Once in from the field, artifacts need to be cleaned, sorted, catalogued, stabilized, and labeled, before they can undergo further analysis.
Once cleaned, the artifacts are sorted into basic groups such as pottery, lithics (stone), bone, and plants. Then they are catalogued. The total number of artifacts in each category is counted. Important artifacts are described individually, and sometimes drawn. Each artifact is assigned a unique number that tells the site, feature, and level that it was found. These numbers are used in a database to keep track of all the artifacts. The individual artifacts that are to be separately analyzed have their unique number and the site number written right on them to ensure that they can be tracked.
Artifacts may start to break down when they are removed from the earth. Careful cleaning and treatment is necessary to preserve the materials. For example, copper artifacts are wrapped in acid-free tissue paper to prevent further corrosion. Some materials are so delicate that exposure to air causes them to start decaying. Special treatments, usually conducted by museum conservators, may be required.