Rehousing Angel Update

Curating Angel Mounds project update from a student worker

by Amanda Pavot

Hi! This is Amanda Pavot!

Woman standing in front of shelved boxes
Amanda Pavot (2019)

…back to blogging after a summer hiatus, with a rehousing update! How was your summer? This project has been going steady this whole time!

Poster title is "Curating Angel" with an unprocessed artifact box picture next to the words "Not This" and a processed box described as "This"
Curating Angel poster (2019)

In previous posts, I described the launch of the rehousing project as well as the actual rehousing process. I was one of the guinea pigs trying different rehousing strategies to help get an effective system down. After the summer semester started, many details changed, so I figure that I should make a record of what changed here for future reference.

We also managed to rehouse all the moldy boxes before August! Now we’re going back through the bone bulk collection in the “non-moldy” boxes of bone. With the high humidity and drastic weather changes typical to Indiana summers, some mold has been found on bones even in these boxes, but the amount of mold is much lower.

First big change! We no longer count every bone in every bag unless the database says that there should be 25 or less. We counted all the bones in the bags at first because there were large discrepancies between the number the database said we should have had vs. the number we actually found. But after we started rehousing more and more bags of 100, 200, or 300 bones that actually had 100, 200, or 300 bones we had to count out every time, we realized that it was both unnecessary and inefficient to have to count them. For absurdly large numbers it’s more efficient to keep track of them by weight rather than having to count them out every time anyway. The count is more important for smaller numbers, so we still need to count those.

We also no longer vacuum every moldy bone. We put more of an emphasis on treatment even if the mold seems minor; instead of just vacuuming the moldy bones off, we set them aside for conservation treatment. Bones with mold on them are bagged separately at first, and are put back with the rest of the bones they were originally with after treatment. When rehousing, the bags that need treatment are put in a box designated for bones going for conservation. Information about the treatment can be found in last week’s blog post by Dr. April Sievert. 

Situations where we might vacuum the bones include basically any time the bones are very dirty. Sometimes there’s insect activity, and mud dauber nests have made a mess of the bag and bones. Sometimes there’s mouse activity, and mouse poop/nesting/etc. means you need to vacuum the bones to make sure anything undesirable isn’t transferred to the new bags. Sometimes it’s the presence of what we know as “the brown mold” (one of two new molds we’ve discovered on the bones this summer, but that’s for another blog post); it is easily transferable, so non-moldy bones may need to be vacuumed to ensure it’s really gone. And sometimes a lot of dirt just ended up in a bag for some reason. In any of these situations, one might decide to vacuum the bones to keep them and their future housing as clean as possible.

We also no longer write the weights or numbers on the bags themselves, only on the yellow artifact labels included in the bags. This is because the numbers might change after being combed through for human remains, so there’s no point in writing out the information on the bag with a permanent pen if it’s just going to be scratched out and changed later. Even after rehousing the non-moldy boxes that were already checked for human remains, the count and weight aren’t written on the bag in case of any other changes.

Throughout the summer, we had three teams of two people each working on rehousing four days a week, Monday through Thursday. Who those people were rotated a lot; some people left for vacations or research trips, others came back from vacations and research trips, and someone new even joined us. So even while people have been coming and going, we’ve had about six people working on the project the entire time. Friday was a non-rehousing day for catching up on other tasks that needed to be done for rehousing.

While other jobs related to the rehousing are done on Friday, they are also often done concurrently. For example, while we have a couple teams rehousing, one might be working on conservation. There will be more blog posts other people wrote about these jobs with more details about them. I’ve been doing a lot of subcataloging and box inventories, while others have been reintegrating mixed materials.

This has been another rehousing update from ground zero here at the GBL! We’re going to continue to post more updates, methods, interesting tidbits, research, and anything else we can think of! Stay tuned!

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. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)

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Curating Angel Is Underway!

By Melody Pope and April Sievert, Principal Investigators and co-Directors of Curating Angel Mounds Legacy Collections

Welcome to the summer blog posting for the Curating Angel Project.  The Curating Angel project, funded through the FY2018 Save America’s Treasures grant program monitored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and National Park Service, is one of the largest Angel Mound collections projects since the transfer of the collection to the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology (GBL) in the early 1970s.  The bulk of the Angel Mounds collection has been stored in repository Room 16 at the GBL, also known as the Angel Room since the lab opened in 1971. 

