibit, You Are There, 1939 Excavating Angel Mounds exhibit that opened in March 2019. Various staff members participated in the 2019 IU Powwow, Lotus Blossoms, and School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering Internship Fair; and conducted tours of our facility for Anthropology, SPEA, and Underwater Archaeology program classes.

Members of GBL staff with visiting educators Scott Bauserman and Rick Doss

Scott Bauserman, with the Westlane Middle School in Indianapolis, brought down a large artifact collection owned by the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township.  Our staff provided assistance to rebox the collections for its safe transport back to Indianapolis. 

I used the Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Archives personal papers of Glenn Black and Eli Lilly to research the early archaeology of Glenn Black and Eli Lilly at Angel Mounds for a paper presented at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.  You can access information about the symposia presentations here.

Melody Pope, Curator

The Angel Rehousing project is made possible in part by the support of
the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In September 2018, the GBL received 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 IMLS.


The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Fall 2018 Newsletter

From the desk of the curator

Click here to read a message from Curator Melody Pope.


Midwest Archaeology Conference (MAC)

This year’s MAC was held at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Several GBL staff presented research on the Bicentennial dig at the Wylie House, including Liz Watts Malouchos and Maclaren Guthrie.

Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums  (ATALM)

Director April Sievert and Librarian Kelsey Grimm, IU NAGPRA Director Jayne-Leigh Thomas, and program manager and former NAGPRA research fellow Teresa Nichols  went to the 2018 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums in Prior Lake, Minnesota. Read Kelsey’s post about NAGPRA in archives!

Southeastern Archaeology Conference (SEAC)

Paul Welch and Melody Pope at SEAC

Curator Melody Pope attended the 75th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Augusta, Georgia.  Pope, along with colleague Paul Welch, presented results of their recent research that involves replicating and  using microdrills to study the wear patterns that develop on drill bits used to bore holes in fluorite, cannel coal, and marine shell.  This newly-launched collaborative research project between Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and the GBL at IU uses experimental archaeology to interpret the Fluorite Workshop at the Kincaid site located in the lower Ohio Valley.

Collections news

Save America’s Treasures Grant

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. The “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. Keep checking our website for up-to-date information as we officially launch the project in January 2019!

More about IMLS: The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities.

GLOVE Digitizing – Shawnee THDS

Photo courtesy of IU Communications

Selena McCracken was hired at the end of January 2018 to digitize the Shawnee Tribal History Document Series (THDS) of the Great Lakes-Ohio Valley Ethnohistory Collection. This was done as part of a contract established with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and an IMLS grant. As of September, Selena finished digitizing the series, amassing 12,603 images that will be made viewable online via the finding aid.

Kellar Papers Processing and Rehousing

Photo courtesy of IU Communications

Bill Koester worked on processing and rehousing the collection of Dr. James Kellar, a noted archaeologist and the first director of Indiana University’s Glenn Black Lab. Read more about his work on his blog!

Summer news

Wylie House Excavations

Over the summer, the GBL continued work at the Wylie House as part of IU’s celebration of the upcoming bicentennial. Students involved in the dig posted weekly updates on our blog, find them here!

Angel Mounds Historic Marker

A photo of the marker at Angel Mounds, courtesy of Mike Linderman.

April Sievert and Mike Linderman with the marker at Angel Mounds.

Over the summer, a marker was erected at the Angel Mounds Historic Site to recognize Glenn Black for his contribution to Indiana archaeology and to Angel Mounds.


Out With the Old: “Containing Knowledge: Ceramics at the GBL”

Exploring pottery as containers in both literal and metaphorical ways, this exhibit featured a selection of whole pots as well as objects used to make and decorate ceramics. Technology, decoration, use, and cosmology were touched on through the use of beautiful images and pieces. A special section of the exhibit looked at the work of local archaeology students and their efforts to temper clay and build and fire pots in the ways that Mississippian people might have.

The exhibit closed in Summer 2018.

 In With the New: “Animal~Spirit~Human”

For Themester 2018, the GBL explores interpretation of the complex and varying relationships between animals and humans in the ancient Midwest. Depictions of animals are known to be among some of the earliest mural and decorative art, for example, the well-known Paleolithic cave art of Europe that depicts now-extinct species. Whether rendered into wood, clay, stone, metal, or shell, animals contribute much to the symbolic and iconographic content of Native American representation.

The exhibit opened in October 2018.

volunteer and student appreciation

           Collections: Hannah Ballard, Preet Gill, Darlene McDermott, and                                                       Amanda Pavot

           Library: Bill Koester, Victoria Kvietek, Selena McCracken, and                                                          Brianna McLaughlin

           Programming: Hannah Rea

 Thank you to all who gave their time this semester!

