Scuba divers examining a shipwreck underwater.
Virtual Fieldtrip
Come learn about archaeology, Maryland's history and some sites at the Park.

Report Writing and Conservation

Once the fieldwork is over, the archaeologist's work is not finished. In fact, the real work is just beginning.  For every day they work in the field digging, archaeologists spend 4 or 5 days in the lab to fully understand and take care of what they have unearthed.  

So, what happens to the artifacts (and the photographs and notes) that the archaeologist painstakingly gathered during excavation?  They go through a multi-step process in the lab and then they are carefully stored for the future.

In the Laboratory

Conservator treating iron objects with tannic acid to remove the rust. Once removed from the field, the artifacts are taken to the lab and cleaned. Why bother to clean the artifacts? Because removing the dirt and corrosion – the rust on iron artifacts – can help archaeologists figure out what each artifact is, where it is from, how it was used and many  other questions.

Artifacts from underwater archaeological sites are special – because they have been soaking in water for long periods of time, they can fall apart easily once they are brought out of the water. In some cases, marine organisms have burrowed into or eaten part of the artifact and damaged it.

Once excavated from the underwater site, the artifacts go straight into a water tank until they can be taken to the conservation lab. Many artifacts are stored permanently in water tanks to keep them stable, while others can eventually be removed and displayed. These decisions are made by conservators who are specially trained to take care of artifacts. It is important for archaeologists to think about these issues before removing artifacts from a site, since artifacts will be destroyed if they are not cared for properly.

After cleaning and stabilizing, the artifacts are catalogued – which just means that the archaeologists make a detailed list of the characteristics of each artifact. This is like answering a series of questions about the artifact – what is it made of, how was it used, what shape is it, was it decorated, where was it made, how old is it?  This catalog is very important in helping archaeologists understand what may have happened at a site.

All of the notes and photographs are used by the archaeologist to write up a report. This report is the result of all the hard work in the field and lab.

Long term storage

Once the report has been written, the artifacts need to be stored safely. At the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab), artifacts are kept in a climate-controlled storage area. It is important to control the temperature and humidity (how much water there is in the air) in this storage area since too much heat or moisture can damage the artifacts. If they are damaged in storage, then they will not be useful for future researchers who might want to examine them.

turtleshell * Follow the turtle shell to learn about two underwater archaeology sites in Maryland from the War of 1812.

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