Working with “Old Stuff”

A collections intern reflects on her year in the Vault

Jamestown Rediscovery, Ava Geisel

Jamestown recently said goodbye to Ava Geisel, who interned in Collections as part of her senior year at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond. We’re so glad she chose to spend the year with us and are excited for you to learn more about all the fantastic projects she took part in. Keep reading to learn more about Ava and her internship:

Hello, my name is Ava Geisel! When I was offered the opportunity to pursue an internship for my senior year of high school, I was very interested in museum curation and archaeology and knew it would be a dream to do my internship at Jamestown. I met with museum director Jamie May and curators Leah Stricker and Janene Johnston to discuss possible internships and the types of projects I could assist with once the position began. As a high school intern, I was delighted to be trusted to work at Jamestown and given the opportunity to work in collections.

When I started my internship, I had an interest in history but didn’t know exactly what the field of archaeology entailed. On my first day, I realized the environment allowed for a lot of opinions, creativity, and expertise. Everyone was patient, helpful, and informative and I learned something new and interesting every day. I’ve always liked learning about history, material culture, museums, and “old stuff.” It was nice to be surrounded by people that also share those interests!

My main project was working with the button collection, which I’ll discuss more in-depth in another blog post (coming soon!). This project had me primarily working with Assistant Curator Janene Johnston. I also worked with Dr. Chris Wilkins, a conservator. Chris taught me how to x-ray artifacts, a task that I can now confidently do on my own. He also showed me the basics of Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) – a type of elemental analysis that we used for some of the pewter and lead buttons.

One of my favorite assignments of the button project was taking record photographs of pewter and lead buttons and learning how to process these images (photos). I’ve always had an interest in photography and hadn’t thought about how that could fit into archaeology until I met Chuck Durfor, who is the staff photographer at Jamestown. I learned so much about artifact photography from him and photography in general. Using these skills later, I helped Assistant Curator Emma Derry photograph faunal materials being sent out for analysis. I didn’t think an internship at an archaeology lab would give me the opportunity to expand my passion for photography, but artifact photography and illustration are extremely important and I can’t wait to explore more in the future.

Ava and Leah working on cross-mends of Frechen, or Bartmann jugs, one of the most commonly-uncovered artifacts at Jamestown.

I also washed and sorted hundreds of artifacts during my internship. Washing and sorting is a great hands-on way to learn how to identify and categorize all types of artifacts. I’ve helped with picking, which entails sorting out small artifacts from water-screened materials, in preparation for the faunal analysis of the First Well. I even assisted another intern with flotation, a process that uses agitated water to separate out potential botanicals from soil samples. Working with Leah and Lauren (Curator and Collections Assistant respectively), I labelled and mended a variety of ceramics, from flowerpots to Bartmann jugs. Working with each of these staff members was something I loved because I was exposed to so many different tasks and unique bits of information.

My internship also included field trips! Over the year, I went to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, St. Mary’s Historic City, and Colonial Williamsburg. This allowed me to get an idea on how different labs function. Each project was important in distinct ways and it was so neat to get a behind-the-scenes look at them. It was great to get insight into the many possibilities of where I could work, what I could study, and what kind of environment I could find myself in. I look forward to seeing what else is out there as I continue in the field.

I am so incredibly grateful for the experiences I have had at Jamestown and the people I have met. This fall, I’ll start my freshman year at Fordham College at Lincoln Center in New York City and plan to major in anthropology and minor in fashion studies. My time at Jamestown has really influenced my career goals and my decisions for further education in such a positive way.      

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn about Ava’s work to build the Reference Collection for buttons excavated at Jamestown!