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  Managing Archeological Collections 3. Laws, Regs, Policies, and Ethics Distance Learning

Curation of Federally Owned and Administered Archaeological Collections (36 CFR 79)

(photo) Archeological artifacts appropriately stored in archival quality bags and boxes, then placed in baked-enamel metal museum cabinets.
Archeological artifacts appropriately stored in archival quality bags and boxes, then placed in baked-enamel metal museum cabinets. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.

Government-wide regulations for the curation and care of federal archeological collections required by NHPA, the Reservoir Salvage Act, and ARPA were issued in 1990 as "Curation of Federally Owned and Administered Archaeological Collections" (36 CFR 79). These regulations establish procedures and guidelines to manage and preserve collections. They also include terms and conditions for federal agencies to include in contracts and Memorandums of Agreement (MOA) with non-federal repositories.

36 CFR 79 is the first set of regulations to produce standards for determining a viable repository for archeological collections and guidelines for acceptable access, loans, and collections use. Unfortunately, these regulations contain no deadlines for compliance and no enforcement powers. Nor do they provide a process to identify or accredit repositories that meet the standards set forth. Furthermore, a regulation on deaccessioning proposed in 1990 was not issued due to considerable controversy. It has yet to be issued.

Below are some of the main points of the regulations.

What 36 CFR 79 Covers

  • Excavations done under the authority or in connection with Federal agencies, laws, and permits (Antiquities Act, Reservoir Salvage Act, Section 110 of NHPA, ARPA).
  • Applies to both new and preexisting collections.
  • Applies to the collections and the generated data as permanent records.

Management Responsibilities

  • A federal agency is responsible for reviewing and evaluating preexisting collections and the repositories that manage them.
  • An agency is responsible for working with both federal and non-federal repositories to eliminate inadequate collections care or to move the collections to a repository that meets the standards.
  • An agency is responsible for placing new collections in repositories that meet the standards.
  • For each collection, an agency must keep a copy of administrative records on its location, contents, contracts, reports, etc.
  • A federal agency is financially responsible for collections care.

Funding Curatorial Services

  • Federal agencies may use monies appropriated by Congress to: purchase/maintain their own repository; enter into a cost-sharing agreement with a repository; reimburse a grantee for curatorial costs; reimburse a state for curatorial costs; and conduct inspections and inventories.
  • When a repository can no longer care for a collection, a federal agency may provide funds for deficiencies or transfer the collection to another repository.
  • A federal agency may charge permittees and licensees for curation costs.
  • Funds provided to a repository should include funds for storage, inspection/inventory, and maintaining, conserving and providing access to collections on a short and long-term basis.

Where and How Federal Agencies Secure Curatorial Services

  • Agencies may use a federally owned repository, non-federal museums, educational/scientific institutions, state, local, or tribal repositories, or transfer the collection to another federal agency.
  • Guidelines for repositories holding collections permitted under ARPA or the Antiquities Act include location in the state where the collection originate, stores or maintains other collections from the same site/location/geographical region, does not subdivide a collection, and deposits artifacts and associated records in the same place.
  • A federal agency should consult with an expert in archeological collections management and preservation when assistance is needed (e.g., State Historic Preservation Officer [SHPO], state archeologist, National Park Service [NPS], Tribal Historic Preservation Officer [THPO], Smithsonian Institution [SI], American Association of Museums, local or regional museum, etc.).
(photo) Oversized materials--maps and other large documents--rolled, stacked, and stored in special cabinets.
Oversized materials present additional storage problems. All too often, they are rolled or stacked, thus creating obstacles to both their ultimate survival and accessibility. From the photograph collection of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.

Terms and Conditions For Contracts, etc.

  • Requires statements that identify the collection, its ownership and jurisdiction, work to be done by a repository, responsibilities of federal agency, costs, special procedures, instructions/terms for access and use, records needs, publication needs, inventories and inspections, repatriation issues, and some deaccessioning issues (i.e., repository won't sell collection; won't transfer or discard collection without permission).

Repository Standards

  • Able to accession, label, catalog, store, maintain, inventory, and conserve a collection on a long-term basis in accordance with professional museum and archival standards.
  • Complies with maintaining acquisition records, catalog and inventory lists, descriptive information, photographs/images, locational information, condition information, loan information, monitoring records, records on lost or damaged/destroyed objects, and records on deaccessions.
  • Has adequate equipment and space for storage, study, and conservation.
  • Needs to physically secure collections by use of safety codes, fire systems, intrusion systems, emergency management plan, additional security when needed, limited access, and periodic inspections of systems.
  • Requires staff to be qualified professionals.
  • Handles, stores, cleans, conserves, and exhibits collections in a way that is appropriate to the nature of the materials, protects the objects, and preserves data.
  • Stores forms and records in a protected manner (locked, fire resistant container with duplicates in a separate location).
  • Regularly inspects collections.
  • Conducts inventories.
  • Provides access to collections.

Use of Collections

  • Requires federal agencies to ensure that the repository makes federal collections available for scientific, educational, and religious uses.
  • Limits access to information on the specific location, character, etc. of objects or collections that may create risk of theft or destruction.
  • Does not allow destructive uses or analysis unless it is important for scientific or educational purposes.
  • Does not allow loans without a written agreement that includes the collection or object to be loaned, the purpose of the loan, length of the loan, restrictions, insurance, and handling requirements.
  • Allows a repository to charge fees for use of its collections.

Inspections and Inventories

  • The repository has to give a copy of the catalog list to the federal agency when a collection is received, periodically inspect and monitor their physical plant, inspect the collection for condition, and periodically inventory the collection.
  • The repository has to have qualified professionals do the inventory and inspection work and give copies of results to the federal agency.
  • The repository has to make the collection accessible to the federal agency or applicable Indian tribes for periodic inspection.
  • The repository must prepare a written notification of the discovery of and circumstances behind any loss, theft of, deterioration or damage to, or destruction of all or part of a collection within five days to the federal agency owner.
  • A federal agency shall have qualified professional staff who investigate reports of lost, stolen, deteriorated or damaged collections and periodically inspect the repository that houses its collections to determine its compliance with these minimum standards.
  • Fragile/perishable items should be inspected for damage or deterioration on a more frequent basis than stable items.
  • Objects and associated records should be handled as little as possible during inspections.
  • More valuable artifacts should be inventoried more often.
  • Multiple federal agencies should have interagency agreements for coordinated inspections and inventories when they have collections at the same repository.
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