Better know the collections: Cataloging sherds excavated at Tarsus

Holly Pritchett is a graduate student in archaeology who has been cataloging pottery sherds from an excavation at Gözlükule, Tarsus, Turkey since the beginning of the 2009-10 academic year. To date, she has photographed and created descriptive records for over 800 sherds.

Here’s what Holly has to say about her project:

Gözlükule is the name of the mound south of the modern city of Tarsus on which the ancient settlement was located. Excavations carried out at Gözlükule show that it was first settled in the Late Neolithic Period, approximately 7000 BCE. Tarsus is situated on the Cydnos River just a few miles from the Mediterranean Sea. In ancient times it was strategically positioned at the junction of important roads of the time. Its location is one of the main factors for its long history, which wasn’t always entirely peaceful. During the 2nd millennium BCE, Tarsus was controlled by the Hittites. In the 9th century BCE, the Assyrians ruled Tarsus and in 612 BCE, the Persians attacked the city. The Persians were still in control when Alexander the Great visited in 333 BCE. After the death of Alexander, Tarsus was briefly held by the Egyptian Ptolemies and then by Rome. Julius Caesar visited the city in 47 BCE and after Caesar’s death, Marc Antony met Cleopatra in Tarsus (41 BCE) to plan their ill-fated revolt against Augustus and Rome.

200914259  200914265

Two examples of Mycenaean-style pottery sherds excavated at Tarsus (2009.14.259 & 2009.14.265)

In 1935, an American archaeological team under the direction of Hetty Goldman began excavations at Gözlükule. Ms. Goldman, Bryn Mawr College Class of 1903, received her Ph.D. from Princeton. This excavation lasted until 1939, when the dig had to be suspended due to the outbreak of World War II. In 1947, Ms. Goldman resumed excavations, which lasted until 1949. As a result of her excavations, 33 levels of habitation were determined, ranging from the Late Neolithic to the Islamic Periods.

It is the sherds from the earlier excavation that I catalogue. Each sherd is assigned an accession number, its dimensions are measured, and the color of the clay is determined by comparing the sherd to a spectrum of colors, referred to as its Munsell color (named after the man who developed the system). This information, along with a brief description is entered into the EmbARK collections database. I also take photographs of every pottery sherd, so a nice close-up picture accompanies each record.

Holly Pritchett photographing sherds on the copystand.

Holly photographing sherds on the copystand.

In my research, I have referred to some of the many day-books written by the archaeological team leader, which contain notes about each day’s excavation, the items found, and drawings. Many of the sherds have been published in the second part of a six-volume set. The entire set includes not only the pottery found at Tarsus, but also the statues, sculptures, and coins that were excavated. Any bibliographic information is also added into the sherd’s database record.

Another one of my interests is ancient fingerprints that sometimes were inadvertently left on clay tablets and pottery when they were first made. Although I have discovered only one fingerprint so far, I examine each sherd, hoping to find a personal testimonial of the potter and/or painter who shaped and decorated these ancient pieces of pottery.

Artifacts are spinning

An important component of the database is digital imaging of our objects. Recently, we had a breakthrough in photographing objects “in the round” with the help of one of our undergraduate student workers, Nancy Muntz (Anthropology/Archaeology, 2011).

Place the cursor over the image below and hold down the mouse button (that’s the left mouse button for PC users – only one mouse button for MAC users). Move the cursor right or left to see a 360-degree view of the Nasca bowl from Peru (69.1.392).

(If you don’t see an image below, it means that you will need to download the Quicktime plugin for your web browser).

The 360-spin effect was created by first photographing the object on a lazy Susan at 10 degree intervals. The resulting images were stitched together using a program called Object2vr by Garden Gnome Software.

We welcome suggestions about which parts of the collection would benefit from having 360-degree views to help us prioritize our imaging work.

Stay tuned for more updates on cataloging and imaging being done this semester.

25,300 and counting . . .

