Paul Stavast, Anthropology
Evaluation of Academic Objectives
This report summarizes results of the high-speed artifact processor development project from January 2013 to December 2014. The high-speed artifact processor is a conveyor-belt based system, developed at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures, that automates the processes of labeling, measuring, photographing, and classifying artifacts. The focus for this period was to move the processor from a prototype to a functioning system. Our goals were: 1) mentor students in establishing protocols and refining methods for implementation of the system, 2) test the system using several MPC artifact collections, 3) train additional archaeology students to use the system and resulting data.
The project made significant progress during the grant period. The system has become operational and we have had requests from off-campus entities to process their artifacts using the system. Specifically, we were successful in accomplishing goals 1 and 2. Due to scheduling and the location of archaeology field schools, goal 3 has been delayed and will be completed following the spring 2015 field school.
Due to unforeseen issues and software bugs while continuing to develop the system, we processed around 5,000 artifacts. This number is less than anticipated, but resolving the bugs has made the system significantly more effective. We had proposed to focus testing on artifacts from the Fremont culture. The system handled these artifacts well. However, an unforeseen opportunity arose which permitted the testing of the system on historic artifacts recovered in 2012-13 from Provo’s first Tabernacle. These more modern items pushed the limits of the system in terms of artifact material and size. We were able to expand protocols to handle these artifacts. However, additional changes to the software were required and are being implemented to address remaining concerns. The next software version will be completed in February 2015.
Evaluation of Mentoring Environment
The mentoring environment consisted of frequent meetings and regular communication. The mentor provided students numerous opportunities to build collegial and personal relationships. This is due in large part to the mentor being involved on a daily basis with students as they worked through protocol development. Additionally, the mentor involved students in broader discussions about the role and functions of protocols and methods in the museum field. The work students performed necessitated that they break into new ground and push their understanding of archaeological methods, museum data management theories, and administrative theories to determine which steps are critical for effective protocols. The acceptance of student presentations in national, regional, and state conferences demonstrates the effectiveness of the mentoring environment and the quality of their work.
To date, this project created a strong mentoring relationship which involved three graduate students as paid participants: Joseph Bryce, Jaclyn Eckersley, and Jessica Simpson. Two of these students also enrolled in Anthr 522 Museum Technologies and Practices. This course (with six additional graduate students) discussed how this project and its successes and obstacles could be integrated in other museum contexts. Additional feedback and review of project components came from discussions with class members.
Undergraduate students will be mentored as a result of this project during 2015 following the archaeology field school.
This project resulted in a provisional patent submitted by BYU. While this milestone recognized the potential commercial impact of the project, it also restricted how and when presentations on the system could be made. Because of their significant involvement in this project, students were credited on the patent documentation.
During initial prototyping and testing of elements of the high-speed processing system, total processing time was reduced by a factor of 10. After developing appropriate protocols, processing time was reduced to between 10 and 30 seconds per artifact, depending on size and number in each lot. At the higher performance end (10 seconds), the system processes artifacts 60 times faster than traditional methods.
A key product of this project is a protocol and instruction manual. This document addresses how different artifact classes need to be handled during pre-loading, loading, and unloading of the system. Preparatory cleaning of the artifacts is especially critical for proper labeling of each item.
Students mentored as part of this project submitted their work to national, regional, and state conferences. Conference presentations by mentored students include:
- Joseph Bryce “High-Volume Artifact Processing and Cataloging System” American Association of Museums Annual Meeting 2014.
- Jaclyn Marie Eckersley “The High-Volume Artifact Processor: The Machine and Its Implications” 62nd Annual Utah State History Conference 2014.
- Jessica Simpson “Object Labels and the Future of Archaeological Collections”, Western Museums Association Annual Meeting 2013.
Student wages paid for two graduate students about 8 hours a week for 80 weeks. Travel funds assisted three graduate students attend three conferences. The remaining funds ($558.12) will be put towards additional software improvements.