Monday, June 13, 2011

What A Mess!

For the first time in my 16 years doing Site Steward monitoring of archaeological sites here in Arizona we are closed down. Forest Service, National Park Service, County Lands and BLM areas are closed to the public. Most of our higher altitude parks and picnic areas are closed too.


They rage to the south and northeast of Tucson. Our valley has been filled with smoke for weeks. Our beautiful mountains are haze covered. Our normally azure skies are a milky blue.

The desert landscape looks awful.

Bushes and trees that normally have some semblance of greenery – life – are a withering crispy brown.

Grasses crunch underfoot.

Cacti are withered and look so thirsty!

The Creek that normally flows, at least trickles, near some of the sites we monitor, is dry. I have never seen it totally dry.

The fierce three-day winter freeze, our 20 year drought and our very low humidity of 3-7% with 100°F temperatures have culminated in plants and trees dying. A true trifecta of circumstances! Or is that a quadfecta?

The last time I was out monitoring there was NO moisture in the ground. That means rocks do not hold when one is climbing a hill. They roll down banging into one another.

Hmm. Didn’t early man start fires by getting sparks when they hit two rocks together? They used chert (flint) as I remember.

We have lots of chert!

Catalytic converters on vehicle pose a danger - one spark and the dry grass goes whoosh!

There are houses near-by in the desert ridge tops and if those BBQ grills are not closely monitored or improperly used they can cause fires too.

We are beginning our monsoon season. Usually at the outset we have ‘dry’ storms – big booming claps of thunder and lightning, but no rain.

Lightning is the cause of many of these forest fires. It ranks right up there with human caused.

So home we sit or clean house or read a book - bored and anxious to get “out there.”

The houses are clean - books have been read and we continue to wait.

The sites will wait for us.

There is no rush.

They have been there for a 1000 + years.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Museum & Buttons

 I would wager a bet that all of you have visited a museum at least once in your life.
Do you really know how much work has gone into the exhibit(s) you visited?

I would like to take you “behind the scene” in the museum were I volunteer one day a week and have done so since 1995.

And keep in mind I only know the protocol in the museum where I volunteer.

An item has been donated/gifted/curated (archaeologically excavated) to the museum by X. Once accepted by the committee it is given a unique Catalogue number and an Accession card is created that includes all the information one has been able to obtain regarding this item. Photographs are taken for documentation. Each item is labeled with its unique Catalogue number. Finally, it is given a storage location - its museum home!

Now you decide to do an exhibit.

Depending on the theme and number of items, the behind scene preparation time could be months or days. One exhibit we did was one year in preparation. Most of the small exhibits I do take but a few days.

Here is what I have to do for a small exhibit - approximately 10 objects:

Pick a theme: Buttons in this instance.
Survey the museum collection for items that fit the theme.
Catalogue cards are pulled and copied for each object.
List of the item(s) is made for insurance purposes and a copy given to the Registrar.
Remove object from storage location.
Items are examined for any defect(s).
Decision made as to stability of artifacts for exhibit: consider lighting effects on fabrics or in this case, humidity for Ivory, or wood buttons.
Items are researched for past history or for new information that will give the viewer an appreciation of the object.
Exhibit case and location are decided upon.
An exhibit case identifying tag is printed for each item that includes: age of item, maker of item if known, culture, donor, brief description of item as relates to the theme, and the Catalogue number.

A brief researched text is written to give the viewer an insight to the theme such as: History of Buttons.

Then comes the fun part: placing the object(s) in the case! One has to consider: balance, color, angle, and height - just the over all appearance of the object(s) in the case.

I really did this small exhibit on Buttons! Who would guess that buttons could be so interesting? I found a fabulous book on the history of buttons - earliest known circa 2800-2600 BCE excavated in the Indus Valley. It had wonderful pictures, too, of 14th Century women with three different styles of buttons in one picture. Buttons primary function early on was ornamentation. They were too expansive for all but the wealthy! I used the book in the exhibit also.

In our collection I found buttons from all over the globe and made from: ivory, plastic, stone, metal, clay (pottery), bone, leather, grasses (fibers), glass, jewels, coconut shell, cloth and yes - seashell.

Some of the buttons were incised; clays were hand painted; plastics had molded designs, woods were carved, and so it went! Oh! And the different shapes! Round, square, oval and globular.

And there you stood – looking at the exhibit - and you thought we had just pulled items out and placed them into the case!

We have done our job too – stimulating your curiosity - if you are examining the buttons you have on your attire as you read this!