2020 Winner: A California Case Study on Procedures to Reassemble and Reevaluate Archaeological Artifact Processing

Project Information
A California Case Study on Procedures to Reassemble and Reevaluate Archaeological Artifact Processing
Social Sciences
Anthropology - Archaeology
The poor recovery, transport, storage, data-entry, and organization of archaeological materials results in the loss of valuable artifact data, increased archival backlog, and negative effects for the profession of archeology. These are major issues contributing to the curation crisis. The purpose of this thesis is to analyze why certain artifact processes in their analytical procedures result in better outcomes than others.
To understand this, I created case studies based on my experience working in separate steps of the artifact process in both academic and CRM archeology. To give structure to these case studies, I incorporate principles actively used in the business of manufacturing such as Lean Manufacturing and Kaizen (process improvement strategies involving waste reduction). The words “wastes” and “defects” when used in reference to the artifact process are borrowed from business terms for something that goes wrong during any stage in processing, and therefore rework is required, or the project materials are otherwise disregarded (Hicks, 2007).
This research demonstrates how wastes and delays in artifact processes stem from multiple sources. Artifact processes can be defined as the levels and steps of curation and analysis as an artifact passes through archaeological care, beginning its lifecycle in excavation and ending it through either deaccessioning or long-term archival storage (see Figure 1). The patterns of waste are significantly different depending on whether or not artifacts have a research outcome when they are first excavated, which signifies the system type the artifacts proceed under. For example, when cultural resource management projects in archaeology excavate, they do so primarily to fulfill the contractor’s value of artifact removal.
Academic-driven excavation, on the other hand, has fewer opportunities for process stagnation, but is subject to other process wastes including those arising when researchers fail to search archives prior to new excavation. Artifact process stagnations include wastes and anything else that may stop the physical or informational flow of an artifact and its data through the artifact process. The patterns of waste also vary based on when the experienced archaeological talent is invested, particularly whether it is early in excavation or later on in the lab or archive. Later in the artifact process, there is often a higher cost of rework because of insufficient handling and organization early on. This thesis contains a detailed discussion of wastes incurred in the various stages of the artifact process for each system type.
The ways of handling these wastes are as varied as their sources. Prior to the excavation, all artifacts must have an ethical deaccessioning plan with native consult or community partners, and a timetable associated with them. Standards must be set for data entry at every step of the process so that materials are not rendered useless for lack of accompanying data.
When excavations result in orphaned artifacts, these artifacts should be rapidly matched with a research objective, because the likelihood of adoption declines significantly with time. Beyond this, employment practices must be improved so that those entering the field can contribute consistently and broadly to the artifact process. The success of the overall artifact process must be holistically strived for by everyone involved and at every stage in order for those excavated artifacts to bring the most value to our understanding of our past and to those cultures affected.
Averting wasteful operational procedures such as poor recovery, transport, storage, data- entry and organization of archaeological materials will result in retaining valued artifact data, decreasing the archival backlog, and benefiting the profession itself through sustainable and ethical practices.
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  • Allysha Ann Leonard (Eight)