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Desert Diary


Museums have a lot of what some people characterize as junk. But then, "One man's junk is another man's treasure". So, what do museums treasure? Well, depends on the museum. There are art museums, anthropology museums, natural history museums, and a whole bunch more. What an art museum might refuse to let past the doorway, a natural history museum might drool over. But even within their limited fields, curators still have to make judgements. No museum has the room or personnel to take and take care of everything. Yet the pressure is always toward saving more rather than less.

Why? As an example, consider that grown-up archaeologists tend to tear-up at the thought of excavated charcoal that was blithely discarded as junk once the wood from which it came had been identified. Who knew that eventually charcoal would be pure intellectual gold; that someday radiocarbon dating would reveal the holy grail of archaeology: the assignment of real dates to prehistoric sites. And charcoal is almost pure carbon—carbon necessary for those dates. Ah, if only more of that junk had been saved.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Douglas Fir charcoal, ideal for radiocarbon (14C) dating. Photograph by A.H. Harris.



Web Resources

Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory