Campbell gets grant to update archaeology lab
Sarah Campbell, a professor of archaeology at Western Washington University, received a $77,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation this past year to organize Western’s archives associated with the department’s artifact collections and to make them more accessible to scholars and the public.
A wide variety of items produced from excavations by anthropology professors and students is stored in Western’s Archaeology Lab, located in Arntzen Hall Room 317.
Field documents, including contracts, business agreements, maps, photos, photo logs and field notebooks from students going back to the 1960s and 1970s, are the primary items archived. Also present are object collections from digs, including stone tools, rocks, net weights, fishing nets and projectile points from excavations as far away as Australia and as close as Chuckanut Bay.
The lab also houses an Asian ceramics collection, which includes pots and other ceramics from Korea, Thailand and China. The Archaeology Lab is currently photographing the collection in order to complete an online exhibit in conjunction with the Western Libraries.
In fall 2010, Erin Bilyeu volunteered her services as a museum professional to make it possible to begin writing proposals to seek administrative support and external funding to establish a self-supporting archaeological repository that meets professional museum standards of collections management.
With the first grant, the department hired Bilyeu as a collections manager in 2011. Bilyeu inventoried the collections and reorganized and cataloged the archives using PastPerfect software, which should make accessing and researching the collections easier for students and outside researchers.
Russell Alleen-Willems, a 2007 Western alumnus, is the current collections manager; he is employed through the grant. Five staff members and two interns now work in the lab, ensuring that all of Western’s collections are properly stored and that more of the artifacts are available for viewing.
“It’s not just what we can dig up,” Alleen-Willems said. “It’s what we can share.”
Alleen-Willems, the lab staff and students are doing their part by organizing the artifacts and materials to make them more accessible for scholars. They hope to have the collection organized and archived by July, which is when the DAHP grant runs out.
The staff is trying to get the lab up to standards for archaeology repositories set by the U.S. Federal Secretary of Interior, after which the lab will be able to accept more collections and donations for the archives. For federal or state projects, the lab would charge a one-time fee that covers the cost of materials and staff for properly documenting, packaging and maintaining the collection indefinitely.
“We’re hoping the lab can become self-sustaining so it can bring in more money for the university and for maintaining the lab,” Alleen-Willems said.
The lab is open to the public through appointment, and the staff said they love having visitors come by, especially potential anthropology majors. Anyone interested in seeing the lab can contact the Anthropology Office or Alleen-Willems at email@example.com.