Depot Management

September 17, 2009

A professor once said “archaeology is 10 percent digging and 90 percent figuring out what to do with your stuff”. There could not have been more truth in his words, implying that getting it out of the ground is one thing, but studying and storing it yet another.

Indeed, as archaeologists we should provide the best care for what we unearth. This means that not only we should provide shelter for the finds, but also register them and make sure that they are still wearing identification labels (with the proper codes of stratigraphical origin etc.). So yes, a gigantic weight is lying on our shoulders, since we are dealing with years of excavated material and huge amounts of finds. For Sagalassos alone, we have 33 depots and more then 50.000 finds (and then we are counting bulk finds, registered per context, and not every sherd individualy!) But since the Sagalassos project is interdisciplinary in its origin, we went to talk to a private firm, specialized in storehouse management systems, Codisys, to help solve the problem.

This company provided us with barcode scanners, printers and labels. The workflow, however, we decided upon. We labeled the location of the finds (be it a box or a rack of a shelve or a place on the ground) with a barcode containing the by us designated code for that specific storage location. The finds themselves on the other hand are already always joined with their identification tag (containing information where the artifact was excavated, on which site, in which layer, trench, sector and of what kind of material the find was made) so it came as no surprise that we decided to put the barcode stickers on the back of these labels. Also here, the barcodes incorporated as much information as possible, being the year and site of excavation, material category, find and locus number.

From a specialized computer program, print jobs were sent (wireless) to the fixed printer in the computer room or to the portable printer hanging around somebody’s neck in or around the depots, in order to print the proper barcodes on the stickers.

In previous years, all the data concerning the finds was added manually by the depot team to the database that stored the stratigraphical information of the artefacts and their storage location. This year it was decided that site specific information would be entered by the field archaeologists. Attaching the storage location information would be done by means of scanning the find barcode numbers in combination with their location labels. As such lists were generated of unique combinations of find and location codes that were easy to import in the general depot database. First of all, it would speed up the work considerably and secondly its error margin would be much smaller since we did not have to type every single number and location code in a database. In the long run, a major advantage will also be that the depotsystem will be much more flexible, after studying some finds, one does not need to look up the old location in the database anymore, but simply put the finds there where there is space and scan find and location barcode and over the wire less connection, the adaptations in the database will happen in real time.

However, checking the old depot database and labeling all the locations and finds is almost comparable to the labor of Sisyphus. This campaign the 2009 finds were all registered in this way and also the enormous amount of ceramics unearthed in the Potter Quarter’s excavation of 2008 received their labels as did the 2008 glass and all the metal small finds excavated in between 1989 and 2003, all the terracotta figurines and half of the finds stored in depot number 3. In the end more then 7000 barcode stickers were glued. Depot numbers 5, 6, 8, 10 and 11 were completely checked and ready to be labeled next year. Inshallah…

The depot boys and girls 2009 were Veerle Caelen, Chris Putmans, Pieter Lemahieu, Roel Van Beumen and Veerle Lauwers. Additionally they could count on the generous help of the computer guys, being Joeri Theelen, Niels Claes, Simon Depas en Sam Berghmans and the logistic girls Veerle Pollet and Tine Berx.