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  Managing Archeological Collections Curation Prior to the Field Distance Learning

Collecting strategy

(photo) Storage of oversize groundstone materials.
Storage of oversize groundstone materials. From the photograph collection of the Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.

A detailed collecting strategy is another essential element of a project design. It can affect a resulting collection's short-term care and preservation in the field and its long-term management and care in a repository, both the material remains and the associated records. The collecting strategy is different for every project, but should be based on the theoretical or compliance focus of the project and the phase of work to be completed (i.e., background research, survey, testing, excavation). Examination of existing collections from projects in the general area can be very helpful in understanding the range of material remains that might be found, as well as effective documentation. For compliance or contract work on federal, tribal, state, or local land, it should take into account any field collecting policies or guidelines for the planned phase of work (see Section III.) For either compliance or research, the collecting strategy should consider the long-term interests and concerns of culturally-affiliated groups and work to get them involved from the beginning of the project. Finally and if available, the collecting strategy should also consider the long-term research plan for the state or region in which the project will occur.

A well-planned collecting strategy makes the principal investigator's job in the field easier and ensures the physical, research, interpretive, and heritage values of the collected materials. Knowing the value of the collection is very important when justifying the costs of its long-term care.

Every collecting strategy should include the following:

  • Classes of Objects: Identification of the classes of material culture expected to be recovered (i.e., ceramics, lithic, wood, etc.) and the classes of non-cultural materials (i.e., soil and radiocarbon samples) expected to be collected. The collecting strategy should also consider the expected range of variation for all classes of objects and specimens.

  • Types of Associated Records for the Project: Identification of the types of associated records expected to be created during the project. It is increasingly important to consider if and how digital and other magnetic data will be created and collected, especially given the costs of reformatting and migrating digital data over time. Types of associated records include:
    • provenience information, e.g., field notes, photographs, sound and video recordings, maps;
    • analytical records, e.g., quantitative and qualitative data compiled during laboratory analyses;
    • administrative documentation, e.g., research design, proposals, contract, work scheduling;
    • project results, e.g., published books and articles, formal presentations, final reports (often gray literature that is produced in limited numbers);
    • personal papers, e.g., correspondence, diaries, email, report drafts, etc.

  • Time Periods or Occupation Levels: Identification of the principal time period(s) or occupation levels that are the focus of the project. Documentation also should be included on any object classes from other time periods that may be disturbed or recovered in the process of getting to the focal time period(s) and how these materials will be handled.

  • Sampling Procedure: Many archeological projects yield highly redundant materials, material remains that do not fit the project design, excessive numbers of non-cultural materials, and/or duplicative records. Given the costs of collection management, the current crunch on storage space, professional ethics concerning their recovery, and long-term care of and access to collections, an appropriate sampling strategy for the recovered object class(es) is important. Full consideration must be given to the research potential and the requirements of potential analytical techniques when developing the sampling parameters for an object class (see Section VI for more discussion on sampling). The potentials for research and legal and administrative record-keeping must be considered before any sampling is performed on associated records. All decisions and actions must be well documented.

  • Modification Provision: There is always an unexpected element to archeological fieldwork, and all of the objects recovered and associated records created have value. These are reasons why a provision for modification is important in a project research design, collecting strategy, and curation agreement. The right to modify is especially important when working on federal lands. ARPA allows for the deaccessioning or discarding of "inadvertently discovered materials". If the possibility of unexpected finds is not acknowledged and dealt with in the project design, they can be removed from the collection after due process.

  • NAGPRA: When NAGPRA-related items are likely to be discovered during fieldwork it is important (and required by the Act) to place provisions in the collecting strategy for these objects. These provisions should be prepared in consultation with the appropriate Indian tribe(s) or Native Hawaiian organization(s). Collecting strategies for human remains and NAGPRA-related objects should address whether they will be collected or left in situ, what research or analysis procedures may be undertaken on them, and what provisions are in place for the final disposition of the objects or remains (e.g., transferal to a repository or tribe for repatriation, reburial, etc.). Pre-fieldwork provisioning for NAGPRA can help avoid contentious issues regarding ownership and scientific use. It also can help to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between Native Americans, agencies, archeologists, and repositories.

    Note: NAGPRA relates to objects and their associated records, not to records with no associated objects.
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