Archiving a project (Rule 32)

The methodology for archiving project documentation and the structure of the archives must be set out in the project design. The project design needs to contain a schematic blueprint of what archives it will produce. Moreover, appropriate storage locations, curation, and the envisaged degree of public availability need to be determined prior to commencing fieldwork. Arrangements should guarantee that all vital information is registered according to a consistent method throughout all stages, and that the systems chosen are compatible with archiving constraints that may exist.

A central part of the project archives will contain documentation of archaeological research which will be substantial and composed of a great number of elements. In line with the experience of other projects and the way the archaeological profession has progressed, it is therefore not acceptable to postpone selecting the method of archiving until the process of research or excavation is underway. It is evident that sometimes new elements will be developed during the course of a project, as for instance, a backup for a system that is not completely reliable. However, improvisation should be limited to exceptional cases and should not become the rule. Drawing on previous knowledge and past experience, the choice of methodology must ensure that a project’s stable, orderly and accessible archives can be assimilated easily into the collections of recognized repositories.


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The need for project archives


Archaeological archives are an essential element of archaeological research. They represent a unique source of information on the site concerned. With regard to sites that have been disturbed or excavated, future generations are denied the opportunity to study the evidence in situ and therefore the archives are the only trace that remains. For this reason, the full results of the intervention must be deposited for posterity in the archives.

Extensive documentation

The documentation of an archaeological project can be very extensive. In an underwater project, the documentation should be more, rather than less, extensive than the documentation of an archaeological project on land. The risks of interruption because of bad weather and other causes are greater. As a consequence, it is better not to take any risk with documentation, but actually to document every day as if there were no other day.

The mass of collected paper, drawings, photographs, objects and digital data is a resource that enables the reinterpretation of original findings. It also provides, however, the raw material for further research. It informs museum displays and teaching collections and it gives the general public access to the evidence. Project archives are the basis for creating understanding.

Public availability

The significance of archaeological archives is growing as their value is more widely recognized. At a time when many reports of archaeological projects appear as what is sometimes called ‘grey literature’, such reports are only barely available in the public domain. This is a problem, which making reports available on the internet may solve. It also means that the project archives have become an even more vital source of information. There is an increase in requests for consultation of archives, and it is important for archaeological archives to be accessible and comprehensible to all interested parties, archaeologists and others alike.


The archives should reflect every aspect of an archaeological project. They should contain the preliminary documentation, documentation on the aims and methods, collected information, objects and samples, results of analysis, research, interpretation and publication. As such, the archives must be as complete as possible, including all relevant documents, meeting reports, records, data and objects. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that archival collection must be subject to selection procedures. These are determined by the overall research aims of the project and by the requirements of the receiving repository. Selection should follow accepted practice, and aim at preserving a complete and comprehensible record of the project.

Deposit of archives

It is good practice to prepare and deposit archives efficiently, with the aim of quickly making them available to the widest possible audience. This should not cause a problem when transfer to the repository has been outlined in the project design, and when it is taken into account in daily procedures. To ensure the quality of the archives, it is important that members of the research team, who are knowledgeable about the adopted documentation and reporting systems, are involved in archiving activities. It should not be left completely to staff that has not participated in the research. However competent these may be, this might nevertheless lead to flawed systematisation of documentation and to overlooking some of its elements or characteristics.

All these considerations support the intent of Rule 32:

• arrangements for archiving should be made in advance;
• preparations for archiving should be part of the project’s organization; in short:
• archiving should be dealt with in the project design.


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