Mercyhurst builds second basket lab in the world

This week, Mercyhurst College will complete construction of the R. L. Andrews Center for Perishables Analysis and the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute Processing Laboratory.

While the renovations will affect only a small percentage of the student population, the construction represents Mercyhurst’s dedication to providing quality education and research opportunities.

Contractors started construction in Zurn Hall in June. The projects cost approximately $870,000.

The R. L. Andrews Center for Perishables Analysis, commonly referred to as the basket lab, is one of only two laboratories in the world that analyze perishable artifacts. The other laboratory is located in Holland.

Dr. James Adovasio, director of the Anthropology and Archaeology Department at Mercyhurst College, is one of the world’s leading authorities in the analysis of basketry, textiles, cordage and other plant fiber-derived artifacts.

In a recent press release, he said, “Perishables analysis is a small and relatively arcane specialization. Typically what we have learned about prehistoric civilizations comes from the study of durable materials, like stone and ceramics, when, in fact, 95 percent of what people manufactured prehistorically was made out of perishable materials.”

The newly renovated lab was equipped with modern technology. This includes microscopes connected to high definition video screens for viewing and measuring artifacts, and printers for image capture and the capability of immediately forwarding specimens to the conservation lab. The forwarding allows for a better interface between labs.
Photo by Ethan Magoc: Freshman forensic anthopology major Tess Allen uses a microscope to sort pieces of lithic, shell and limestone rock in Zurn Hall's Processing Laboratory on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010.Photo by Ethan Magoc: Freshman forensic anthopology major Tess Allen uses a microscope to sort pieces of lithic, shell and limestone rock in Zurn Hall’s Processing Laboratory on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010.

According to Lab Supervisor Jeffrey Illingworth, who oversees the daily operation of the basket lab, the college will receive “quite a lot of press coverage” due to the uniqueness of the facility.
Illingworth, along with director of the facility, Dr. Edward Jolie, manages work-study students and laboratory projects.

The college hired construction crews to renovate the processing lab that neighbors the basket lab, which is located on the first floor of Zurn Hall.

The processing lab, according to Illingworth, is “the least glamorous and most important place in the department.”

Many anthropology and archaeology students receive their first hands-on experience in this lab.

Every piece of material to be analyzed must pass through the processing lab for cleaning, cataloging, labeling and preliminary analysis.

Renovations in the lab included easy-access storage facilities, a spacious stainless steel cleaning station and a computer bank for encoding information.

“It’s been eight or so years ago that the school resolved to renovate the college, lab by lab,” Illingworth said. “This year was archaeology’s turn.”