An important skill in archaeology is what my friend and mentor Jan Peder Lamm calls fragmentology: the ability to identify objects when all you have is small pieces. The only way to learn this well is to look at a lot of objects. So here’s a fragmentological exercise for you, Dear Reader: of what two objects have the fragments in the pictures been parts? And what parts? And even if you find them really easy, the most important question may be, which details guided your identification? The round thing measures about 14 cm across, the shiny thing about 2.5 cm.

I’d like to extend my standing invitation for reader-submitted archaeopix to also include fragmentology pix.


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  1. #1 Richard
    March 19, 2007

    The first object looks to be a rusty petrol cover. The second is the wind blocker from a run-of-the-mill butane lighter you can find at any petrol station.

  2. #2 ukko
    March 19, 2007

    The top one is the little door for the gas cap off of a vehicle of some sort. The hinge, shows the axis of motion, the spring that is holds one default position, and the little dimple a place to insert one’s finger to pull it open.

    The clincher is the bubbly rust patten on the right side showing that that side was oriented down and then that this is off the right side of the car.

  3. #3 Martin R
    March 19, 2007

    Very good, guys! Elegant interpretation, Ukko. Richard, what did you need to identify the shiny thing?

  4. #4 diane rios
    March 19, 2007

    I know it’s not a complete id, but are they lids of some sort? I am seeing some kind of hinge and a lip for lifting?

  5. #5 diane rios
    March 19, 2007

    the shiny thing is a clip?

  6. #6 decrepitoldfool
    March 19, 2007

    The inset flanges at the corners of the shiny thing are a common manufacturing convention for snapping a piece into an assembly. The orientation of the flanges gives away the direction of assembly. The lack of rolled edge along that side means it is made to form a contiguous surface with the sides of the larger object, and the rolled edge around the remainder indicates it is made for comfortable handling. The semicircular flanges along the top rolled edge appear made to meet in the middle, which gives away the diameter of the finished object. You know this much before recognizing it from having handled too many butane lighters.

    The spring-loaded cover might be for fuel but could also be a service-access cover.

  7. #7 decrepitoldfool
    March 19, 2007

    Oops, I forgot to notice, on the lighter-top, there is an inset notch marked with a double-arrow that has a + and – symbol at each end. Therefore likely it straddles some kind of flow control in the finished object.

  8. #8 Martin R
    March 19, 2007

    Ah, children, you’re making the old man proud! D.O.F., you must be an archaeologist, at least in spirit!

    Why is the top thing painted burgundy? And what’s the white splotch to the left on one side?

  9. #9 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 19, 2007

    Don’t touch that flux capacitor!

  10. #10 Martin R
    March 19, 2007

    That’s right, Mustafa. Touching your flux capacitor may make you go blind.

  11. #11 Christina
    March 20, 2007

    Seriously, Martin, what kind of archaeologist are you?! Clearly the top circular disc item is some sort of death mask. The “back” is actually the front, and it clearly has two eyes, a nose and a frowning mouth. The burgundy is obviously red ochre, and the white is probably some sort of zink, which indicates that this mask has had important religious significance. The question is, where’s the skeleton that belongs with it? (Yes, I am poking fun at the establishment.)

  12. #12 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 23, 2007
  13. #13 Martin R
    March 24, 2007

    The bathythermograph looks like an alien probe.

  14. #14 Brian X
    March 24, 2007


    You’ve read Motel of the Mysteries, I take it?

    I wasn’t too sure what the top thing was, but I was right as far as it being some sort of car part. Didn’t really notice the paint, though, so I didn’t realize it was an outside part (thus the fact that it’s painted). No idea on the white splotch — maybe a spider web of some sort?

  15. #15 Martin R
    March 24, 2007

    Check out what’s on the other side of the white splotch, and consider what the surrounding surface is like. Ukko read those signs very well. What can the white stuff be?

  16. #16 David
    March 24, 2007

    The white substance appears to be a rust repair putty, like Bondo.

  17. #17 Martin R
    March 25, 2007

    Exactly! The reason it’s so white is that I took a sander to it a few months back while touching up rust spots on the car. Finally, my brother got me a used lid in better shape. He even managed to find the right colour.

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