Starting to Catalog

Students hard at work identifying artifacts.

My name is Bryn Williams, and I am the teaching assistant for the laboratory methods class this year. When I took the course as a student last year I knew that Professor Voss and Ezra (the previous TA) did quite a bit of work behind the scenes to prepare for the course, but I never knew exactly what they did. For every hour of class there are at least two hours of preparation. Artifact catalog sheets need to be printed, the ceramics artifacts we are having the students catalog need to be rough-sorted into feature numbers, supplies need to be ordered, the artifact database needs to be checked, and these are just some of the tasks from the first two weeks. Being a TA for this course is giving me an inside view of the kind of work involved in running an archaeology lab. Even though there has been a lot of work, it has all been fun and productive. Being a TA for this project has only increased my interest in the Market Street site in particular, and the archaeological process in general.

A sample tray.

It is only the second week of lab methods class, and the students have already started to catalog ceramic artifacts from the 86-36 collection. We began the week on Tuesday with a lecture on ceramics. Professor Voss briefly discussed how ceramics are made and decorated, and then went into detail about the different ceramics we are likely to encounter in the 86-36 collection. On Thursday the students in the class put concepts from the Tuesday lecture into practice. Professor Voss and I set up trays of ceramics for students to work with. Some of the trays asked the students to identify the types of ceramics on the tray, others displayed ceramics with makers marks and asked the students to identify those makers marks using reference books in the lab. An example of one of the trays is in the picture above and to the left. See if you can identify any of the artifacts. The students did exceptionally well on these tests, and by Friday we were ready to start the analysis of ceramics from the 86-36 collection. (The answers to the tray are: A)Porcelain, “double happiness” decoration; B) Stoneware, molded relief decoration; C) Earthenware, slipped and burnished; D) Ironstone, transfer print decoration; E) Pearlware, annular decoration; F) Whiteware, flow blue transfer print; G) Porcelain, celadon decoration; H) Porcelain, “4 seasons” decoration; I) Tin-Glazed earthenware; hand painted.)

Featured Artifact

Artifacts of the week.

The artifacts of the week are three artifacts that were cataloged by the students in CASA 103/203. They illustrate the diversity of the collections that we will be analyzing. Despite this diversity in form, decoration, and function; the students in the course were able to successfully identify these artifacts, fill out their catalog forms, and enter the data into the computerized database.


Winter 2004 class participants in CASA 103/203: Laboratory Methods in Archaeology

2004 is the second year that we have convened a laboratory methods course so that students can participate directly in Stanford’s research on the Market Street Chinatown collection. During our first week, we discussed the importance of laboratory studies in archaeological research and the history of the Market Street Chinatown collection. A Friday laboratory orientation introduced students to the cataloging procedures.

Teaching Assistant Bryn Williams demonstrating how to enter artifact catalog information into the project database

Now that we have been working with the Market Street Chinatown collection for a year, we have started to identify clear priorities for cataloging and research. This winter, we are going to focus our efforts on three features from the Market Street Chinatown: Feature 86-36:5, Feature 85-31:18, and Feature 85-31:20. We selected these features for two reasons. First, they are among the largest assemblages in the collection, and thus contain an abundant number of artifacts. This will eventually facilitate statistical analyses that could not be done on smaller segments of the collection. Second, we have found relatively strong excavation records for these three features, which will also support analysis and interpretation of the materials.

Featured Artifact

Chinese drinking bowls, decorated in the "Four Flowers" style. Left to right: #86-36:5-602; #85-31:2-10

On Friday, we used these two ceramic drinking bowls to teach the class participants how to use the project catalog system. Both are imported Chinese porcelains decorated with the “Four Flowers” motif. This beautiful decorative style uses multi-colored enamel to depict flowers representing each season. The larger drinking bowl (#85-31:2-10) would have probably been used to serve tea or broth. The smaller bowl (#86-36:5-602), which holds only about one tablespoon of liquid, was often used in drinking Ng-Ga-Py, a potent rice liquor.