All artifacts recovered in the Clarke County Museum excavations were brought back to the USA Center for Archaeological Studies lab to be processed. While most people associate archaeology with digging, archaeologists are usually in the lab an average of four days for every single day spent in the field.
The first step in lab work is to carefully wash the artifacts and set them out to dry. Once the artifacts are dry, archaeologists sort them into categories based on material and function. For example, ceramics are divided into plates, saucers, bowls, pitchers, and other items.
After this is done, archaeologists can then use reference books to assign dates to individual artifacts. Some artifacts such as ceramics with maker's marks can be dated within a relatively tight range. Then we can check the provenience (the location and depth at which the artifact was found) to determine if the site is disturbed. Older artifacts should be found below more recent artifacts. This is based on the Law of Superposition.
Using the types of artifacts and where they are found, archaeologists can formulate hypotheses as to the location of buildings or the types of activities that took place in an area. Excavations in the yard behind the Alston-Cobb house uncovered lots of nails and a large hoe blade at a considerable depth below the modern ground surface. Nails are likely to accumulate when constructing a building through accidental loss as well as during repair. More nails might fall to the ground when the building is torn down. The depth may be related to the building being located on piers and the area below it being disturbed by animals and other natural processes. A large artifact, such as the hoe blade, is not something you would expect to find in the middle of someone’s back yard, but may have been discarded by being tossed beneath the building.
All recovered artifacts are "curated" (stored in a museum) for future study. These are placed in plastic bags labeled with the provenience information and stored in a building with temperature and humidity controls to insure that the artifacts do not deteriorate further. Some artifacts, such as iron, bone, and wood, often must go through a conservation process before they can be curated.
The final step in an archaeological project is to produce a written report of the archaeological fieldwork, lab work, and conclusions. This provides the documentation for further work with the site and the collection of artifacts. This is extremely important, because without the report the meaning of what was found cannot be reconstructed, and the information that was uncovered could not be shared.