The Museum of Anthropology at Washington State University, with support from the its partner agencies – the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Colville National Forest and the Spokane District office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Utah State BLM — has done an enormous amount of work on extant archaeological collections from counties in Eastern and Central Washington for almost fifteen years. The collections are mainly from along the Snake and Columbia rivers and were excavated as part of federally funded development projects.
The work includes:
- reorganizing the collections,
- repackaging the artifacts, samples, and associated records in archival containers,
- building computer catalogs of the collections,
- comparing field records with artifacts to identify missing items, and
- clarifying proveniences or descriptions.
In many ways this work is like the archaeology of archaeology. Opening old cardboard boxes of artifacts and sorting through old records is often as exciting and challenging as field work.
It is very gratifying to be able to be a part of this work. When many of these collections were made, the conditions were those of emergency salvage. Many wondered what would become of the collections, but at the time, no one had the resources to deal with long-term curation. While for many years these collections did not have the care they warrant, those circumstances are changing. Collections are now well-organized and safe. The artifacts and records are accessible, which has opened a whole new era of research. Opportunities for students to do graduate projects on newly excavated collections are rare these days. Much more effort is being made toward protecting remaining sites in place than in the past. At the same time, there is still a great deal of work that can be done on these older collections, and students are encouraged to do collections-based research projects much more than in the past. Students and faculty at Washington State University and elsewhere are returning to these collections with new questions and new methods of analysis.
How Materials are Organized
All artifacts, samples, and associated records are cataloged and packaged by site. Wherever a Smithsonian trinomial site designation has been assigned, that site number is used to identify a site and all the materials from it. Sites are grouped by project and located on sequentially numbered shelves in a secure storage area. A bi-annual inventory records the site, agency affiliation, number of boxes, type of box (for example, sealed plastic archival or unsealed cardboard), box number, location within the repository.
Sites can be searched on this web site by county, by site name, by federal agency, and by project. At this time, the only sites listed are those administered by the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Spokane District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. We hope to include additional sites in the future.
Most of the 800 sites listed in the searchable table have accompanying databases. Once a proposal has been approved, an Excel or Access version of the database can be sent to you electronically along with a list of codes to assist you in sorting the electronic database and identifying the inventory numbers of the items you wish to examine in your research project.
Some types of analysis require special permission form our agency and tribal partners. These include all forms of destructive analysis and access to collections subject to the provisions of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Upon receiving a list of materials for a research project, staff use the yearly inventory to find the box numbers and shelf location of the inventory numbers you have selected. Staff then retrieve the appropriate boxes and bring them to College Hall for further examination.