I have just finished doing the laundry for the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society’s Summer Training Program…by that, I do not mean that I have finished washing my field clothes…I mean that I’ve finished washing the artifact bags…
What?!?, you say…I know, I know…this was a foreign practice to me until I moved to Arkansas in the mid-1990s…all the other organizations across the southeast that I had worked with (and that included academic insitutions, government agencies and contract firms over 12 southeastern states) used either brown paper bags in the field (old school…just like the WPA archaeologists had done generations before us), or used 2-4 mil plastic ziplock bags in the field…
When I first moved to Arkansas and discovered that they used cloth bags for their artifacts in the field, I was shocked..and at first I did not like it one bit—the AAS uses a 2 tag/1 bag system…one tied to the exterior of the cloth bag and one stuffed inside a 4 mil ziplock inside the cloth bag with the artifacts…both with the same provenience information on them…The exterior tag makes sorting easy, the interior tag is a stop-gap in case the exterior tag is torn off…At first I thought this felt redundant and cumbersome, but over the last 2 decades I have come to LOVE the cloth bags.
Brown paper bags have a tendency to rip when overstuffed, and will fall apart if they get damp (and can mold in long-term curation)…the black sharpie label does not get wiped off of a paper bag, however, which is more than I can say for using plastic bags in the field…and if you use plastic in the field, odds are you are going to switch the artifacts to a fresh plastic bag after processing…meaning you’ve just wasted a bag (I’ve seen some folks wash 4 mil bags in the dishwasher…but these folks are rare…and on a tight budget).
Cloth artifact bags filled and waiting processing in the field lab at 2007 Jones Mill excavations
In Arkansas, after coming in from the field, the artifacts are processed and transferred to 4 mil plastic bags with both interior and exterior tags…but the cloth bag gets thrown in the washing machine and used again…some of these bags on my kitchen table have been in use since the 1970s (I know because one on them still has a inked label from the 1972 excavations at Ferguson Mound)…that’s a pretty environmental approach to artifact collection (although I mitigate the “green” approach by using plastic zip-ties to close my bags rather than the traditional cotton string). The first time I have EVER saw new cloth bags ordered at the AAS was last year—after I had been working with the organization 15 years. By the way, you can buy them from Forestry Suppliers.
These cloth artifact bags should be enough to get me through the summer dig (note they come in three sizes)…you know what…even if I moved to another state, I think I’d take this idea with me.
Do other folks out there use cloth bags? or some other type of artifact bag in the field?
This week came more proof of the importance of music to how my mind works….many of you may know that I have no ability to memorize anything…mean anything…I have never been able to memorize addition or subtraction facts, multiplication tables, spellings, dates, or…or anything…I could never memorize prose sections or poetry…If I understand the system that things work in I can remember them, but I have never been able to learn anything by rote memorization…the BIG exception to this block is music…I can hear a song twice and I will remember the words of that song forever…In fact, the only multiplication table I know, I know because my father realized this quirk in my memorization skills. When I was in the 4th grade, he wrote a song about multiplying by 4s…I remember almost every word to this day.
These days, Lydia has gotten me into listening to fiction during my long work-related road trips instead of music…This week I had a 8 hour journey up to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (and back) to give a talk about the Arkansas Archeological Society’s “Summer Dig.” I had just finished The Paris Wife, a novel about Hadley Richardson–Ernest Hemmingway’s first wife–so I chose to listen to Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises…I chose this book 1) because it was about 7 hours long ; 2) I had not read this novel since high school and 3) I wanted to see what insights The Paris Wife might offer to a reading of the novel.
I got back to Magnolia about mid-day on Wed…I intended to go to the office after a quick lunch…but I made the mistake of laying down for a nap…As I drifted off to sleep, I fumbled with my iPod to find some music to listen to while I snoozed…to my surprise I chose–of all things–Phil Collin’s first solo album Face Value (1981).
As I listened to the infinitely overdubbed horns and drum machines, I began to realize, through the foggy haze of my road-weariness, that there were some obtuse resonances between a couple of the songs and some of the plot points in The Sun Also Rises…next came the realization that I had made these connections before…then came the shock–I knew why I had chosen Face Value…I had been listening to this album when I originally read The Sun Also Rises back in like 1986-87…my subconscious still linked these two works…crazy.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite, random, surrealistic exchanges in The Sun Also Rises (presaging Henry Miller–one of my favorites):
“Here’s a taxidermist’s,” Bill said. “Want to buy anything? Nice stuffed dog?”
“Come on,” I said. “You’re pie-eyed.”
“Pretty nice stuffed dogs,” Bill said. “Certainly brighten up your flat.”
“Just one stuffed dog. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em alone. But listen, Jake. Just one stuffed dog.”
“Mean everything in the world to you after you bought it. Simple exchange of values. You give them money. They give you a stuffed dog.”
“We’ll get one on the way back.”
“All right. Have it your way. Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs. Not my fault.”
“Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs. Not my fault.”