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Archaeology/Opening sealed pots


QUESTION: I am writing a book and have a technical question about opening sealed clay pots. The sealed room has been found in a basement in Savannah Georgia. It is a room made of stone within a room made of stone. It has been sealed for almost three hundred years. Various items such as chests both wooden and leather have been found as well as clay pots that are sealed with clay.So how would an archaeologist open the pot without damaging the pot itself.

ANSWER: Hi Lorie,

Savannah is a damp warm place, even sealed it is likely to be damp and rather musty.  The wood will likely be rotten and the leather moldy.  The clay would be intact as would the seal.   The sealed pot(s) would be taken into the lab.  Where they would be x-rayed, and examined using different non-destructive techniques.  And only then would it be gently opened.  They would drill the seal and then the content examined.  If the ceramic  pots were glazed the content could still be liquid, if they were liquid to begin with.  They would be analyzed either way, to determine what the content was.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Okay thank you for that. The people in my book cannot take their discovery to public labs because of the possible contents of the room falling into the wrong hands. Would it be possible to set up a lab, even a small one to do what needs to be done to insure the protection of the artifacts.

Most archaeological digs will have their own lab,  usually in a warehouse nare the site where the artifacts are cleaned catalogued photographed and studied,  in my own past I've used the services of small hospitals for the X-ray work on objects like amphora.  There are very few "public" archaeological labs.  Most archaeologists prefer to maintain such collections "quiet" for security purposes.  


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Ralph Salier


Archaeologist for the last 30 years. Norh American generalist and Hopwell culture/Red Ocher culture specifically. Lithics Expert and Ground Stone tools.


Past/Present clients
Numerous museums in US and Canada. Several University Anthropology Departments.

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