The 5,000 records that have been added since June include pottery sherds, photographs, prints, and drawings, among other objects.

The 5,000 records that have been added since June include pottery sherds, photographs, prints, and drawings, among other objects.

The Art and Artifact collections staff members often become so wrapped up in working with the collections management database that it becomes difficult to make time for an update on our progress. Intensive and time-consuming work continues not only on cataloguing individual objects but also on cleaning up and standardizing large volumes of data. Most notably, Classics graduate student Diane Amoroso-O’Connor is working as the Collections Information Management Intern for the 2009-2010 academic year and has joined us in our quest for better quality data. Diane’s projects so far have ranged from cataloging coins and Predynastic Egyptian objects to standardizing titles, dimensions, and geographic data across collections.

A more completely cataloged Predynastic Egyptian vase, a gift from the American Exploration Society.

A more completely cataloged Predynastic Egyptian vase, a gift from the American Exploration Society.

History of Art graduate student Carrie Robbins, working as the Graduate Assistant in Collections, has also been busy cataloging the photography collection, while Archaeology graduate student Holly Pritchett is working with Professor Jim Wright on accessioning, cataloging, and photographing sherds excavated at Gözlükule, Tarsus, Turkey. All this, of course, is in addition to the great team of undergraduate students who continue to inventory, photograph, and catalog collections objects. This semester, those students include Laura Kelly-Bowditch, Michelle Crepeau , Kristen Grubbs, Annette Hansen, Nancy Muntz, Moira Nadal, Jessica Nelson, and Jennifer Wright.

A cataloged sherd from Tarsus, Turkey.

A cataloged sherd from Tarsus, Turkey.

Examples of prints and drawings from the John N. Estabrook Collection catalogued this summer by Amy Haavik-MacKinnon and Tienfong Ho, both of whom spoke about their work with collections at the Graduate Group talk on November 17th.

Examples of prints and drawings from the John N. Estabrook Collection catalogued this summer by Amy Haavik-MacKinnon and Tienfong Ho, both of whom spoke about their work with collections at the Graduate Group talk on November 17th.

Things are Heating Up

As the temperature outside begins to rise, so, too, are things heating up in the Art and Artifact Collections areas. Two days of training on the new database on May 4th and 5th were just the beginning. May was also filled with meetings with History of Art, Archaeology, and Anthropology faculty members both to introduce them to the new database and to seek their guidance on establishing priorities for our work on the database, so the collections can best serve their needs and those of their students. The database has so far been well received by faculty and students as they see how EmbARK is beginning to make the collections more accessible, even in these early stages.

Just over 20,000 records – not bad for a few months work!

Just over 20,000 records – not bad for a few months work!

In May we also prepared for the arrival of summer student workers, who will be busy with projects ranging from data entry to inventory and preventive conservation. History of Art graduate students Amy Haavik-MacKinnon and Tienfong Ho are creating complete catalogue records for objects in selected prints and drawings collections. Archaeology graduate student Joelle Collins is standardizing existing records for Greek and early Italian pottery. Undergraduate student Laura Kelly-Bowditch (History, 2010) and recent graduates Judith Barr (AB, ‘09, Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology) and Jenny Castle (AB, ’09, Philosophy and History of Art) are inventorying and photographing as much of the archaeology, anthropology, and fine arts collections as time will allow. The efforts of all these students are vital steps on the road toward building the database into an extensive virtual guide to the collections objects.

A sampling of images for objects currently in the database.

A sampling of images for objects currently in the database.

EmbARK is here

We are happy to report that the server housing EmbARK Collections Manager has been configured and the software has been installed for key users. Collections staff have begun working with the new system on an experimental basis. After several discussions with our EmbARK user support representative, we have also outlined a plan for data migration. The initial phase of data migration should begin in about two weeks, which means that we will have some amount of “real” data in the system in time for our on-site training, which will take place May 4 and 5 on the BMC campus. The training will be attended by staff members from Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges, along with graduate and undergraduate student employees and interns working with the collections.

