Archaeology, Archaeology Research

Things I’ve learnt about working in a lab

Phew! Well life in findsandfeatures land has been pretty hectic for the last few days.

The usual monetary pressures on a small lab mean that I’m eager to get my samples prepared before we run out of consumables at the end of the university year (July).  So I’ve been in the prep labs for the last few working days, sanding, polishing and chopping. There’s nothing like large abrasive saws to give you a blinding headache.

But leaving aside the iron slag (excitingly pictured on the right-hand-side!), I’ve also been given some Roman objects to analyse. There’s a couple of lovely gold and silver rings, a silver trumpet brooch, and an amazing unidentified enamelled fish. Many thanks to Sally Worrell of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and all the good metal-detectorists who let us analyse their objects.

I’ll get some photos up later – please let me know if you’ve any ideas on what the fish is for! I’m getting refresher-training on the scanning electron microscope on Thursday, so fingers-crossed I’ll have some good info soon.

In the spirit of sharing my passion, here’s a few of the things I learnt over the last few days about working in a lab:

  • When you need a piece of lab equipment, someone will be using it. When you don’t need it, it’ll be free.
  • If you get to use the equipment you need, someone will have left it dirty, and you’ll need to give it a complete clean before you can get on with your work.
  • If you give yourself a paper-cut on your lab-book, don’t expect the first-aid box to have anything as useful as plasters. A whole packet of disposable gloves (when we keep three different sizes in two different types in the lab), but not plasters.
  • Tissue paper and selotape make a perfect substitute for plasters.
  • If you use the automated polishing equipment to speed up your work, at least one out of every three or four samples will be spoiled and you’ll have to go right back to the beginning of the process, making you wonder whether you shouldn’t have just done it by hand in the first time.
  • At least one consumable that you need will have run-out.
  • The lab technicians do know how to fix any problem.
  • There will be lots of lights around, but they’ll all have red light bulbs in them for no apparent reason.
  • You’ll spend ages doing things the ‘recommended’ way, only to find that for some unknown reason it doesn’t work for your samples.

I’m sure this doesn’t just happen to me, right?! Tomorrow I’m bringing in my own plasters…

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