We continue surveying what our interns get up to with a trip report from Elizabeth Minor, who spent her summer seeking buried treasure in archival records on the East Coast and across the pond.
This summer I was able to go on a dissertation research trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) and the British Museum in London thanks to a Stahl Grant awarded by the Archaeological Research Facility at UC Berkeley. As a CoDA intern, I love being able to help with a variety of digital archaeology projects, especially ones that build digital archives that help with accessibility to previously excavated collections. I got started in this field by working on a similar inventory project at the MFA that led me into the topic for my dissertation on the ancient Nubian site of Kerma. I won’t say how long ago (asking a Ph.D. student how long they’ve been working is as bad as asking a lady how old she is), but let’s just say it was one of the first major museum collections to have an easily accessible online object database!
The site of Kerma was excavated almost 100 years ago by the American archaeologist George Reisner, and continues to be excavated by a Swiss team led by Charles Bonnet. Reisner’s excavations covered the later phase of the cemetery, and the body of his collection is housed in the MFA. Part of the collection that remained in Sudan was given to the British Museum as well. Starting his career at the turn of the last century, Reisner was one of the pioneers in archaeological recording practices. He was especially thorough in photographing his
excavations in process, as well as groups of objects. His meticulous notes, photo logs, tomb cards, and object registers allow researchers like me to access great amounts of information about his finds in situ and re-evaluate his interpretations of them. Unfortunately, that can be a tricky process, especially managing the cross-references between all the different types of excavation records. Without a repository of information, previous scholars have had to dive into the massive, but condensed, excavation publications. Flipping between both volumes and scanning through without an index does not facilitate research.
My trip this summer gave me a chance to scan most of the textual excavation archive from Reisner’s work at Kerma. The MFA has also made major efforts to scan Reisner’s field photos from all of his excavations in Egypt and Nubia, which are still housed there as glass plate negatives. Using the awesome powers of Filemaker Pro, I’ve been able to incorporate the MFA’s wonderful online object database with my own research photos, notes and scans, and then have these invaluable resources at hand for working on my dissertation.
For example, this summer I was able to identify two possible queens/priestesses who were buried with beautiful silver crowns by tracking down objects in storage and reconstructing their archaeological context through archival materials. At the British Museum, I was able to search through their Kerma objects and find their original field numbers, which then re-links them with their findspots and all of their
contextual information. I was able to view fragments of a decorated hat, compare them with original field photos, and show that it was originally covered in spotted guinea fowl. These are fun examples, but they will also help me with my research about changing social relationships in the ancient Kerman community.
If you want to see more about the Reisner collection at the MFA, check out their online resources at the MFA website and try your own searches about Kerma. And to see an example of Reisner’s thorough recording practices and how they help researchers today, check out gizapyramids.org. And if you want to learn more about vulture crowns and guinea fowl, stop by the ARF this Wednesday 12-1 for my brown bag talk about my research.