Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pigeon-holed Artifacts

This past Wednesday I went into the attic of the Port Tobacco courthouse. We have long-known that there were artifacts in the attic and that some of them had cryptic numbers on them or on the packages in which some were placed. I had planned to remove these materials and bring them back to Annapolis where we could properly catalog and package them.

In a dazzling display of keen observation, I realized that the cabinets in which the artifacts were stored were hand-me-downs from the Smithsonian Institution. (There were name plates on each saying Smithsonian Institution.) Each was numbered, one number on the left door and the next on the right. There must of been at least six of these large white cabinets in the attic because the numbering system went up to 12.

The cabinets I could peek into with the aide of a flashlight--the attic is as dim, dusty, and moldy as any, and more so then most--have an array of artifacts placed in pigeon holes like packages at a post office. Alas, there was no postal worker to explain what was in each package and whence it came. Clearly, though, there were far more than I could conveniently remove, package, and transport by myself. It also occurred to me that the two boxes of artifacts loaned to us by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation laboratory were grouped by tray numbers, lacking any other evidence of provenience.

Could the numbers on the bags from the MAC lab refer to the pigeon holes? Was it safe to remove objects without keeping careful records of which cabinet and pigeon hole they were taken from? The collections in the attic pose a problem and one not easily addressed....even with the generous help of our volunteers, it would cost several thousand dollars to remove, clean, catalog, and repackage the material, not including the costs of trying to figure out whence each item was excavated.

Well, at least now we know there is a problem and have some sense of the scale. Every solution starts with identifying the problem that needs to be solved.


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