View down one of the aisles in the Angel Room at the GBL.
View down one of the aisles in the Angel Room at the GBL. (2013)

The collection fills 2,800 cardboard boxes comprising 2,900 ft3.  Housed in the original containers used for packing and storing the collections at the Angel Mounds field laboratory, most of the bags inside the boxes have not seen the light of day for 50 to 80 years.  Numerous rodent and insect nests and debris in the bags and boxes speak to the effects of pests when collections are stored for over a quarter of a century at makeshift field repositories. 

In addition to the remains of past pests, many of the bags became feeding grounds for mold.  While mold may have resulted initially from poor field storage conditions, inappropriate humidity and temperature controls at the GBL further acerbated the problem. We discovered that many of the boxes housing animal bone were in very bad condition hence we adopted a “worst goes first” approach.  This meant starting with the 650 boxes of animal bone.  Rehousing the animal bone first not only helps to mitigate the mold problem, but it also expedites the important and timely process of checking and removing human remains that had been inadvertently mixed with the animal bone. IU Environmental Health Services tested the air in the Angel room in the fall of 2019 and reported elevated levels of Penicillium/Aspergillus species, not a surprising outcome based on high seasonal humidity and paper bags of items with mold on them.

Bag with mold growing on it.
Bag with mold growing on it. (2019)

Thoroughly cleaning the room to create a safe work environment and hopefully begin to abate mold growth was step one.  In addition to vacuuming all surfaces with a HEPA vacuum, we installed an industrial air scrubber.  All project staff are required to wear HEPA filtering facepieces and gloves.  Industrial dehumidifiers and an air scrubber in the Angel Room help maintain a safe working environment.

The first quarter of the project was officially underway on December 1, 2018.  To avoid spreading mold to other areas of the laboratory, we set up the rehousing operation in the Angel Room. A flurry of activity was directed toward configuring and cleaning workspaces, purchasing supplies, evaluating and implementing database needs, developing a box bar coding system, planning workflows, testing work processes, hiring, training, and fitting staff with HEPA filtering masks. 

Work stations and crew rehousing in the Angel Room.
Work stations and crew rehousing in the Angel Room. (2019)

After tripping a few circuits, we also discovered early in the process that new electrical circuits were necessary to run the new air scrubber and dehumidifiers essential to ensuring a safe working environment. The Angel Room now has several new circuits!

By early in the second quarter, rehousing the animal bone boxes was well underway.  By June 1, 36 old boxes were transformed into 74 new acid free boxes. The summer rehousing crew consists of an amazing group of students and post-graduates who are getting a lot of hands-on experience in curation and conservation training.   While a tedious and thankless job, discarding the old mold and pest infested bags and boxes and seeing the newly rehoused collection is both rewarding and exciting.

The bone preservation from Angel is excellent and it is obvious after our first month of rehousing animal bone that there is a wealth of untapped research potential. Bear, deer, elk, a variety of small mammals, fish, turtle and numerous bird bones await further research on foodways, hunting, discard practices, and the everyday and circumstantial uses to which Mississippian peoples put animals and their byproducts.   We project rehousing the estimated 650 boxes of animal bone will be complete by the end of the year. 

Animal bone from a single bag awaiting rehousing in new acid-free containers (2019)

Rehousing bone also provided an opportunity to learn about types of mold encountered when rehousing legacy collections, the topic of our next Curating Angel blog.  In the coming weeks a series of summer blog posts will introduce you to the rehousing team and provide some insights into the collection, its research potential, conservation issues, and the process of curating, storing, and managing the collection in preparation for its transfer to the new IU Auxiliary Library Facility, known as ALF3.

GBL space at the new IU ALF3 collections storage facility awaiting transfer of the newly rehoused Angel collections. (2019)

We hope you enjoy following along with us on Curating Angel. It’s almost like excavating Angel Mounds for a second time!    

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. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)

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