Today we finished our second site visit in one week, visiting Temple University’s anthropology lab. Prior to visiting, I was not aware of the anthropology lab, and given its location on the lobby level of Gladfelter Hall, I cant say how many times I must have walked past it in previous years. Interestingly, the lab was custom designed for Temple’s anthropology collection when Gladfelter hall was constructed, dating the lab and its collection back to the 1960’s. When we arrived at the anthropology lab, the museum and its display cases were in the process of being emptied and relocated, pending a construction project to replace the flooring in the area. After taking a few minutes to explore the interior of the lab, we headed downstairs to the lab, where we learned more about the collection. In the lab we were able to see and learn about several artifacts uncovered in a recent excavation of an alms house in Philadelphia dating to the 1720’s.
We discussed some of the modern challenges of maintaining the collection, such as new cataloging standards, technologies, and legal responsibilities, like NAGPRA. Given the age of the collection, the lab is facing an issue endemic to many institutions — it is running out of storage space. Given the ever increasing amount of artifacts and samples stored on site, the issue of filling up storage space is an inevitable problem. One challenge, then is repatriating artifacts from digs in foreign countries and returning collections that belong to the State and other institutions. Additionally, re-cataloging and sorting artifacts from old collections presents a logistical challenge as the lab attempts to modernize its inventory system. NAGPRA, or, the Native American Graves Repatriation Act, also presents a challenge to the collection, as the collection possesses unclaimed Native American remains and burial artifacts that it must return to Native American tribes.
When our time was up, I left with a newfound understanding of the function of the anthropology lab as well as the wide-ranging responsibilities of its staff. I hope to return soon and see the lab’s exhibits once the renovations are completed.