And you thought archaeologists only fought Nazis…

Cataloguer, modern artifact expert and graduate student Eva Falls models her mending technique.

By Eva Falls /Graduate Student / East Carolina University

Graduating from college is an extremely scary time.  Suddenly, you’re thrown out into the world and labeled “adult.”  Luckily, when I graduated from the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) last May, I had a plan- well, a sort of plan; — OK, a very hazy idea of a plan.   I knew I wanted to spend a year researching and working on applications to graduate programs in anthropology, but what could I do in the meantime?  I needed to find something that would not only enhance my resume, but reaffirm archaeology was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  Mount Vernon’s archaeology department to the rescue!  So, I packed up my bags and left sunny Charleston for the suburbs of D.C.

This plastic inlay was from a Zorro ring, lost in the late 1950s.

This year I interned in the archaeology lab three mornings a week, learning as much as I could about processing artifacts, mainly from Mount Vernon’s South Grove Midden.  All of the artifacts were being cataloged into DAACS.  I cataloged: window glass, sandstone, oyster shell, charcoal, coal, cinder, lead shot, and all of the modern artifacts.  Yes, weighing pound upon pound of oyster shell is slightly less than glamorous and you thought archaeologists only fought Nazis!  My favorites were the modern artifacts, anything dating from the late 19th century until today.  There were flash bulbs, the top of a champagne bottle, animal bones, pocket change, jewelry, hair clips, bubble gum, plastic wrappers, and even a kid’s retainer.  Though it might not have been George Washington’s childhood retainer, the people who have visited Mount Vernon over the years have been just as instrumental in shaping the landscape and history of the property, and I enjoyed sorting through the refuse left behind, strange, I know.

One of the many vessels I mended, while listening to tunes to pass the time.

Once the majority of the artifacts were cataloged, I moved on to mending ceramic and glassware vessels.  Patience and an iPod became my best friends for this process.  Each piece had to be held together long enough for the glue to begin to set.  Then it was placed in a container of sand to sit over night.  The next morning, if it wasn’t a good mend or didn’t set quite right, I used acetone to dissolve the glue and start over again.  Porcelain became my nemesis in the mending battle.  It was a long and drawn out conflict of mending and re-mending, but I emerged victorious!

The staff members here in the lab were also a huge help while I worked on graduate school applications.  They had all been through graduate school and were extremely supportive throughout the entire, sometimes agonizing, process.  They even let me tag along with them to the Society for Historical Archaeology’s Annual Conference in Baltimore.  I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to work with such a kind and professional group of people.  This coming August, I start my masters in anthropology at East Carolina Universitywith a concentration in historic archaeology.  I feel confident I have chosen the right path for my future career, in part, because of my experiences here.

Thank you, Mount Vernon Archaeologists! Ya’ll are awesome!

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