I recently joined about thirty other enthusiastic wanna-be archaeologists at the North Carolina Museum of Art to participate in their first hands-on archaeology lab. Staff archaeologist Dr. Caroline Rocheleau led us through a brief artifact-handling orientation, a hands-on study session of classical ceramics, and a short overview lecture.
My volunteer experience at the North Carolina State Archaeology Office dealt with Pre-historic Paleo-Indian artifacts, some ten thousand years old, and 18th Century North Carolina ceramics. Dr. Rocheleau however, is an Egyptologist, a Nubiologist (a geographic region located in the south of Egypt and North of Sudan) and the museum curator of ancient art. The focus of this event were artifacts from Cyprus and Turkey and I got a real appreciation for the depth of study and experience archaeologists must develop for different time periods and cultures. The differences I found from the Paleo-Indian pottery were quite interesting contrasted with the three thousand-year-old Cypriot artifacts.
Each small group of participants had four artifacts to examine in order to identify it, describe it, and determine what its use may have been. One of the four artifacts provided to each group was so old, only a special representative could handle it as we visually examined it. Then, like archaeologists out on a dig, we sketched the item, noted its color, construction, finish, decorations, and the presence of any traces of wear. We referenced a glossary to help describe the objects with such formal-sounding descriptors as burnished, applique, lip, neck, shoulder, slip, spout, wheel-made, and ellipsoid, ovaloid, hyperboloid, and cone.
Our artifact assortment included two objects that possibly held a valued liquid such as precious oil and added to a burial site. So much to examine, so much to imagine from thousands of years ago. Before we knew it, our time was up and we were escorted to a lovely luncheon where we got to speak more with Dr. Rocheleau.
How exciting to ponder peoples from so long ago and why I love to add a dollop of archaeology to my stories for my characters to learn about and enjoy!