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Group photograph of participants and instructors working at the staged archaeological site during AIC's workshop on Blocklifting Archaeological Artifacts. (Image credit: Carl Yares)
From Delaware to the Sonoran Desert, I relocated to Tucson in mid-August and started my third-year placement at the Arizona State Museum (ASM). Working under the supervision of Lab Manager and Conservator, Gina Watkinson, my internship at ASM has encompassed an array of object treatments, preventive conservation projects, and public engagement opportunities. The second-year object seminars and block notes from WUDPAC prepared me well for the variety of materials I have encountered at ASM, such as low-fire ceramics, plant materials, metals, textiles, wood, and even plastics.
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Alyssa using a brush to micro-excavate around an object in the block once it was brought back to the Conservation Lab. (Image credit: Lauren Conway)
ASM was originally established in 1893 as the Territory Museum and most of the collection encompasses Indigenous and archaeological cultural materials from the southwest and associated regions. Some of my treatment projects have included stabilizing a large Hopi basket; reattaching elements on a wooden Mexican mask in the shape of a scorpion; polishing various Hopi and Navajo jewelry; and treating three souvenir dolls from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II that will shortly be donated to a local non-profit museum. Apart from treatment and preventive projects, I co-taught a public workshop on polishing silver jewelry and took an AIC workshop on blocklifting hosted by ASM.
The AIC workshop, Blocklifting Archaeological Artifacts, was a great way for me to expand upon my skills by learning about an area of conservation I had not previously encountered in depth—archaeological conservation. Blocklifting involves excavating artifact(s) at an archaeological site in a way that keeps the object(s) embedded in the soil matrix. This technique allows for future micro-excavation in a lab setting with smaller tools and a stable environment. Blocklifting is commonly done when an object is too fragile to be removed from the soil or if the assemblage of objects is significant to the overall interpretation. The multi-day workshop was taught by Dr. Nancy Odegaard and Gina Watkinson and included lectures, tours, practicums, and plenty of time for discussion. I was paired with Lauren Conway (UCLA/Getty class of 2023 and fellow third-year intern at ASM). Together we block lifted materials at a staged archaeological site by digging down and around the objects and ensuring the surrounding soil matrix remained intact. We wrapped co-bands around the sides of our block, used paraffin wax and tinfoil to consolidate the soil on the top of our block, and used spray foam and cardboard to help remove the block from the site. Then, we brought the block back to ASM's conservation lab to micro-excavate with small brushes, micro-spatulas, and under a controlled environment. Since each group received different materials to blocklift with, we had plenty of time to discuss the pros and cons of each material. I am grateful that I was able to join the blockifting workshop, as my participation was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Alyssa reassembling the Maverick Mountain series ceramic bowl. (Image credit: Meghan McFarlane)
Between this workshop and frequent discussions about archaeology throughout my third-year internship, I have learned a great deal about the history of materials used at ASM to conserve archaeological objects and the conservation materials used today. Now in the lab, I am researching and treating an archaeological ceramic bowl from east-central Arizona. It is part of the Maverick Mountain polychrome series and was likely used for ceremonial feasts. The bowl was previously assembled years prior by archaeologists using cellulose nitrate—an adhesive that ages poorly. Over the years, six ceramic sherds that belong to this bowl turned up in ASM's storage. The goal of this treatment is to disassemble the bowl using a vapor chamber of acetone to soften the cellulose nitrate adhesive, then reassemble the bowl using Paraloid B-72. It's been a while since I've reassembled a ceramic vessel, so I am looking forward to working on it!
My time at ASM has been quite informative. Over the past eight months, I have built upon my previous conservation skills and have grown as a conservator and museum professional. ASM has provided me with a third-year placement full of diverse treatments, preventive conservation projects, site-visits to Tribal museums and collections on the University's campus, and many opportunities to interact with the public through tours and workshops.
— Alyssa Rina, WUDPAC Class of 2023