Inuit doll clothing that's been stored at Kipke will be wrapped in heat sealed plastic and packed in custom mounts to make the move to Varsity Drive. Photo by Kerri Wilhelm.

From 2016 to 2018, movers will carefully pack three million artifacts from the UMMAA (from both Ruthven and Kipke), load them onto trucks, and unpack them at their new home on Varsity Drive in south Ann Arbor. Keep track of the progress with our bimonthly updates.

It’s late September, and cool fall weather has finally arrived. Tall, wheeled carts line the hallways of Ruthven, waiting for artifacts. Plastic-wrapped carts, already lined with boxes full of chipped stone and pottery, trundle by on the way to the elevator, bound for their new home on Varsity Drive. Trucks back up to the loading dock, ready for another fragile load.

Four months into the move, the Corrigan team is on schedule. According to Lauren Fuka, collections manager at Ruthven, “They started on North America in July and the packers really hit their stride. They are averaging three cabinets per week. On an average week they pack, transport, and unpack eighteen cartloads of artifacts.”

To put that in perspective: the movers have to pack up and transport the contents of 32
cabinets from the North America Range alone. With an estimated 372,000 individual items, including sherds, flakes, faunal bones, shell fragments, and groundstone tools, the North America Range is the largest collection that’s been moved so far, said Lauren.

 “Some items are easy to pack (like small archival boxes of sherds or flakes); others require more skill, like whole ceramic vessels.” 

In September, the Corrigan team also started moving artifacts from Kipke to Varsity Drive. It took the movers only a few days to pack up two cabinets containing 66 trays of 1,609 artifacts, noted Kerri Wilhelm, collections manager at Kipke.

But plenty of work had to happen before the movers even started.

“We ‘prepacked’ about 3,402 individual artifacts by designing and then engineering 2,064 custom mounts, trays, and substrates composed of archival materials,” said Kerri. “There were many burnt fingertips and cut thumbs as a result of brandishing the tools of the trade (Exacto knives and hot-glue guns), but the team created some amazing mounts to ensure the safety and integrity of these collections from Point A to Point B.” 

John Speth, emeritus curator at UMMAA, discovered this bison skull (and many others) at the Garnsey site in New Mexico; this site proved critical in understanding the importance of fat in the prehistoric diet. The skull, which is more than 500 years old, has been in the Ruthven Museums building since 1977. Now it's headed to climate-controlled Varsity Drive. Photo by Lauren Fuka.

A wrapped skull: Sarah and Josh completely surrounded the skull in bubble wrap so that it won't be damaged in transit. Photo by Lauren Fuka.

Rolling carts wrapped in protective plastic have arrived at Varsity Drive. The movers will unwrap each cart and then unwrap each artifact from its box or mount and place it in a designated cabinet. Photo by Lauren Fuka.