From the very first day I started at Bishop Museum as an Archaeology Collections Technician, my life has been consumed by the colossal task of cataloguing artifacts from the Nu‘alolo Kai site located on the Nā Pali Coast on Kauai. Comprised of over 14,000 artifacts, the Nu‘alolo Kai collection is one of the largest and most varied collections housed in the Anthropology Department. The Nu‘alolo Kai database represents the department’s initial efforts to tackle the daunting (but commendable) mission of cataloguing every single artifact in our collections (over a million artifacts!!) to create a comprehensive Hawaiian archaeological artifact database for the department. The database will provide researchers with access to a standardized artifact database that will aid in collections-based research. Of course, the added bonus of having an itemized list of every single artifact is that those of us in collections management with OCD will be able to breathe a little easier.
The current Nu‘alolo Kai database has been in the works for a few years now and represents the efforts of several people. Currently, apart from integrated pest management, it is my baby and I fondly call it my trouble child most days; it is both frustrating and exciting as it continues to grow, but at the end of the day, I kind of love it. My days and tasks are never the same depending on what artifacts I am working on. I catalogue, photograph, re-house, troubleshoot, make long lists, and treasure hunt. These last few months, I have mainly been trying to plug holes within the database while also cataloguing and expanding the database. Recently, I have been “treasure hunting” – my favorite task! It is what keeps me sane and interested.
“Treasure hunt”? What does that even mean? Isn’t the whole adventure over once you’ve found the site and had an exciting car chase with flying bullets ala Indiana Jones? Nope. As I like to tell people, archaeology is not an Indiana Jones movie, it is a nerd’s dream job. In fact, the most exciting part of a dig is the part that comes after the fieldwork. Even after artifacts have been collected and put in a museum, you can still treasure hunt, albeit in a less exciting fashion than Indy does. Just going through the trays of artifacts and discovering some interesting or amazing artifact is like Christmas come early for archaeologists working in museums. For me, it extends beyond that. Going through every tray and tracking down that one little shell bead that the database claims exists but is currently missing is like hitting the jackpot. Sometimes, it even involves a spazzy victory dance. Don’t judge. We all have to get our little pleasures in life somewhere.
The majority of the Nu‘alolo Kai artifacts are in amazing condition as the site had some of the best preservation I have ever seen, especially in terms of perishable artifacts – octopus lures with the cordage still attached, a delicate shell bracelet (on display at the Museum’s Ni‘ihau Shell Lei Exhibition!! Go check it out!), tapa stamps, and even a Ti leaf sandal. Even the more bizarre artifacts like “fish skin” or something labeled “Unidentified organics” which kind of looks like coprolite (fossilized feces – I don’t know for sure but I’m definitely not opening that bag just yet to confirm my theory. My quest for knowledge has its limitations) to me are pretty remarkable in their own way. Every tray of artifacts represents an opportunity to “discover” quirky little artifacts that I have never seen before. So yes, the adventure and the “hunt” for treasure still continue long after the archaeological fieldwork has ended (and Indy’s credits have rolled).
Earlier this week, we received a very special package in the mail; the portable 3D scanner that is on loan to the department and accompanying PC arrived from Otago, New Zealand on Tuesday. Since the scanner’s arrival, I’ve been familiarizing myself with the software and have had a chance to scan a couple of “test subjects”, including a cowry shell from an octopus lure (leho he‘e) from the Wai‘ahukini Site (H8) on Hawai‘i Island, as well as a basalt adze (toki) from the Hane Site on Ua Huka Island in the Marquesas.
