DOCUMENTATION- THE COLLECTOR’S RESPONSIBILITY
Elmer A. Guerri
|Central States Archaeological Societies 2001
Terre Haute, Indiana
I will carefully catalog my collection.
I will number each specimen and write all I know about it Ð who first found it, when, where and all other details
I can find on it. If necessary I will write many letters to obtain this information. Virgil Russell’s Resolution
#6 for Artifact Collectors.
collectors, we are only interim caretakers of an irreplaceable resource that has survived the passage of time and
countless generations. We owe it to the memory of those magnificent ancient people who created our collectibles
to accurately document and describe the artifacts for which we are responsible.
one evolves in the hobby, learning about ancient people, their cultures, their subsistence styles, and their interactions
becomes the most important goal, surpassing the mere possession of the artifacts themselves.
The true value of any artifact lies in what we know about it and what
it tells us about the habits of those marvelous people of the past.
documentation of broken artifacts is equally important, diagnostically, as is that of perfect specimens. The total
collection of site-specific items reveals clues about the culture, site extent, material sources, and travel or
interaction of ancient people. Samples of lithic materials, such as flakes, cores, and blanks, are also valuable
sources of information.
addition to documentation of artifacts and lithic materials, specific site locations should be recorded accurately.
Topographic maps, plat books, gazetteers, and modern GPS records should be a part of every collector’s documentation
system. Records or files should include names of site owners, permission slips (some states require these), dates
of visits, photos, etc. The nostalgic naming of sites by collectors is a most interesting aspect of the hobby.
From the most simple, such as Sam’s, High Line, High Rise, Big Mound, Celt Site, Dad’s Site, Dea’s Field, etc.,
to the most unusual and thought provoking, such as Dead Cow, Pee Point, Round House, Pig Pen, etc., those names
add valuable memories to the record.
In the early
days collectors kept accurate records of when fields were plowed. It was quite surprising how, from year to year,
those dates varied by only a few days.
collectors have heard the word ‘provenience.’ A quick trip to the dictionary will reveal, first of all, that it
can be ‘provenance’ or ‘provenience,’ and that it simply means ‘origin, derivation, source.’ To a collector it
means even more. It also means the ‘trail’ or the ‘tracking’ of everywhere a piece has been, since it has been
found, including place found, previous collectors of the piece, and publications in which the item has appeared. In
fact, ‘provenience’ is everything we can learn and record about the piece.
history of each prehistoric piece is most important to the collector. The hobby is far more than simply collecting
‘rocks.’ It often bothers this writer to hear fellow collectors simply refer to artifacts as ‘rocks.’ They are
much more than that! Each artifact has a past of its own, most of which is undiscoverable - a ‘forever’ mystery.
The collector is responsible for documenting what has been discovered and what is known about each piece. Typical
documentation information includes:
- date found
- county and state
- exact location found
- found by
- date received
- received from
- previous collectors
- certificate of authenticity
with computer skills have additional possibilities for documentation methods, including the use of scans of artifact
images as part of the record.
KOH-I-NOOR R RAPIDOGRAPHR pen with 3x0 point is excellent for making India ink labels
For nearly every piece there is a ‘story’ which accompanies the artifact. Most of the ‘story’ is simply
hearsay; however, it should be written down as part of the collector’s records. Each ‘story’ can be qualified by
simply listing the person who told the ‘story,’ the date of its telling, and the collector’s own impression about
the teller or the ‘story.’ It is remarkable how much information is so very quickly lost with the passage of time. While
few, if any, collectors or archaeologists will place much credence in many of the ‘stories,’ they become a part
of the world of collecting, a part of oral tradition.
are as many ways of physically logging artifacts as there are collectors. Some collector documentation techniques
have become trademarks of the collectors themselves, and their techniques become a valuable part of provenience.
most popular method of cataloging lithic materials is to apply black or white India ink onto a thin film of dry
clear nail polish, applied directly to the surface of the artifact. A second light coating of clear nail polish
over the dry ink provides a durable record without damaging the artifact. The label can be removed, if desired,
using clear nail polish remover. For those who may have artifacts with ink applied directly to the surface, India
ink remover solvents are available at most drafting supply stores to aid in removing unwanted labels.
KOH-I-NOORR RAPIDOGRAPHR pen with 3x0 point size (.010 in. or .25 mm) is an excellent device for
labeling artifacts with India ink. The cost for the pen is about $20 at most drafting supply stores.
This pen is superior to nib pens or to felt tip permanent
Archaeologist William C. Meadows uses a private designation code for artifacts found on non-recorded
Pressure sensitive or ‘lick and stick’ labels are inexpensive, easy to use, and popular; however they
are likely to become lost over time. Use a thin coat of clear nail polish applied over paper stickers to protect
the information and to prevent loss of the labels.
|White India ink is the format used by Forrest Fenn of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in labeling his collection
Several commercial clear tape label makers are available at office supply stores. Two reliable devices
are the Brothers ‘P-touch’ TZ Tape SystemR and the Plus Corporation WR-401 Tape PrinterR. Such systems
are highly portable, battery operated, and easy to use with both black and white lettering formats. As with paper
stickers, the clear machine-made labels may be coated with clear nail polish to prevent loss.
