Image from page 175 of “Bulletin” (1966-1972)
Image from page 175 of “Bulletin” (1966-1972)
Year: 1966-1972 (1960s)
Authors: Field Museum of Natural History
Subjects: Natural history; Science
Publisher: [Chicago] : The Museum
Contributing Library: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Digitizing Sponsor: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
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fl 1^ MY LDIFi $IUI$AiNl M©©l^i In September of last year I came to Field Museum in hopes of working as a researcti student in tfie Department of Anthropology with John Terrell, who had just been appointed Assistant Curator of Oceanic Archaeology and Ethnology. John had recently returned from the South Pacific after more than a year of field work on the island of Bougainville in the Solomons. I had heard through the Women’s Board of the Museum that he was looking for student volunteers to help him with the laboratory analysis of almost seven tons of archaeological specimens from ancient village sites on the island. Any doubts about my qualifications as an archaeologist were soon diminished after talking over what I might do in the Department of Anthropology under John Terrell’s supervision. He pointed out that if I could read at home and take things in careful steps, there was a good chance I could accomplish at least two things: discover what it was like to analyze and interpret the evidence recovered from field excavations and, perhaps more important, learn something about the demands and pitfalls in the scientific study of man. We agreed that I would be responsible for one archaeological site, beginning with washing each artifact discovered there and ending with writing a paper on my findings and conclusions about the site. Popular books on archaeology often fail to give the reader a clear understanding of what must be done to turn the objects recovered from an excavation into hypotheses and conclusions about the past. I am sure many people have read about how carefully an archaeologist must excavate an ancient site. But how many of us know what happens back in the archaeologist’s laboratory before he or she can sit down and write books and articles? For my first two months at the Museum I sat at a sink washing small fragments of ancient clay cooking pots from my study site, called "Tearaka" (a name which means "abounding in stones" and refers to the cobble beach in front of it). I loved it. I wore a lab coat to establish myself as an integral part of the Bougainville Archaeological Survey and slowly scrubbed the skin off both hands. I knew that somebody had to wash the specimens before they could be properly labeled. As John reminded me, we had agreed I was to have an experience from soup to nuts; or at least from sink to laboratory table! I checked around the Museum to see if a real archaeologist would wear rubber gloves; and when I discovered that you could get them from the supply room, I ordered myself a pair. After all the washing was completed came many long hours of labeling individual potsherds to establish forever their archaeological provenance. Then one day when I had worked my way through several trays of specimens with pen and India ink— and was feeling well on my way to scientific greatness—John casually left a red felt- tipped pen on my desk with a note to come and see him when I had time. He complimented me on my numbering style. And then, looking me straight in the eye, told me that each piece would need yet another number. My India ink numbers established each piece as a specimen from Tearaka and from a definite archaeological layer at that site. The number I would add with the red felt-tip would establish each sherd as an individual piece of pottery from a particular layer. It soon became obvious that / needed an assistant. When my friend and neighbor Sue Sanchez agreed to help once a week, I was delighted. In January I finished numbering my potsherds and it was time to move on to the next step: scientific analysis. John spoke of it often. He rather mysteriously called it "turning evidence into information." Clearly something was needed, because all I had on the laboratory table in front of me were trays of very clean artifacts which had been numbered twice. The problem of saying something coherent about thousands of potsherds looked immense. Where do you even begin? From September through January I had been preparing for this next step. I had read John’s doctoral dissertation and several of his reports on the Bougainville Archaeological Survey, numerous books and articles on the archaeology and ethnography of the South Pacific, on pottery making, and on methods of research, and I had struggled through a statistics book. John was always available to explain and clarify and to discuss the problems I was encountering in trying to grasp the information I would need to conduct a study of my potsherds and then to formulate ideas about the prehistory of Bougainville. Armed with callipers and other instruments for measuring, my dog-eared statistics book, and a lot of paper, 1 labored through June of this year measuring, counting, and describing. Gradually the artifacts did begin to fall into place and 1 was able to develop a system for describing them scientifically. When I first sat down to sort my specimens into piles of things that looked most alike, It was apparent that I had two different classes of pottery vessels. The sherds in one pile looked very much like vessels known to have been manufactured on the small island of Buka, just north of Bougainville, whose almost 2,000-year-old pottery tradition has been described by James R. Specht of the Australian Museum in Sydney, The sherds in the second pile appeared to be identical in most respects to the kind of pottery vessels manufactured
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on the southeastern coast of Bougainville in the vicinity of the modern town of Kieta— one hundred miles from Buka and forty-five miles south of my site at Tearaka, Since one could safely assume that the people of Buka and the people at Kieta did not travel to Tearaka to discard broken pots at the communal dump there, the occurrence of both kinds of pottery ware seemed to indicate that prehistoric Tearaka had been a village where two separate trade networks came together. In support of such an inference, it is known historically that in the earlier decades of this century traders from both Buka and Kieta did reach Tearaka and neighboring villages and that they brought with them modern cooking vessels for trade. According to the results of Dr, Specht’s archaeological investigations on Buka Island, the art of pottery making has been practiced there since the last centuries before the birth of Christ. Unfortunately, the prehistory September 1972
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