Follow Us!

Facebook iconTwitter icon of bird

Fall 2018: From the Desk of the Curator

December 6, 2018


If I had to pick one word to describe the summer and fall at the GBL it would be FIRST.  Librarian Kelsey Grimm and Collections Manager, Jennifer St. Germain officially joined our staff in July, growing our professional staff for the first time by two!  We installed a new exhibit in our main gallery, a first for the present staff.  In partnership with IU Themester 2018, Animal-Spirit-Human, opened in October, followed by two related programming events in early November.  We are excited about the exhibit and the improvements it brought to the Mentoria Headdy Hall.

In early fall we learned that the Save America’s Treasures grant proposal we submitted over the winter was selected for funding.  Curating Angel Mounds Legacy Collection was one of only seven Museum Collection grants awarded by the NPS through an interagency agreement with the IMLS.  This is an important first for GBL, and Angel Mounds.  For the FIRST time since arriving on the IU campus in the late 1960s, the grant will allow the Angel Mounds legacy collection, (1939-1983), to be organized and housed in archival-quality containers.  Rehousing the collection is a first step in its eventual transfer to the new ALF 3 collections facility on the IUB campus.  The Curating Angel project will also organize the associated excavation records, create a complete digitized catalogue of the 1939-1983 images, reorganize the research collections, and no doubt spawn many new collections-based research projects.  We are excited to embark on this important FIRST!

In addition to these important firsts, we were also busy hosting researchers including some familiar to the GBL, former Curator of Collections, Dru McGill, and other Southeastern and Midwestern archaeologists David Dye, Paul Welch, Cheryl Munson, Ed Herrmann, and Cheryl Claassen. These researchers took an interest in the whole pot collection, state site files, Angel Mounds and other late pre-contact collections, and materials analysis laboratory. We also provided images from the 1974 Prairie Creek Field School to the Daviess County Museum, for a new exhibit and we are currently collaborating with the Indiana Historical Society on the You Are There 1939: Exploring Angel Mounds exhibit, planned for a spring 2019 opening. It is exciting to see all of this interest in GBL collections and facilities!




Melody Pope, Curator

From the Desk of the Curator – Spring 2018

April 27, 2018

I enjoy writing this piece because it provides an opportunity to reflect on our work over the past several months and to share our accomplishments. Spring 2018 has seen a flurry of activity at the GBL, along with the seemingly never-ending snow flurries.

The curatorial staff continued the confronting collections initiatives with the submission of two major collections grants early in the new year. Curating Angel, submitted to the National Park Service Save Americas Treasures Program, is a project to rehabilitate the Angel Mounds legacy (1939-1983) collection of artifacts, associated paper documents and film images. The bulk collections will be prepared for curation at the new IU ALF 3 facility. The project also proposes to organize and rehouse the reference collection and create a complete digital catalog for the collection. Restoring Indigenous Heritage: Digitizing Tribal History Documents of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley Region, submitted to the Council on Library and Information Resources Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives, with assistance from federally recognized tribes, will digitize, describe and make accessible the Tribal History Document Series of the Great Lakes-Ohio Valley Ethnohistory Collection housed at the GBL. Other Confronting Collection projects underway involve the continued development of research tools in support of a complete digital archaeological collections catalog, as well as collections catalogs for archival records and images.

While collections initiatives are a current priority, the curatorial staff also supports research, exhibitions and publishing. Researching  Angel Foodways through the study of ceramics, animal bones and stone tools from a large unusual pit excavated by WPA crews at Angel Mounds is ongoing. Results to date have identified a variety of types of animal remain including a large quantity of deer, squirrel, turkey and geese, as well as some exceptionally large gar fish, golden eagle, crow and owl. An interesting discovery of extremely worn raccoon teeth, suggests the possibility that it was purposively fed or a village scavenger. Over 5,000 analyzed sherds from the pit reveal variation in the types and sizes of vessels.  The ceramic data will shed new light on food preparation and serving practices, ceramic manufacturing, and chronology. The analysis of stone and bone tools has identified numerous bone pins, awls, shell hoes, painted turtle shells and expedient flake tools, many of which were used in animal processing tasks.  We anticipate publishing on the results of this research in the fall.

