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Boxes and Boxes!

Shelves with boxes MVAC houses large collections of artifacts recovered during fieldwork or donated to MVAC. How do we keep track of all these materials? Our collections are organized by site number, and within each site, by a cataloguing system based on the year acquired and the provenience—the location where an item was found. The provenience of a scraper, for instance, might be the surface of a plowed field, or Level 3 of Unit B, or a specific location within Level 3.

When new collections arrive, we assign an acquisition number to each provenience represented. Acquisition numbers have two parts: the year the items were found or donated; and a number for the provenience. For example, the first artifacts we receive in 2022 might be from a plowed field at site X. A surface scatter might be a single provenience that gets one acquisition number: 2022.0001. Two distinct concentrations on adjacent knolls would have two proveniences and two separate numbers: 2022.0001 and 2022.0002. The numbering sequence continues through the year. Everything from the same provenience (or donated collection) gets the same acquisition number, whether it’s flake from a shovel test or dozens of artifacts from one level of a unit.

Each item within a provenience also gets its own catalog number. For site X, the individual artifacts from that surface scatter would be catalogued as 2022.0001.01, 2022.0001.02, and so on. We record acquisition and catalog numbers on tags, bags, archived catalog forms, and databases, and sometimes on the artifacts themselves.

We also keep a running list of accession numbers, with a new number given to each donated collection or group of proveniences from a site. This master Accession Record is our formal documentation of accepting these materials into our collection.

Our repository keeps permanent records for everything we take in. Over the past 40 years, the records have evolved from paper logs to specialized collection management software called Past Perfect. This whole system might seem complicated, but it allows us to know exactly what’s in every one of our Boxes and Boxes!