Over the last two weeks in the Lyell collection I have been sorting out the “Notes” field for the USA specimens. This has involved transcribing labels, tablets and markings on specimens and it has led to finding some rather odd practices. These have left me scratching my head and asking why or how, sometimes both.
The first mystery we have is probably my favourite and probably the most annoying. If you follow my twitter you will know I have had some problems working out what some original text actually says. Well this tablet in the grand scheme of things is pretty easy to read. LOOK AT WHAT SOMEONE HAS DONE! They have attached a label over the original writing. The worst part is there is space on the tablet that has no writing. What were they thinking?
Another fun thing I have come across in the database is the previous volunteer curator didn’t finish transcribing tablets, instead he just wrote “[etc.]” if the information repeated what was on the front. I guess I can forgive him as he was writing them out by hand before entering them into a database but it is still amusing to come across them.
There are some mysteries that come from Lyell himself. Symbols and codes written on the back of tablets the meaning of which still eludes us. I feel like I am working on a jigsaw that doesn’t have all the pieces. They aren’t gone forever but instead they’re just waiting to be found.
Another quirk from the previous volunteer curator is that he didn’t trust loose labels or the backs of tablets. This slowly became evident when removing unnecessary comments from the “Localities” field. Anything written on the front of the tablet was taken to be the truth but you were strongly warned about anything from the reverse or a loose label by comments such as “per tablet reverse” and “per loose label”. We think that actually the back of the tablets were what was being worked on by Lyell and friends and his scribe wrote the information onto the front of the tablet.
It is important to remember all the changes that have happened with technology and the views towards best practice, so these people will have been doing the best with what they had. I am in no doubt that 50 years down the line people will look at what we were doing and think “WHY?”
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[…] entertaining blog by Lily Nadine Wilks which looks at the frustrations of museum documentation in Mysteries of the Past. She has been working on the Charles Lyell digitisation project at the Oxford University Museum of […]