Orientation and First Weeks
During the first week, I had to do many administrative things from paperwork to lab safety courses. I was told I had a flexible schedule, and that I could shift my hours around to fit my needs. I was given a brief rundown of my duties and what they wanted me to accomplish. I was to create an inventory of all the specimens currently in the collections and update their old database. They told me to create the inventory in word and list what kind and how many bones each specimen ID had. I also had to note down any damage or noticeable defects for the bones.
After, they gave me a tour of the archaeology department as well as the forensic labs. They told me that the RCMP and the forensic department work closer to archaeology than criminology since they deal with bones and human remains the most. I learned that there were many different branches of archaeology and each one had a lab to accommodate them.
Day to Day
My day to day schedule is working from Monday to Friday at 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. When I decided to take a course during my 2nd term, it was 8:00 am - 5:00 pm instead. Most of the time I was alone in the lab under minimal supervision. Everyday I would update a log journal to keep track of my progress and to see how long each cabinet would take. The zooarchaeology laboratory has 4 occupied shelves with roughly 11 cabinets each. Each cabinet has between 5-8 trays full of various specimens. There are 3 shelves of mammals and 1 shelf of fish, birds, and reptiles. I would work my way through each specimen by counting and recording their bones in a notebook. After I finished an entire cabinet, I would create the official word document by referring back to my notebook. I would also take a photo of each tray to document how it looks and what was in it. Should I come across any misplaced or mislabeled bones, I would take note and then fix it.
Before diving into the bones in a new cabinet, I would note down all the specimens in the cabinet and then update the database with their location. I would also need to check if the specimens had any processing worksheets and then use them to update the information on the database. This was my daily routine.
During my 2nd term, I was able to sit in on the Zooarchaeology course to further enhance my archeology knowledge. I also decided that I wanted to learn how to de-flesh a specimen for the collection before I left.
Learning and Adaptation
My position is very repetitive. I learned to get into a routine of taking inventory and developed my own way of quickly writing the bones and any observations I had in my notebook. For instance, I would denote that a bone was fragmented by drawing two slanted parallel lines and pointing to the bone name with an arrow or I would indicate major damage using a down arrow and an "X". These symbols helped me save time by not needing to write down my entire observation especially when there were multiple of them.
By spending time to carefully look at the labels on the bones and draw out my observations, I eventually learned how to recognize the bones by their shape. This helped my speed up my inventory taking process. It also helped me learn the cranial bones of fish faster.
Accomplishments and Challenges
One major accomplishment I have is being able to recognize bones of various animals as well as their siding. This is all thanks to the amount of repetitive practice I got from writing down the inventory of the same type of animal for multiple specimens. Also, needing to figure out the side that a bone fragment belonged to, helped me improve my attention to detail since any little landmark helped.
The greatest challenge for me was learning fish bones. While the body of a fish may be simple, the skull has more than 35 different types of bones and certain bones look very similar. It also did not help that fish have some of the most diverse skulls, leading to the same bone looking very different between two fish. However, using books and online resources, I eventually learned to recognize the bones of a fish.
Overall, working in the Zooarchaeology lab has helped me develop my observational skills, time management, and patience. Needing to carefully inspect bone fragments to figure out what it was, helped me improve my ability to notice important features. Being under minimal supervision, made me want to use my time well in order to show progress. I would set personal deadlines like wanting to finish one cabinet a week to keep things rolling. Doing a lot of the same work and needing to count many tiny bones in regards to rodents or fish, definitely helped strengthen my patience. It was quicker to take things slow as to not miscount and force a recount. I enjoyed getting to handle bones of animals I never would have seen and probably never will.