Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Sherds! Glorious Sherds!

A larger "life-size" print of this photograph is currently on display in our Changing Gallery exhibit Fragments: Broken Bowls Tell More Tales" It is from Pueblo Grande Museum’s (PGM) photo archives. The southwest corner of the platform mound is visible at the upper left of the photograph. This jumble of sherds is the “sherd discard pile” at Pueblo Grande ca. 1935 – 1940. During that time, workers at PGM saved only “museum quality” specimens and discarded the others (for example - plainware and redware sherds).

Notes from our Curator: 
We have 3 pieces of primary information on this photo - 
1.    A caption with an original prints states "Sherd Count - one season's work - Ca. 1/2 million sherds analyzed."
2.    There a comment in a monthly progress report that references this sherd pile it states “The pottery store room [at Pueblo Grande Museum] was cleaned up and all accumulated sherd bags were disposed of according to proper designation. All type sherd[s] were segregated and prepared for type collections. The discard pile was moved and a number of type sherds, design sherds, and even intrusive sherds were recovered” January, 1940.
3.    The archaeologist, Julian Hayden, believed that these sherds were taken to “the dump” (1990)

What ultimately happened to this sherd pile remains unknown, however, I think this photo is a great example of how the archaeological and museum professions have changed over time. We believe that these sherds were “discarded” because workers thought that no other information could be gained from saving them.
I use illustrations like this photo to advocate for the preservation of archaeological specimens and data. Just think what else we’d know had the sherds in this photo been kept with their provenience information! We never know what advances will come, and saving even the most trivial objects today can have big implications on future research.
For more information, see The Archaeology of the Pueblo Grande Platform Mound and Surrounding Features, Volume 1 (pg. 127-9).

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