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Traveling into the past...NCMA Archaeology Lab

An artifact we examined
An artifact we examined
Nancy LaPonzina

There's nothing more exciting for those interested in archaeology than the real-life opportunity to hold a thousand-year-old artifact created and used by ancient peoples. Whether it be a pottery sherd from Native American Woodland Period Paleo-Indians from 10,000 years ago, or three-thousand-year-old Egyptian objects. Recently, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC offered their first hands-on archaeology lab.

Dr. Caroline Rocheleau, the museum curator of ancient art, presented a brief artifact-handling orientation, a hands-on study session of classical ceramics, and a short overview lecture that I participated in along with twenty other wanna-be archaeologists.

The lab event focused mainly on Egyptian, Cypriot, and Turkish Artifacts. My volunteer experience with the North Carolina Archaeology Office included North Carolina Paleo-Indian artifacts. I was struck with the differences and also the depth of knowledge archaeologists are required to develop for each time period and culture in order to adequately understand an object's use and significance. Dr. Rocheleau is an Egyptologist and Nubiologist.

Each small group of "archaeologists" were given four artifacts to hands-on examine, describe, and hazard a theory as to what its use might have been. We were guided with information sheets and a glossary of official descriptors to detail the material, color, texture, shape, size and construction. The glossary included burnished, applique, lip, neck, shoulder, slip, hand-thrown, ellipsoid, ovaloid, cone and many more.

We made our observations and attempted consensus as to use. We sketched the object and observed it much as we would were we on some archaeological dig discovering these ancient treasures. Some items were decorative primarily and found in burial sites. Others showed wear from use. At the end of the session, Dr. Rocheleau presented a slide show that explained each of the twenty or so objects the groups had explored and their real histories.

How exciting to ponder these artifacts and consider the link between ancient peoples and the lives we live today. Because of the popularity of this program, there is a good chance a similar program will be offered in the future. I welcome the opportunity for discovering these historic items whenever the NCMA sponsors another lab!