In partnership with the Indiana State Museum and State Historic Sites, the GBL co-curated a catalog of 28 items as part of a new exhibit at Angel Mounds SHS/NHL, Eli Lilly and Glenn Black: The Story of Early Archaeology in Indiana. Eli Lilly’s life embodies the move from collecting antiquities to scientific archaeology. Lilly pursued his interests in Indiana’s past with his partner, Glenn Black.  Together, Lilly and Black launched the discipline of archaeology in Indiana. The exhibit will display for the first time many items from Lilly’s extensive collection. This spring we installed a new lobby and digital exhibit, Hats of Archaeology, in conjunction with the Mather’s Museum of World Cultures 2018 exhibit “Heads and Tales.” Hats of Archaeology continues the installation of images from our historic photograph archives and looks at the various head fashions worn by Indiana archaeologists throughout the last century. We are currently planning a new exhibit in the Mentoria Headdy Gallery for Themester 2018, the theme of which is “Animal/Human.”  The exhibit, whose opening will correspond with an invited panel of archaeologists and Native American scholars, will explore questions of the “Animal/Human” theme. In addition to the new gallery exhibit, plans are underway for new lobby displays as well.

Work is underway for a new fume hood installation, and this required relocating the over-sized collections. This was no small effort, and we thank all our staff who participated in this project. As always, when we engage with our collections we find a few new hidden gems, one of which will be on display this spring in the GBL lobby and featured in the June Artifact Spotlight on our webpage. Check it out!

Lastly, our staff participated and/or hosted a number of tours and stakeholder engagements, including a visit from President McRobbie and Governor Eric Holcomb, a NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) consultation on Angel Mounds (in partnership with IU NAGPRA), the Indiana Archaeology Council Spring Social and the annual Lotus Blossoms Program.

Melody Pope, Curator


From the Desk of the Curator – Summer/Fall 2017

December 2017

Melody Pope, Curator

This summer and fall have been about confronting the collections, particularly the GBL legacy Angel Mounds and Lilly collections.   Collections Assistant and bioanthropology graduate student Catherine Smith dove into the field records associated with the Angel Mounds Collection and began systematically compiling information on mortuary and archaeological contexts needed to complete NAGPRA inventories.  Collections Assistant Alex Elliott has assisted in time studies completed on selected Angel Mounds artifact and faunal collections, which resulted in our discovery that we have some mold issues to confront in our legacy collections. Collections Manager Jennifer St. Germain designed new data entry templates for both osteology and archaeology for NAGPRA documentation.

This year’s Indiana Archaeology Month poster and t-shirt theme, Eli Lilly’s Legacy, had us confronting the Lilly Collection for suitable images for both items, as requested by the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

The 2017 Archaeology Month Poster and T-shirt featuring two birdstones from the Lilly Collection.

This semester we were happy to host two museum practicum student projects, both of which are also focused on the Lilly Collection.  Jennifer Musgrave began compiling biographies of the Lilly Collection accessions as part of a museum practicum project.  The Lilly Collection consists of over 35,000 items and 76 accessions.  This project is opening doors for exploring the role of private collectors and collecting in the first half of the 20th century and is engaging us in new ways with the Lilly Collection, its various “collectors” and the changing and sometimes contentious relationships between academics, collectors, and collectors-turned underwriters of archaeology. This project is not only spawning new research and exhibit themes, but it will also be incorporated into a planned Collections Catalogue publication.  For the second project, Darlene McDermott began the task of documenting the GBL whole pot collection.  For this project we are developing descriptive metadata fields and protocols for photographing each vessel, starting with accession 18, which is part of the Lilly Collection.

President Michael A. McRobbie hosted an IU Collections Summit in early September, which provided lots of good feedback and an opportunity to meet other IU curatorial staff.  We are gearing up for lots of collections care work in the coming months leading up to the opening of the new planned IU collections facility, ALF3, short for Auxiliary Library Facility 3 (yes, there is an ALF 1 and 2).

In keeping with the Lilly legacy theme, we had the opportunity to visit the Lilly House in Indianapolis, which also serves as the Indianapolis residence of IU President McRobbie and his wife Laurie.  We were invited to the house by Laurie to view a large wooden map created by Eli Lilly to mark the locations of archaeological sites he and Glenn Black had compiled throughout the state.  We are hoping soon to transfer the map to the GBL for public display. Not only is the map a legacy to the work of Eli Lilly and Glenn Black, but it will hopefully spawn new work and additions to the Indiana state site file.

A portion of the Eli Lilly map showing the locations of archaeological sites.

With the help of volunteers Marge Faber and Pat Harris, the first phase of work to reorganize the education collection was completed. We are looking forward to having the collection updated in our database to facilitate the next phase of work, which will identify theme-based teaching modules.

