Merry Christmas and happy new… lithics?

As Christmas approaches everybody is getting ready to eat lots of sweets and put aside work for a few days of rest. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do until the 24th – quite the opposite!

So today we will give you a quick rundown of one of this week’s work: marking archaeological pieces, why and how.

Marking an artifact means we are taking its ID (which carries all information such as site or spatial data) and placing it on the piece itself, instead of only on the bag. We don’t always do this – it takes some time, and it may hamper some analysis researchers may want to do in the future. In the case of lithics, for example, we mark pieces to try and refit them. When we have hundreds of little similar pieces, we want to see if any fit together, so we can reconstruct the knapping process, how the final pieces were made from larger block to small flake. But doing so without mixing ID labels can be quite the task – marking the pieces allows us to never lose the ID while giving us freedom to move the artifacts around in the THOUSANDS of attempts to refit something (sigh…). So that’s one of the reasons why.

As for the how, it’s simple – nail polish and ink. And no, we don’t take the opportunity to get a great French manicure. We first apply a layer (or two) of nail polish on a small area of the lithic. This allows us to remove it later if we want, keeping the porous rock protected from the ink’s pigment.

Fig. 1 – Applying a second layer of nail polish on the lithic. Don’t forget to keep the label close to the lithic throughout the process!

After the first layer which is the base for our marking, we write the ID down. I do this with a fountain pen and black drawing ink, but any fine, resistant, and permanent pen will do the trick. Ideally, we want an ID which is small and inconspicuous, but still legible. Finally, we apply a final layer of nail polish. This will protect the ink, making sure that even many years from now the ID will still be preserved – like the mosquito in amber from Jurassic Park. Except we won’t create a pack of dangerous velociraptors to cause panic (hopefully), we don’t study dinosaurs, after all.

Fig. 2 – A lithic after being labeled with the fountain pen. This is not a promotion to Pelikan. It is pretty good though.

After drying well, our little rocks are ready to be handled, mixed, and refitted. This process takes some hours since everything needs to dry, but that’s just a good excuse to read a good book with a warm cup of hot chocolate.

Talking about hot chocolate – happy holidays everyone. From the PhD students of ICArEHB and little H21-3865, now label free and ready to enjoy its brand-new Santa hat – Merry Christmas!


Author: Joana Belmiro

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