This is the third entry in a series of blog entries by our scholar Deanna, who is writing about her internship experience at Mesa Verde National Park.
On Day 2 I began the work that I came to accomplish. Our very first task was a simple one. My mentor, Tara, decided that the unprocessed archives associated with the park’s 2006 NAGPRA reburial found in the repository needed to be protected from researchers that come to do work. We were commissioned to label the boxes in red as “RESTRICTED.” After this quick task came the big project: the annual random inventory.
Once a year before the fiscal year is up, which is September 30 for the federal government, the curatorial staff is required to submit an annual random inventory report. Most of the items in the repository are cataloged within the park’s Interior Collection Management System or ICMS database. Lauren and I were given a long list of uncatalogued numbers that had been randomly generated. This list also had other vital information about the items such as its location and description. We needed to locate every item on that list and note whether or not the information on the catalog list was correct. You might think this sounds easy, because it kind of is. Doing it for 10 hours proved to be the challenge.
I was excited to be going through the collection and seeing so many different artifacts. Every drawer we opened was full of fascinating stuff. I was swimming through ancient sandals, pottery, jewelry, effigies, and they were all so well preserved! After looking at these marvels I felt a bit ashamed. I can’t create anything, even with all the conveniences of my era. Being able to see these items is the biggest eye-opener. Ancient people were downright amazing. I find it hard enough to be camping here in the high desert with my laptop and propane heater, I wouldn’t even think about trying to put together some jewelry. This was my favorite part of the whole day. It’s not often I find myself reveling in someone’s dexterity.
The first few hours flew by like nothing. I was so hooked on the work I was doing I didn’t even want to go to lunch. The rest of my inventory experience wasn’t as enjoyable. On the right side of the repository there are rows and rows full of white boxes with labels on the outside. The second half of the list was located on that side. Most of the boxes were full of pot sherds (I do mean sherds, not shards) and lithics. Lithics are just rocks. We had to search among hundreds of boxes to find a specific rock or sherd. Although the random inventory wasn’t directly related to NAGPRA, my mentor thought it would be the best way to initially familiarize me to the collection. It was fun…at first. The white box labels sometimes have a dense list of numbers on them so locating the right box took awhile. After spending so much time staring at white boxes, I got a little brain dead. The problem was we hadn’t taken a break the whole day. I wasn’t sure if we got breaks and I wasn’t about to ask. Guess I was still getting over those first-week jitters. I’m always a nervous wreck at new jobs.
My mentor came to save us from repository after talking with her assistant. They both realized neither had informed us we were allowed to take breaks. She assumed when we got sick of looking at all the boxes we would tell her. I flew outside to get some fresh air. There aren’t any windows here in the research center, nor are their any in the repository because we have a lot of light-sensitive items that will get damaged if exposed to prolonged sunlight.