Office of Undergraduate Research

Crisis in Our Closet: Working With UWM's Archaeological Collections

Entire collections of artifacts across the country are simply vanishing or being hidden away so deeply that they are forgotten about completely, not to mention being stored in substandard conditions that do not preserve them for posterity. 2007 The Curation Crisis in Archaeology One of the most memorable scenes from the Indiana Jones film series is the sight of the Ark of the Covenant being trundled off into the depths of a dimly-lit warehouse full of haphazardly stacked crates and boxes. The Indiana Jones movies are only wonderful fiction, but, as the quote above suggests, the alarming state of the nation's archaeological collections is very real. UWM's archaeological collections are neither lost nor hidden away but they are relatively inaccessible. This project is designed to increase the research potential of the ARL's holdings by completing a detailed inventory of each collection and developing online access to collection information. The collections consist of prehistoric and historic archaeological materials collected over a span of 50 years. The inventory includes significant collections from the Midwest and Mexico representing 578 archaeological sites dating from 12,000 B.C. to the early 20th Century. Human remains curated by the UWM-ARL include the UWM-MCIG Poor Farm Skeletal Collection that houses 1650 individuals. In addition, the UWM-ARL curates 250 sets of human remains from other archaeological sites. The archaeological collections are supported by an extensive archive of paper records, positive and negative films, photographic prints, maps, charts, video and voice recordings as well as digital data files.

Tasks and responsibilities:

Students accepted into the project will receive an introduction to the basics of archaeological curation and get hands-on experience in working with archaeological collections of artifacts and botanical remains as well as associated paper and digital documents including maps, notes, and photographs. Also, students will receive training in the use of PastPerfect", a collections management software application that is widely-used by museums and archaeological repositories.