And last but not least, work was completed for a NEH grant for rehousing the historic photographic collections over the summer, which included the purchase of a new freezer for housing negatives and prints.  Collections Assistant Bailey Foust has digitized over 5,000 black-and-white negatives and 6,000 color slides, many of which are available on Indiana University’s Image Collections Online.

Melody Pope, Curator of Collections

#AskACurator Day

September 14, 2017

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

On September 13, the GBL participated in #AskACurator Day, which is a chance for anyone to send question in to participating museums.  The GBL was one of some 1500 museums from more than 50 countries around the world that took part.  More information on the day can be found here .

One question the GBL received was related to the recent devastation caused by hurricanes in the Southern United States and the Caribbean:

Q: What role do curators play in developing disaster preparedness plans for artifacts and museum collections?  What are the priorities of curators when returning to post-disaster museums and collections which have incurred significant damage?

A: The first step upon return is assessing damage.  Then as necessary, re-bag and re-tag artifacts that can be saved, kill mold, deal with bacteria, move the artifacts to a stable environment, etc.  Most institutions already have a disaster plan in place to deal with such situations, which is made with the help of curators/administration, depending on the affiliations of the museum.

Here are answers from our staff to a few more questions that were asked with the hashtag throughout the day!

Q: What proportion of your collection do you have on display?

A: It’s hard to even give a ballpark estimate; we have millions of artifacts, the bulk of which isn’t able to be exhibited for various reasons (i.e. pottery sherds, time-sensitive artifacts).  It would probably be less than 1%. (Melody Pope, Curator of Collections)

Q: What social media methods are museums using to appeal to Millennials?

A: Lots of museums are doing more ‘Live’ events on Facebook and Twitter, and giving followers a look into what goes on behind the scenes at their favorite institutions.  There are also several campaigns that museums have had success with, including #DayofArchaeology, which the GBL took part in over the summer.  One-on-one interaction is really important to increasing awareness and interest in museums and their collections! (Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern)

Q: What was the most recent item that made you think, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this for a living’?

A: A month or so ago, Bailey and I needed to gather artifacts to take some requested images, and a mastodon tooth was on the list. I told Bailey I knew where one was without having to check the database, and it occurred to me that I’m so lucky to have a job where I get to say things like, “Follow me, I know where to find a mastodon molar in the back.” (Alex Elliott, Collections Assistant)

Q: What are some of the hardest objects to conserve in your collection?

A: Negatives are difficult because of the way they age and decompose. A good deal of our large format acetate negatives suffer from warping, bubbles, and channeling. (Bailey Foust, Collections Assistant)

Thanks to all who participated in this year’s #AskACurator Day!

Spring 2017 Donation Summaries

May 1, 2017

by Melody Pope, Curator of Collections

Robert F. Braunlin, M.D., and G. Louise Braunlin Collection

The Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology announces the donation of significant artifacts, books and related documents from the family of Robert F. Braunlin, M.D., and G. Louise Braunlin.  Dr. Robert F. Braunlin was an avid collector of Native American material culture especially in the 1930s and 1940s.  The collection was passed down to Dr. Braunlin’s son William.  William Braunlin’s son, also Robert F. Braunlin, and his sons completed the transfer to the GBL in December 2016.  The items will be part of the laboratory’s permanent archaeological collection, and will also be part of the donated collections that explore the practice of collecting antiquities during the early part of the twentieth century.   The collection numbering nearly 1,200 items includes ceramic vessels, pipes, atlatl weights, bone tools, plummet stones and numerous chipped and ground stone tools.


Jeremiah Mattix Collection

The Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology announces the donation of a small collection of artifacts from the family Jeremiah Mattix.  Mr. Mattix farmed in Indiana Creek Township, Pulaski County, and Liberty Township, White County, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; this donated collection reflects the collecting of Native American artifacts turned up by his plow.  The collection was passed down to the granddaughter of Jeremiah Mattix, Orpha Wickersham, and then to her executor who was the mother of David Lottes of Fairmount, Illinois.  Mr. Lottes donated the items to the GBL on behalf of Jeremiah Mattix.  The items will be part of the laboratory’s permanent archaeological collection, and will also be part of the donated collections that explore the practice of collecting antiquities during this time period.  The collection includes numerous projectile points that will be part of a project that maps spatial distributions of point types and raw materials across land forms and regions in Indiana.