Format used by William
C. Meadows for artifacts found on documented sites identified with the Smithsonian Museum identification system
feature the state, county, and site number designation.
Tape or stick-on labels should not be used with ceramics, as they may damage surface materials over time
or when removed.
of artifacts provide an additional excellent documentation method.
Photographic documentation is very helpful for insurance
purposes and for identifying stolen artifacts. Photographs and videotapes are used increasingly by collectors,
not only for their own artifacts, but also for studying artifacts in other collections.
of site locations, especially using seasonal formats, become a valuable part of the collector’s records. They make
excellent aids for publications and speeches, and they help professionals to locate and study ‘analogs,’ modern
locations with characteristics which likely proximate those experienced by ancient people.
||This writers current format uses the Brothers "P-touch" TZR Tape System indicating the EG artifact number,
authenticator initials, and the location the artifact was found.
are some collectors, such as Tom Westfall of Wray, Colorado, who make excellent ‘in-situ’ photos of artifacts immediately
when they find them, before they remove them from the soil or from the stream bed. ‘In-situ’ shots help capture
the excitement of ‘is it whole or is it broken?’ magic moments.
writer prefers to display artifacts according to a site specific format.
12’ x 16’ Riker frames provide convenient frames for
keeping all tools from a specific site together. Each Riker frame is labeled with the site name. A half-envelope
glued to the back of each Riker frame contains a card with the record of larger items from the same site, such
as axes, celts, pestles, grindstones, etc., which are curated on shelves and in drawers.
The site-specific display format permits the artifacts
to be loaned to students or professionals for in-depth studies.
containing names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc., of fellow collectors are a valuable part of
the hobby. Artifacts are only a very small part of the collecting hobby. The real treasures are those people one
meets along the way. Keep in touch with them, and take the time to thank them for contributing to your hobby.
Collector’s Obligation for the Future
have the additional responsibility to prudently plan for transferring their collections, to pass them along to
others who will respect and care for them. Even with careful planning, with competent legal advice, several horror
stories come to mind, where the wishes of collectors were ignored.
|The Brothers "P-touch" TZR Tape System prepares self sticking labels which adhere well to most lithic
materials. Labels are clear and can be coated with clear nail polish.
Indiana collector of Americana objects, including several Indian relics, reportedly bequeathed his entire life’s
work collection to a state university with instructions that the entire collection be kept together for enjoyment
by future generations. The university eventually offered a large portion of the collection for auction to the public,
an act which caused untold numbers of future patrons and benefactors to reconsider plans they may have had for
disconcerting and frustrating are situations where museums or institutions (fearing regulations such as NAGPRA
and objections raised by special interest groups) are simply reluctant to accept collections containing Indian
artifacts, whether or not culturally sensitive items are involved. They often use the excuse of costs involved
to store and care for the collections (some ask for trust funds to support such storage and care) or fear of future
challenges by landowners, ethnic groups, etc.
stories abound of collections willed or bequeathed to universities or museums, where the collections were hidden
away, never again to be seen or studied.
writer can recall collections which, following the deaths of the collectors, resulted in hardship, friction, in-fighting,
and litigation among remaining family members. Responsible collectors should, at the very least, consider some
sort of will or codicil, carefully written, to insure the integrity and well being of the collection following
the collector’s death. Don’t leave it to others to do the ‘right’ thing!
the saddest story that comes to mind involved a very dear friend who was forced to sell his lifetime collection
as a result of an unavoidable financial urgency.
Partly due to the trauma experienced with the loss of
something so cherished, the young man failed to consider anyone might care any less than he had for the meticulously
catalogued artifacts and site-specific organized frames.
he finished helping the out-of-state buyer load the frames into the buyer’s van he asked, in sad reflection, ‘What
are you going to do with my collection now?’
answer was perhaps even more devastating than the loss of the collection itself. Without even looking at the already
distraught collector, the buyer replied, as he hastily stepped into the van, ‘Well the first thing I’m going to
do it take off all those ‘*&%#@*’ little white stickers!’ Enough said!
a youngster, this writer grew up by adhering to Dad’s three rules. First, if it’s important enough to do, do it right!
Second, do whatever you do in such a way that you would
sign your name to it - then sign it! And third, do it now!
It was standard, required, and eventually it became a
deeply ingrained habit, for all artifacts to be gently washed and logged immediately upon returning from the field.
There were no exceptions! To this day, over fifty years later, those same lessons from Dad are rigidly applied.
Even today, at times, I can seemingly feel him peering over my shoulder, sharing the excitement of a new piece,
making sure I do it right, enjoying with me the excitement of momentarily stepping back through time - pausing
to appreciate the privilege of caring for a part of our prehistoric past.
|Avery gummed labels were used to record this writer's father's first artifact find (#11), and the author's first
find (#12). Both were found on February 18th, 1955.
writer’s logging system includes the initials EG, an artifact number, a location code, and, if appropriate, the
initials of the authenticator for purchased pieces. ‘Logging in’ of any artifact is an integral part of obtaining
the piece and of the responsibility for its proper care. Do it now!
1962, Indian Artifacts, Johnson Publishing Company
Boulder, Colorado. Pp.59-60.