There are a lot of steps that go into processing a collection. I would like to share my experience with one of them- assessments. Assessment is the process of evaluating the condition of the collection and the artifacts contained within. Assessing collections can be a tedious affair. At the best of times, it’s a smooth and formulaic process. You look at an artifact, pass silent judgments about whoever assembled the collection before you, circle a Y or a N in the entry for the stability of the artifact in the assessment inventory, initial, date, and move on to the next artifact. At the worst of times, assessing can make you tear your hair out. Boxes of random stones and pottery sherds, missing artifacts, charred materials hidden at the bottom of paper bags that just won’t come out no matter how much you try. It can drive you up the wall, yet, even with all the maddening problems, I still love assessing. I love the puzzle of it. When you assess, you’re presented with a chaotic box of the unknown. There’s just something so satisfying unraveling that box’s mystery. About following the clues left for you and slowly piecing together what artifact is what, and my what artifacts there are! For every box of stones, or pottery pieces, there are incredibly interesting artifacts as well. Each one with a story behind it, needing to be examined and processed. There’s a mystery in those artifacts as well, an unknown story that I only get to glance at briefly. Although, depending on the collection, that story can take a backseat to the problems at hand, especially when the collection itself presents some problems.
You can encounter all kinds of strange things while assessing. For instance, I was recently assessing a new collection when I opened a box to find that, much to my surprise, the box just contained nothing but loose stones. Nothing in the box was bagged or organized in any way, just a bunch of rocks at the bottom of a box. Now usually this isn’t too bad of a thing to find. After all most artifacts are marked in some way to indicate which artifact is which, and as it would happen all these stones were marked! From there the next steps were to match each stone with its entry in the inventory. Only the thing is, when I went to match them, almost none of them corresponded with their entry in the inventory. Now usually this isn’t a problem, I could go in and enter all the stones as new database entries and move on. The problem is that there was the same amount of stones as there were entries for them. Which lead me to conclude that the stones were in the report, just not well-organized. So, I had to sort each stone into several possible candidates in the report and make a note of each one. What’s even worse is that when I had to do the exact same thing with hundreds of pottery sherds. The thing is though, I really enjoyed working through all those problems. The joy I got from figuring out that assessment is the same that I get from solving a good puzzle.
Assessing can be frustrating, it can be tedious, but it can also be an incredibly enjoyable activity. In my time at the museum, I have assessed quite a few collections and each time I discover something new. From interesting artifacts to better ways of processing collections, assessing always yields something interesting for me to uncover. So, I look forward to the next collection I get to process and assess. I know that it will have its own challenges and complications, but I also know that there will be another puzzle for me to solve and new interesting things for me to discover.