3D imagery has increasingly been used to create models of objects in museum collections throughout the world, which is providing more and more access to museum collections. With the cost of 3D printing coming down in recent years, it is even possible to make 3D models of objects, which can be used for educational outreach. At the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., they have an entire facility devoted to 3D scanning. More information about their work can be found here: http://3d.si.edu/browser
So far, we’ve found that the scanner doesn’t deal well with very small objects like the fishhooks that we had hoped to scan using this instrument. But, experiments continue and I’m hopeful that with a bit more practice and knowledge-gathering, we’ll be able to create accurate scans of a whole range of objects from our collections. Below, you’ll find some photos of some of our first scans, and we hope to share more over the next few weeks before the scanner needs to fly back to its home at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Guest blog by Kau‘ilani Rivera, Archaeology Collections Intern
Archaeology is defined as a study of past and present peoples through analyzing their cultural remains, which includes their material culture. As a graduate student in the Applied Archaeology program at UH Mānoa with a focus on Hawaiian culture, what better way to become acquainted with this discipline than by studying pre-accumulated Hawaiian artifacts!
For the past month or so, I’ve had the opportunity to intimately work with the 1400+ fishhooks from the H8 Wai‘ahukini artifact collection that the department has been inventorying and re-housing. Being able to be “up-close and personal” with each of these fishhooks has been such a pleasure, as each one has their own individual story behind their creation and use. From shell fishhooks to bone, single to composite, blanks to fully formed and worn hooks, they have each passed through my hands, allowing me to see their beautiful imperfections that make them ever so perfect. While handling and studying each of their individual characteristics, I can’t help but stop and imagine the people who created them and the skill and ability they must have possessed to produce such magnificent, tiny vessels of material culture. The last two weeks of my internship have consisted of me inputting more relevant data for each fishhook that was recorded through field notes. By reading more about each hook and better understanding where they were found within the stratigraphic soil layers leaves me with more questions than answers associated with each fishhook.
Within the next week or so, the department expects a 3D scanner to arrive. The scanner is generously being loaned to us on a temporary basis by the Department of Anthropology at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Using this instrument will give the other interns and me many more exciting jobs to engage in as we continue on with the analysis of the Wai‘ahukini collection! This is the first project being carried out as part of the newly established ‘Ho‘omaka Hou Research Initiative’ here in the department and we are excited to be contributing to this research. I’m sure we will put the scanner to great use and will have many more updates on it in the next few weeks. Until then, it’s back to inventorying and databasing!
Guest blog by Valery Atkinson, Archaeology Collections Intern
Two years ago, I was an aspiring marine biologist, taking courses at Leeward Community College with dreams of embracing the waters surrounding this amazing island. I was sure that one day I would be spending my days swimming with the fishes and learning all I could about these amazing creatures. My first step was to test the waters with a marine biology course. I also needed courses to fulfill my other degree requirements, and after looking through each course, I chose anthropology; not having any idea at the time what this was and just hoping it wouldn’t interfere with my biology course. I remember being so excited on my first day of marine biology while hearing about all of the amazing things we would be doing on the Waianae coast. Our first trip out was snorkeling next to a seawall in a boat harbor near my home. The night before and the entire day leading up to it was filled with anticipation of what I would see and how it would feel to finally begin my journey. Surprisingly, I hadn’t put one thought into something that could make this day one of the worst of my life. I was an aspiring marine biologist who couldn’t, and still can’t swim. Needless to say, this day was filled with me gasping for air and trying desperately to float my way back to shore. As I floated, waves crashing over my face and into my nose and mouth, I began to think that maybe marine biology wasn’t for me. This one life-changing day and that eye-opening semester taught me two very important things: one, I was no marine biologist and I was okay with that, and two, I was in love with anthropology.
I’m telling this story because here I am two years later, interning at the Bishop Museum, and sorting through drawers and drawers of fish bones. I truly feel as if I have come full circle, and even though that day was a treacherous one, I wouldn’t change a second of it knowing that it brought me here to this very moment. This internship has opened my eyes to dreams I never would have imagined having. I’m learning new things every second because I am lucky enough to be interning with people who hold so much knowledge in the field of anthropology. I am introduced to new people in the field every week and seeing their joy in this work only inspires me more. Each week I can’t wait to come back and learn even more from Mara, Victoria, Rose, Brandon, Scott, and all the other amazing people that are making this experience more than worth my while. Next semester, I will begin my bachelors program in anthropology at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu and again I am filled with nothing but anticipation to begin yet another journey. Luckily, this particular journey keeps my feet planted firmly on dry land.