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Cataloging

Cataloging is the process of measuring and describing artifacts used in archaeology in order to properly analyze and record objects found during excavations so that they can be made easily accessible to researchers and museum staff.

Cataloging is a preliminary step in the process of curation used by museums; curation involves the storing of artifacts and archives via the use of high quality conservation products. Items are catalogued in sophisticated computer databases which enable the establishment of a permanent, detailed record of archaeological findings, and which helps to prepare these findings for the safekeeping and storing of artifacts on a long-term basis, either for further research or for preparation for a museum exhibit collection.

All items of value found during an archaeological dig undergo cataloging, such as artifacts and bones, as are certain tools used during the excavation in order to record these findings, such as maps and photographs. This attention to detail enables a comprehensive overview of the archaeological site in question to be created.

Strict rules are followed in order to properly catalogue artifacts and other archaeological findings for their preservation. Bone material is catalogued based on the Linnean classification system, which identifies living organisms by grouping them with similar organisms. This system groups organisms according to the following hierarchy of categories: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.

After the artifacts, bones and other archaeological objects are properly identified and numbered. Numbering involves applying an undercoat of 5% polyvinyl acetate (PVA), a chemical substance that enables experts to apply an identification number directly to the artifact without damaging it, provided that the artifact is large enough to do so. After this undercoat is applied, the artifact is numbered and an overcoat of PVA is then applied. In addition, the information, tag and artifact slip is kept with the artifact at all times to ensure proper identification.

Bones uncovered during an excavation are catalogued by collecting measurements, including measurements for the skull, pelvis, mandible (jaw), and scapula (shoulder blade) in order to determine the species.

Following numbering, artifacts and other archaeological objects are packaged and housed individually in order to prevent damage or loss. Bone artifacts are wrapped in acid-free neutral tissue paper and are then stored in bodes, lignin-free trays or plastic bags. Ceramic-based artifacts are wrapped in acid-free alkaline-buffered tissue paper and are stored in boxes or plastic bags. Acid-free identification slips are used to identify each bag according to site number. Larger materials are generally placed directly in acid-free alkaline-buffered boxes and drawers that are padded so as to avoid damage.

Bones of similar specimens are stored together according to material, site location and specific typologies, for example, species.

Artifacts are then prepared for transportation, which is done by packaging archaeological objects in sturdy cardboard material. Padding is used in order to prevent damage, such as newspaper, tissue paper, or shredded foam. Bones are wrapped individually while more fragile objects such as bone scrap are more carefully packed using cotton or polyester padding; these objects are marked as fragile on the outside of boxes to ensure they are transported with extra care. As items are packaged for transportation, inventory is taken for the collection as a whole and for each individual box.


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