Over the next month or so, we will also be meeting with faculty members by department in order to set priorities for developing the database. Faculty assistance will be essential in helping us to identify those collections and objects for which faculty would like to see complete and accurate records (including images) in the database. Though we have been and will continue to “clean up” data in preparation for its move to the new system, this task has so far focused on removing redundant information and generally standardizing existing records on the most general level. Breaking down the collection into smaller, more manageable “chunks” will allow us to create and review object records in detail with the assistance of faculty, staff, and knowledgeable graduate students. As these groups of records are reviewed and finalized, we can begin to turn our attention to our ultimate goal of making this database available to the greater BMC community and, in the long term, to the general public. To this end, faculty assistance is essential in identifying the key objects and parts of the collection upon which to focus our efforts so the collections database can become an accurate and useful research tool for the Tri-College community.

Collections management takes a bold step forward, at last . . .

The creation of a comprehensive collections database for Bryn Mawr College’s Art and Artifacts Collections is underway. This extensive, 18-month project is generously funded by the College’s Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics and History of Art. For the duration of the project, Collections Information Manager Cheryl Klimaszewski (on board as of February 16th) will be assisting collections staff members Emily Croll (Curator and Academic Liaison) and Marianne Weldon (Collections Manager) in the seemingly impossible task of taking 22,000+ records from fourteen different MS Access databases, cleaning them up, and then moving them ever-so-lovingly into EmbARK Collections Manager, a collections information system developed by Gallery Systems. All this, mind you, while also beginning data entry for the additional 40,000 collections objects yet to be cataloged.

A screen snapshot from the EmbARK Collections Manager sample database.

A screen snapshot from the EmbARK Collections Manager demo database.

This project represents a giant leap forward for the Art and Artifacts Collections. Systems like EmbARK are the way to store information about a collection because they employ relational database technology, which provides structured storage, management, and manipulation of data and allows users to interact with data more effectively. Each record in the database acts as a surrogate for the actual item in the collection, so searching the database means (or in our case, will eventually mean) that users have the collection at their fingertips via the database interface.

The creation of digital images of items in the collection is an essential and ongoing part of this project. To date, over 5000 digital images have been created. Students will continue to photograph objects and to digitize existing photographs and negatives.

An important component of our project is the development of data standards, which will govern how collections data is entered into the system going forward. For instance, will we classify “watercolors” as “paintings” or “works on paper”? This is but one simple example of the types of decisions that must be made as to how we conceptualize our collection, and we plan to make such decisions in consultation with members of the BMC community, as appropriate. Such an effort now will pay off in the end: codifying data standards means that data is entered into the database in an orderly, regular, predictable fashion, which will allow for more efficient and meaningful search capabilities once the collection is available on-line. In addition, the standards we develop at BMC will be based on broader museum standards and best practices. This means that, going forward, our data will be more easily adapted as the broader standards continue to develop and improve, opening up the possibility of collaboration between institutions. The bottom line: spending the time to develop strong data standards now will make the collections more accessible to all users and we will never have to tackle a collections data project on this scale again (well, at least not in our lifetimes).

The desktop of a collections information manager, on a good day.

Reviewing current collections data.

So how does one approach such a monumental task? Cheryl has spent her first two weeks reviewing the current databases to learn the answer to the age old question, “What is really going on here?” Multiple Excel spreadsheets now contain composite lists of field names and properties (i.e. how the data in the fields is structured) that have been reviewed and revised to create one master list of field names. This master list will be used to create a final MS Access database into which all the existing records will be merged for further review.

Our to-do list for next week:

  • Complete the data merge to the new master Access database.
  • Begin review the data as a whole to determine data development priorities for core fields.
  • Begin development of data standards for the core fields.
  • Begin data cleanup according to those standards, allowing the computer, where possible to do the “heavy lifting” in cleaning up data.