Friday, April 22, 2011

Lab Update: On Cross-mending...

It has been a couple of months since the final artifact was entered into the catalog. It certainly felt good to insert that final entry (artifact # 20,395!), but our work continues. In my last post, I talked about the process of cross-mending, a task that currently occupies most of our time in the lab. Just to review, cross-mending involves the reassembly of vessels across contexts, that is, between units rather than simply within them, providing us with a more accurate count of just how many objects were discarded at the site. The process has been slow, to say the least.

I decided that we would start with blue transfer-printed ceramic vessels because they are typically the easiest to mend; given that the sherds are printed with discernible images, it's sort of like putting together multiple puzzles without actually knowing how many puzzles are represented or how many pieces make up each puzzle. We spent about 4 hours removing all of the blue transfer-printed pieces from their respective bags and laying them out on the table according to their associated unit number and layer letter. Then we began to cross-mend, beginning with the vessels that seemed like they were mostly present in some number of pieces. Once we decided a vessel was "finished" (that is, there were no more pieces that could be mended to it), we documented how many sherds comprised the vessel and from which units the sherds came, and then we photographed the assembled vessel for reference purposes (see below).

Above: A cross-mended plate produced by the Stevenson and Williams company in 1825 in Cobridge, Staffordshire, England.

These pictures show the vessels reassembled in place, but not actually glued back together. The reason for this is quite simple: a fully mended and glued vessel is much harder to store than a bag of ceramic sherds. We determined that until we know what objects will be displayed in the Fairbanks House museum, we would not firmly mend any of the ceramic vessels. Of course, that doesn't stop us from getting a great look at what the objects looked like when the would have been used, an image that is easy to forget when we spend most of our time digging up tiny pieces (see below for a personal favorite vessel).

Given that we've spent nearly a month working only on the blue transfer-printed ceramics and we've not yet finished with them, we will likely be working on cross-mending for many more months. Keep checking back for more updates from the lab!

Above: My favorite vessel - a platter featuring the Boston State House and Boston Common (note the cows grazing in the foreground!). Due to the poor preservation of the vessel, the pattern is difficult to see entirely (head here to see an intact version of the platter). This platter was manufactured by the John Rogers and Son company sometime between 1815 and 1842.