Leaving the Lab!

My last week at the Nels Nelson North American Archaeology Lab at the American Museum of Natural History was last Friday! It’s sad to be leaving the museum, but I’m glad I got to work with great people and learn a huge amount about this particular lab as well as a great deal about the future and current state of archaeology in North America. I’m really glad I was able to do several different projects each day as well. I would say I had to tweak my expectations slightly as I wasn’t quite sure what the majority of the work I would be doing this summer would be, but that is hardly a bad thing! With several smaller projects, I was able to learn about many different aspects of the lab. This included working in photography, ArcGIS, consolidating, rehousing, cleaning artifacts, data entry. It seems like I was able to do a bit of everything, down to scanning field forms.

Lab tower

I would say I met my goals for the internship this summer, including being able to put the work we are doing in the lab into context with the people of St. Catherine’s Island through the generations of inhabitants and their technologies. I am certainly more comfortable working in the lab in the last week than the first week, and I have also learned a great deal from my fellow interns who are all at different stages in figuring out their futures in archaeology, whether that includes graduate school, contract archaeology, or museum work. And it has been a great experience living in New York this summer.

I’m not sure yet whether I am more clear about my career interests, but I am definitely more clear on the options in Archaeology and Anthropology that are available to me, and I am in the process of narrowing down the fields I am particularly interested in; including Human Osteology, Conservation. I certainly have a better sense of how to proceed to continue a career doing archaeology, and that includes a lot of new technologies in the field including GIS and various forms of 3D scanning, including photogrammetry. At the end of the internship we were able to discuss how to move forward and the different options available. If I had to give advice about internships in this field I would certainly recommend applying to the NAARCH Lab and definitely to ask questions not only about the work but about the field in general and talk to the people you are working with. Throughout this summer, I am most proud of just keeping a journal of everything I did each day, and taking notes during our discussions. Since I did so many different small projects, it makes it a lot easier to remember what I enjoyed the most and what I had more trouble with and need to work on, and that will definitely help me in the future. All in all it was a fantastic experience! I think it has had a great effect on my perceptions of the field and lab environments, and it’s a great jumping off point moving beyond Brandeis!

79th Street entrance to the museum
79th Street entrance to the museum

Work in the NAARCH Lab so far!

I’ve been working with the North American Archaeology Lab at the American Museum of Natural History for 5 weeks already. The summer is flying by! I’ve really enjoyed my time working here so far; each week offers something new to do and to learn about St. Catherine’s Island and about the more general field of North American archaeology. Since my last post, we have been having reading discussion groups one morning a week to talk about articles pertaining to the site or the types of materials we have been working with. This has been a great opportunity to get some background into what we are handling, and the craft and culture behind it, as well as how it sometimes related the archaeology of St. Catherine’s to people inland and along the East Coast. These articles often bring up unanswered questions and theories surrounding the island and the Gaule people as well as their relationship to the mission.

(photo from: http://www.amnh.org/our-research/anthropology/research/north-american-archaeology/projects/st.-catherines-island-ga )
(photo from: http://www.amnh.org/our-research/anthropology/research/north-american-archaeology/projects/st.-catherines-island-ga )


In terms of work in the lab, every day I’m doing something different ranging anywhere from cataloguing, to searching for artifacts, to transcription. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into the internship since my brief experience in the archaeology lab at Brandeis has been cleaning and recording artifacts. In the past few weeks we have done some cleaning, but the range of tasks that needs to be done over the summer is much larger than that, which I think is part of what makes the internship so interesting every day; there are a lot of smaller projects within a larger plan for the summer. It’s certainly different from my academic life at Brandeis where most of my contact with archaeology is through articles and papers on subjects that usually cover several various sites rather than a single period or culture. While these skills are very useful, working in the North American Archaeology Lab is teaching me more hands-on skills for the organization and categorization of artifacts and of the excavation itself that go hand in hand with articles written about the site. I think this is applicable well beyond the lab in terms of learning new methods of organization and working with your peers. I think one more skill that I think will be applicable beyond the lab is being able to be flexible in whatever you are doing, and being able to move between projects and learning to point out potential issues. I’ve learned to move slower and double-check everything, since one wrong number on an artifact could cause larger problems down the line for the next intern or researcher trying to find the mislabeled or miscatalogued piece. Looking to the future, I have learned a great deal, simply from my supervisor’s and my fellow intern’s varying experiences in archaeology both in North America and abroad, and about the options for working in contract archaeology and continuing to study within a more specified field of archaeology.

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First Week at NAARCH

natural history front

This summer I am working, along with 6 other interns, at the North American Archaeology Lab at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The work of the interns varies each summer, but usually revolves around the artifacts, materials, and past research from the site at St. Catherine’s Island in Georgia, USA. The site at St. Catherine’s is significant because we can see around 5000 years of human habitation, relatively untouched until European contact, and there is still little modern activity or development on the Island. Some important areas of the excavation center around the Mission Santa Catalina de Gaule as well as the history of the native people of lived on the Island.






The goal for the interns this summer is to make it possible for the artifacts that have been brought to the lab from excavations over the last 10 years to be moved back down to Georgia in the Fall. The duties of the interns vary daily and weekly, but they will include consolidating and reorganizing the artifacts in the lab from the last several years of excavations on St. Catherine’s Island. The artifacts need to be consolidated so that they can be transferred to Georgia. They will be organized according to where and in what layer they were found instead of by material. I will be checking the documentation of these objects. Other tasks will include data entry, photography, the storing and handling of artifacts, and possibly photogrammetry related to the 3-D scanning of objects, and various forms of analysis. So far we have been working with materials from the most recent work on the Island. We cleaned several fragments of ceramic as well as shell. We have also sorted through materials found around features and several other sites, this included slowly going through bags of fine material to find hidden pieces of ceramic, fired clay, fish bones, certain lithics, and beads. As you can imagine, this is a long process in order to catch every piece of information, but we managed to finish sorting all of the leftover materials from the excavation and move on to cataloguing, and then sorting and consolidating some of the catalogued materials.

In terms of my goals for the summer, the first is to learn how to perform cursory and historical analysis of artifacts, and more importantly to be able to recognize different kinds of materials more accurately. I’m excited to learn from my fellow interns, who have varying levels of experience in the field and in different areas of North America and the rest of the world as well as my supervisors. On a more general level, my goal is of course to gain experience working in a professional archaeology lab. I have not worked in a lab nor had many experiences in a non-fieldwork setting, and I am eager to be able to increase my confidence of my own knowledge of archaeology and the nature of the sites I will be working with through the North American Archaeology Lab this summer!

View from the lab!
View from the lab!

Mozelle Shamash Rosenthal, ‘16