Sunday, January 8, 2012

Artifact ID Day

The Archaeology Table

Rodrigo examining a ceramic pot
Yesterday I helped out with the Burke Museum's Artfact ID Day. It's an annual event where the public is invited to bring in artifacts, rocks, or fossils to be examined by experts. The archaeology table is usually staffed by the several archaeologists at the Burke and a few graduate students and professionals from elsewhere in Seattle. There are usually lots of artifacts brought in from the Washington, but also Alaska and occasionally elsewhere in the world. This year there was a plethora of objects from Mexico.

People have usually acquired the artifacts they bring in two main ways: they've either found them eroding on a beach or riverbank, or they acquired them from a parents or grandparent. People bring in a wide range of things - from easy-to-identify (for us) line weights from the Northwest Coast to ceramics and figurines from South America. Usually people want to know either how old the object is or whether it's a modern reproduction or a genuine archaeological artifact. If it was an object from Washington or Alaska, I usually had a pretty good idea of how old it was. But sometimes people would pull out things they bought in Mexico and I'd pass them right along to Rodrigo, another grad student, who works in Mexico! Oftentimes though, people have no idea, or only a vague idea, of where the artifacts came from. Sometimes they've been purchased at a garage sale or thrift store or inherited. In those cases, sometimes we could look through books and find similar artifacts. In other cases, we could tell if it was a modern reproduction based on the way it was made/carved.

I did see three artifacts from Alaska. The first was a toggling harpoon point. The owners had no idea where in Alaska it had come from, but based on the style I'm sure it was from the Bering Sea coast or St. Lawrence Island. I also saw a fossilized, but worked walrus tusk from the Aleutians and even a ground stone lamp from Kodiak Island. It was fun to talk to so many people and hear the stories behind their artifacts.


  1. please give me the full address of museum. I want to visit this amazing place. i need idea about fossils for kids to write some articles for my academy.

  2. Cool! Here is the website for the Burke Museum: