Friday, December 10, 2010

Cataloguing the Final Quttinirpaaq Lithic Reproductions

The Reproductions are the ones with the labels
This might be a first for Elfshot - the reproductions have got catalogue numbers on them before the artifacts!  I have all 11 Independence I artifact reproductions finished and they'll be couriered back to Winnipeg later today, along with the 11 original artifacts.  The artifacts were found this summer at two sites at Kettle Lake in Quttinirpaaq National Park.  The sites are still in the process of being catalogued, so the artifacts don't actually have their catalogue numbers on them yet - the labelled pieces that you see in these photos are the reproductions, not the originals.

Burin, Artifact (L), Reproduction (R)
When archaeologists collect artifacts from a site, we bag and record each piece separately.  Every artifact is given a unique number that is used to identify it and tie it back to all of the information that is associated with it, like the site it came from, its specific location within that site, when it was found, who collected it, etc.  Back in the lab, this catalogue number is affixed to the artifact in some stable, but reversible way.  Stable, so that the number stays with the artifact throughout its entire lifetime, and reversible so that it can be removed without damaging the artifact.  We don't want to do anything to an artifact that can't be undone.

Nail Polish and Pen for cataloguing
With lithics, the simplest way to label them in a stable, but reversible way is with ink and clear nail polish.  A small patch of nail polish is spread on an out of the way place on the artifact and let dry.  Then the catalogue number is written on that nail polish as discretely and neatly as possible with ink.  Finally a top coat of nail polish is spread over the ink to seal it in.  This label is secure from normal wear while the artifact is handled or stored in a bag or box, but can be easily wiped away with nail polish remover and a cotton swap, if the need arises.

Uniface, Artifact (L), Reproduction (R)
The reproductions that I make are purposefully made from the same materials as the originals and I attempt to make them as identical as possible to the originals.  While they are fresh in my mind, I can tell them apart, but in a few months I won't be able to tell which is the original and which is the copy, so its very important that the reproductions are marked.

Diamond engraver to sign "TR"
I permanently mark my reproductions by engraving a small "TR" signature on them.  I use a diamond bit on my rotary tool to permanently etch my initials into the stone.  You wouldn't want to do that with artifacts, but its good to have some sort of mark on the reproductions that can't be removed.

Artifacts (Top) and Reproductions (Bottom)
To be extra cautious, many of the collections managers who have Elfshot reproductions stored alongside actual artifacts choose to label them in the same way as archaeological artifacts.  Sometimes they are catalogued with a fictional site and catalogue number, but in the case of the Quttinirpaaq Independence I reproductions, the Parks Canada archaeologists and collections managers decided to record the reproductions with the same catalogue numbers as the real artifacts, but with an "R" suffix added to the label to indicate that it is the reproduction.

When the the Quttinirpaaq artifacts have their catalogue numbers inked onto them, they'll be the same numbers as on the reproductions, but without the "R" at the end of the line.  This way the reproduction will be linked back to the provenience information associated with the artifact that it represents, but still distinguishable from the original.  Its all designed to protect the integrity of the archaeological record.  The goal is to make something identical from the original, but never to lose track of which are the real artifacts and which are the copies.

Quttinirpaaq National Park:  Elfshot Reproductions (L) & Independence I Artifacts (R)
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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