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Sunday, March 19, 2000

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Archaeology again

I went back to the Archaeological Fair today to see more of the storage areas and go on the lab tour. The first thing that happened was that my batteries in my camera died. I had to wait a few minutes for the drugstore to open and get new ones and then I was off.

I love looking at all that the museum has stored. There are some beautiful items and most of them are never seen by the public because they are fragile and/or too many to put on exhibit. The Arizona State Museum ceramics collection, which is mainly pots, has recently received a National Heritage designation and now can, hopefully, get more money to protect their collection.

The museum is going to build storage rooms that are temperature and humidity protected, but that have windows or something like that so visitors can view the collection. They have a great exhibit now with a small fraction of the collection. It showcases some beautiful things as well as some that have sadly deteriorated.

They not only had ceramics but some historical items that were stored away. One group was chinese items that had been collected from downtown Tucson in a former housing area. There were quite a few chinese that came with the railroad and some that stayed. They are now an integral part of the community. The chinese items included a beautiful lacquer box and one of those wooden pillows the women used to protect their elaborate hairdos. Whenever I see one it makes my neck ache just thinking about it.

The lab tour took us to three of the dating laboratories on campus, which are tops in their field. The first one was the Tree Ring Lab which is housed under the stadium. They now occupy an entire side of the rooms under the stadium and the rooms are stacked with slices and cores of trees. It's interesting to hear how they have traced dates back through centuries.

The next lab was the radio carbon dating lab. We saw the massive equipment that is used to date all types of things. They now have two particle accelerators to use in dating. The guide, one of the physicists, told us about how they have even dated bodies for crime solving and samples of coral to date changes in the sea level.

The next lab was the archeo-magnetic dating lab. This was fascinating. They have a room within a room that is magnetic free that they evaluate the samples in. This field is based on the fact that when you heat earth the magnetic particles in it reorient themselves to magnetic north and when it cools they are locked into place. They have traced back many centuries the orientation of true north so that the orientation of the particles can be used to date the samples.

In archaeology you can find the heated and cooled samples in the hearths of homes, but this dating method is also used for geologic purposes as you can date volcanic flows and other rocks formed under pressure and heat.

My feet and back were tired from all the walking and standing as we were shuttled across campus and then walked back stoppping at the labs. I've heard about all these dating methods but it was interesting to see how they looked and listen to the people that worked in the labs. It must have taken quite a bit of persuasion to get all these people to give talks as these trips went on every half hour for most of Saturday and Sunday. The presenters were all very excited about what they do and communicated it well.

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Walked - 1 mile
Biked - 8 miles

(c) Rachel Aschmann 2000.
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