Inventorying and Analyzing the Collections at UH Hilo

scott_and_kelley_at_work_0 As Mara mentioned in her last post, we spent the past week at UH Hilo. We were there creating a full itemized inventory of the materials from both Wai‘ahukini (H8) and South Point (H1) that are curated by UH Hilo. Mara, Kelley, Scott, and I split up the tasks so that we could be as efficient as possible.

Kelley, being the awesome zooarchaeologist that she is, got to sort the material in each and every single brown paper “grab bag” inside the seven large boxes of Wai‘ahukini “quantitative samples.” Helping her was her ever capable apprentice, Scott. Between the two of them, they formed a powerhouse assembly line (sorting, bagging, and tagging) and managed to get through a box a day! All those paper “grab bags” of mixed midden magically turned into hundreds of well-ordered little plastic bags with neat, handwritten labels on and inside the bags. Mara commandeered the scanner and promptly scanned hundreds of fishhooks in both high and low resolution in just three days. When she was not scanning fishhooks, Mara was helping on the assembly line. Since I can never get enough of databasing, I was put in charge of making an inventory of all twenty-four South Point boxes and their contents. There was no rehousing effort on my end as I was just checking the contents of each bag and entering the data item by item. However, the final product was a list of more than 1000 individual bags of mixed midden and artifacts that will need to be sorted and rehoused. I guess that may mean another week in Hilo sometime in the future!


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Recent Research Updates

mid3 March has been a busy month around the Archaeology Lab! Kelley has been pushing forward with the South Point  (H1) and Wai‘ahukini (H8) faunal analysis, Valery has been busy scanning fishhooks from Wai‘ahukini (having passed the 1000 mark earlier this month!), Rose has been working on the analysis of shellfish from South Point, and Raquel wrapped up with the inventory of the Perishables Collection, which will hopefully form the basis of a research paper over the next couple months. We also had a “midden sorting extravaganza” with 11 participants, who gave up their Saturday to help us sort midden from South Point a couple weeks ago.

Major progress has been made on the inventorying of collections as well, which is a fundamental first step to any research project. After months of database updating, Charmaine placed final inventory tags into the bags of over 5000 artifacts from Nu‘alolo Kai. On the past couple weeks, Kelley and I also inventoried over 2000 volcanic glass artifacts (with the stellar bag-writing skills of Zoe and Stacy) from the Wai‘ahukini Rockshelter (H8). 477 of these will be analyzed by researchers at the University of Hawai‘i - Hilo over the next few months.

Earlier this month, Kelley and I traveled to UH Hilo to check out their collections from Wai‘ahukini and South Point. The excavation of the sites in 1954-1958 was a collaborative effort between William Bonk (UH Hilo), and Kenneth Emory and Yosihiko Sinoto (Bishop Museum archaeologists).  Following their field seasons, the assemblage from the site was split, with some materials being curated at UH Hilo, and others being brought to the Museum for analysis and curation. When we started re-analyzing the assemblage here at the Museum last year, we got in touch with Dr. Peter Mills at UH Hilo. Dr. Mills sent us an inventory of their holdings, but it seemed to be missing a few key things, including over 20 kg of shellfish remains. We traveled to UH Hilo to double-check that nothing had been missed. What we found when we got there was both surprising and very exciting – 6 boxes of material that had been pulled from the screens and bagged (including lithics, shell, bone, and charcoal) that we had no record of, along with about a dozen boxes marked “quantitative samples”, which were recorded as containing rocks and coral pebbles. When we opened one of these boxes of “quantitative samples”, we found a small paper bag filled with what archaeologists refer to as “black gold” – wood charcoal from the bottom-most layer of the excavation unit that we’ve been analyzing from Wai‘ahukini. We already have new radiocarbon dates from samples excavated from higher up in the unit (and thus representing more recent activity at the site), but we now have samples that can help us to date when people were initially at the rockshelter! Together with the charcoal was a cigar box full of  fish and bird bones – that Kelley is now analyzing as well.

This week, we will head back to UH Hilo with Charmaine and Scott to create a full itemized inventory of the materials from both Wai‘ahukini and South Point that are curated by UH Hilo. This will help us to ensure that our new analysis of these sites includes all of the materials that were excavated nearly 60 years ago!


