One major part of the Spiro project is rehousing the artifacts, which is critical for their long-term preservation. Best practices for housing artifacts have changed a great deal since the early days of excavation at Spiro.
Our goal is to make sure the artifacts are in a stable environment, both physically and chemically. This is particularly important for delicate items, such as engraved shell, wood, textiles, basketry, and copper plates. To protect the artifacts physically, we make sure that they do not rub against each other, are cushioned, and move as little as possible. To protect the artifacts chemically, we use acid-free archival materials and expose them to as little light as possible.
Additionally, all of the collections at the Sam Noble Museum are kept in climate-controlled conditions and bugs are kept at bay through an preventative integrated pest management system. No food or drinks that might attract critters are allowed!
In order to rehouse many artifacts, we make our own boxes out of acid-free corrugated board, commonly known as blueboard for its blue-grey color. It is much less expensive to buy the materials and make your own boxes than to purchase them pre-made. This also lets us fit the size and shape of the boxes to particular artifacts. Other useful box-making materials include acid-free tissue paper, ethafoam, a glue gun, acid-free gummed linen tape, a steel ruler, a bone tool, a cutting board, and a utility knife.
We are making three different types of boxes for the Spiro artifacts. Excellent instructions for making the first type of box, which has a separate body and lid, are available here: http://mgnsw.org.au/uploaded/Box%20Making%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.
The second type is a clamshell-style box with ethafoam sides. We got this idea from Eric Singleton at the Gilcrease Museum. One advantage to this type is that it is easier to construct – making close-fitting lids for the first type of box takes some practice. The clamshell box is useful for holding a number of smaller artifacts.
Within the clamshell boxes we are placing a number of smaller, unlidded boxes, padded with ethafoam and tissue, to individually house engraved shell fragments. These boxes keep each fragment protected yet still visible as a group, which decreases the need to handle them.
For some of our larger and most delicate objects, such as the engraved shell cups, we cut out a cavity in an ethafoam plank, which will hold the artifact steady and secure. Next we line the cavity with acid-free tissue or Tyvek. Finally, we place the ethafoam and artifact in a custom-made box.