I like to think that even though the Artifact Lab is essentially a fish bowl, when we are in here we are often hiding in plain sight. People in our department have been known to come up to the Artifact Lab to work on treatments because they are less likely to be interrupted up here. That sounds strange, I know, but it’s true. And sometimes our visitors don’t even think that WE are real, so we can kind of operate under the radar even when people are looking right at us. This is not the case all of the time, of course, and we do get plenty of visitors who tap on the glass and try to talk to us even when our backs are turned and we have earbuds in.
Aside from the people working in the lab, I think that there are a lot of things that go unnoticed too. Now, there are some things that people ask about all the time, like, “what is that Chock full o’Nuts can for?” and “what is in that jar?”.
These are pretty normal accessories in conservation labs, but of course most people would be puzzled by them at first. (The coffee can has been re-purposed as a sharps container, for disposal of old scalpel blades for example, and the jam jar is being used for disposal of cotton swab tips.)
Then there are things that go unnoticed but are arguably more fascinating, and puzzling. For example, we have never been asked, “why do you have an autopsy table in the lab?”. We probably have never been asked this because I would imagine that most people do not know an autopsy table when they see one. Our department inherited this table many years ago and when we opened the Artifact Lab in 2012 it somehow seemed appropriate to bring it up here (but really, we are NOT autopsying or unwrapping mummies, I swear). We have used the table on a daily basis, both for supporting mummies and large (people-sized) artifacts for treatment, and for prepping materials for re-housing artifacts.
Unfortunately, it is not the most useful table, because it has a lip around the edge, the table surface is slightly inclined, and there is a hole on one end for the drain. But we made it work for us for over 4 years!
The Artifact Lab has been closed to the public since December 31 and in the meantime we have been working away in here, but we are gearing up to reopen on April 8. When we reopen there will be some changes to both the lab space and the exhibition space. The most noticeable changes for visitors will be some new objects on exhibit, new graphics and text panels, and some other nice additions which I’ll write about in an upcoming post. But the change that we are feeling slightly sad about is that we are getting rid of the autopsy table. It has served us well but it just isn’t functional for our purposes anymore. And since many of you may not have noticed the table before, I didn’t want it to go away without mentioning it here.
We are hoping to find a good home for the table. Who might want an old autopsy table, you might ask? Well, this exists, so anything is possible. And actually, we can think of a lot of people who might like it.
Stay tuned to hear more about the other changes to the Artifact Lab, and what we’ve been doing in the meantime.