Anonymous Collection

The Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology announces the donation of a small collection of artifacts from an anonymous donor.  This collection includes numerous projectile points found in Tippecanoe County near Lafayette, Indiana, between 1975 and 1977.  The donor was affiliated with Purdue University at the time and was involved in corn research that required traveling the county and surveying fields for weeds, insects and diseases.  The collection will be part of a project that maps spatial distributions of point types and raw materials across land forms and regions in Indiana.

SAA Conference

April 28, 2017

by Melody Pope, Curator of Collections

In March, Curator Melody Pope traveled to Vancouver for the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.  Pope presented a paper titled “Exploring the Ineffable Aspects of Stone Tools” in the symposium “Integrating Functional Analysis: Contributions from Use-Wear Analysis within the Broader Context of Human Behavior in Prehistoric North America,” organized by Katherine Sterner and Robert Ahlrichs.  She also attended several informative sessions on collections management, digital archaeology and heritage, collections based research, and archives. While in Vancouver Pope had the opportunity to visit the University of British Columbia – Vancouver Campus Museum of Anthropology and took in some sights while hiking the City of Vancouver sea wall.

Schedule of events at the SAA

Hiking along the sea wall

A Conversation with the Curator

November 1, 2016

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

Recently, I sat down with Melody Pope, Curator of Collections for the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology (GBL), who is nearing the one-year anniversary holding the position.  She describes the job as one of oversight and stewardship, since she is in charge of complying with curation agreements the GBL has made with federal agencies and managing the collection, among other things.

Pope has had a long relationship with Indiana and the GBL.  Born and raised in southern Indiana, she worked at the GBL during her time as an undergraduate student at Indiana University, and said that this link is part of what attracted her to the position, seeing it as an opportunity to return to the Hoosier State.  This new job was not only a geographical shift from her previous position at the University of Iowa, but also a career shift.

Much of Pope’s previous work has been in compliance archaeology, programs that operate under the National Historic Preservation Act and various state and local guidelines to survey land considered for development, and ensure the work will not disturb any archaeological sites.

“It’s doing archaeology for historical preservation,” Pope said. “Now I’m in more of a museum-kind of position.”

One skill she has utilized throughout her career is photography.

“I’ve always had an interest in photography as a hobby,” she said. “It was a skill I was able to build and utilize in my work.”

Pope began in film photography, and was the designated photographer on three archaeological expeditions to Iraq during her time as a doctoral student at Binghamton University.

“It was a lot of fun to be the photographer for the expedition,” she said. “I never in a million years imagined I would go to Iraq and do archaeology.”

Pope traveled to the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  While there, the American and British archaeologists on the team lived on site in field camps: “Living archaeology 24/7.  It’s fun if you like roughing it.”

She said it was relatively easy to get the correct permits from the Iraqi government, though there still was plenty of red tape to get through.  There was a representative from the Department of Antiquities constantly overseeing the progress, but otherwise, Pope said, the experience was not too different from doing archaeology here.

“We got back and within two weeks, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and started the First Gulf War,” Pope recalled.

As for the current situation in Iraq and surrounding countries, many archaeologists are working to make people aware of how manipulative governments can be of archaeological finds.  The manipulation of archaeology to create ideologies about a past the governments want people to believe often leads to the destruction of historical sites and artifacts.

“I think a lot of anthropological archaeologists are becoming activists in their work,” Pope said.

Some devote their time and energy to work like investigating war crimes and excavating mass graves.  Others take a different route: “A lot of folks simply shift their work into safer areas.”

“It’s been hard to get back over there and assess the damages,” she said.  And though it’s important to preserve history, “People’s lives are more important than the past, when you get down to it.”

Preserving culture and bringing the human aspect back into focus is also part of the mission at the Glenn A. Black Lab.

“Early on, the lab was very much a central hub for Indiana archaeology.”

Like many similar institutions, inconsistent record-keeping practices have led to challenges for collections management today.  After early excavations, many artifacts received only basic cataloguing, and some are even in the same bags they were put in when they were originally excavated in the 1940s, Pope said.  The lab today is focused on balancing museum work to rehabilitate collections, create new exhibits and conduct research.

“With so much time having passed since most collections came into the lab it can be a real challenge to rehouse collections, to put things back together again,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us.”

The strong museum identity was part of the early mission of the GBL with over half of its square footage dedicated to storage and display of artifacts.  The laboratory part of its identity comes with research and teaching opportunities that involve diverse scholars and stakeholders.  The combined museum and research laboratory identity allows the GBL to serve double-duty as a place to conduct research, educate students and engage with communities interested in Ohio Valley archaeology and history.

“We’re collaborating more and more with the public,” Pope said. “It’s all integrated here, and it’s a really unique place.”