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Announcing the Anthropology Department’s Summer Internship Program!

susannah_small  Applications are currently being accepted for the Bishop Museum Anthropology Department Internship Program to be held in conjunction with the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa’s Summer Session 2, which will take place between July 7 and  August 14, 2014. Twenty hours of work per week over a total of 6 weeks will be required to complete the internship’s 120-hour requirement.

The program will be conducted with a focus on collections-based archaeological research and the management of the museum’s archaeology collections. Each intern’s tasks will be assigned with a view toward both providing a variety of learning opportunities while also helping the Anthropology Department staff complete tasks that are important to the functioning of the department. We currently have several ongoing projects that interns will work on, including the inventorying and analysis of selected curated collections as part of the Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative,  large-scale digitization efforts associated with the online Hawaiian Archaeological Survey (HAS) database, general collections organization and maintenance tasks, an integrated pest management (IPM) program, and others. All interns are encouraged to write at least one guest blog for our Anthropology Department blog as a way to contribute to our public education and outreach efforts.

Students who will be most interested in the program will be students who are looking to build their resumes for a career or for future graduate work in archaeology or museum studies. The work completed at the Museum will help students to advance their computer skills, as data entry will be an important component of the program, as well as their artifact recognition and handling skills. The program is intended to provide a hands-on, behind-the-scenes look at the analysis and curation of archaeology collections in Hawai‘i.

Academic credit is available for students who qualify! Space is limited, so please contact us as soon as possible for an application. Completed applications must be received by Friday, March 7, 2014. For additional information on the program and how to apply, please contact Mara Mulrooney, Assistant Anthropologist, at

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Hau‘oli Makahiki Hou… Looking Ahead to Research Projects in 2014

fishhooks Happy New Year from the Anthropology Department!

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been in a bit of a transition around the lab. We bid farewell to our interns Channing Stephens and Susannah Wong, who were with us for six months with Northeastern University’s Co-op Program. Channing and Susannah were in charge of scanning field notes and field photographs as part of our on-going Hawaiian Archaeological Survey Database project, and they also inventoried artifacts and scanned maps, among many other things. We already miss them dearly!

We also bid farewell to our wonderful interns from UH Manoa and HPU; but, lucky for us, most of them will continue to volunteer in the department. We look forward to having Kau‘i, Rosanna, Brandon, and Valery back in the lab during this next semester.

As we kick off 2014, we are busy with projects associated with the Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative (“Ho‘omaka Hou” literally means “to begin again” and the focus of this collaborative research initiative is on re-analyzing assemblages in the Archaeology Collections using the most up-to-date technology available to us).

Thanks to Scott’s and the interns’ monumental efforts, the Fish Faunal Reference Collection is now an invaluable research tool, and it is currently being used daily by Kelley, a visiting researcher from UH Manoa. As part of her PhD research, she is identifying and analyzing the fish bones from the Wai‘ahukini Site (H8) on Hawai‘i Island. Dr Mark McCoy (University of Otago) and I have just submitted the first of a series of identified charcoal samples to re-date the site, and Kau‘i and Valery have been busy scanning over 1400 fishhooks from Wai‘ahukini, which will be classified in the coming months. As you can see, the fishhooks exhibit a wide variety of morphological traits, which may inform us about changing resource use and styles that came in and out of use through time in Old Hawai‘i.

Over the next few weeks, I will also have access to a portable XRF (x-ray fluorescence) instrument to geochemically source obsidian (volcanic glass) artifacts from the Polynesian outlier of Tikopia, which is located in the Solomon Islands. By looking at the geochemical signature of an artifact, you can tell which quarry it came from (each volcanic eruption has a unique “signature”), and previous studies in Polynesia have shown that people carried stones with them in their canoes over distances of up to 4000 miles! This project will explore regional interaction spheres in and around the Solomon Islands. The assemblage contains a total of 573 artifacts that were recovered from excavations by Patrick Kirch and Douglas Yen in 1977, and only a dozen of these have previously been sourced, so this project holds a lot of promise for learning more about the nature of interaction and exchange in this region.

It is certainly an exciting time to be carrying out research and we are looking forward to sharing some of our results with you in the coming months!

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