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Growth management

(photo) Collapsing stacks of cardboard boxes fill the aisle of a collections storage room.
Overcrowded storage and crushed boxes. Photo courtesy of Alexandria Archaeology, City of Alexandria, Virginia.

Most archeological collections in the U.S. have not been amassed in a systematic way. For years, collecting was based on individual researchers' interests, or on the need to salvage sites before development occurred. These collecting procedures, which are mostly random, have resulted in a huge national collection that represents only some of America's archeological resources. Larger, "more exciting" sites are disproportionately represented. Small lithic scatters found during a survey, for example, may not be collected at all. In fact, selective collecting is now being encouraged by some agencies in order to reduce the number and size of collections that need to be managed (see Section III). Until recently, little planning effort has focused on ensuring that the collections across the nation truly represent the known archeological record and provide maximum value for future research, interpretation, education, and heritage needs.

The issue of growth management then is to try to involve key stakeholders (e.g., archeologists, repository staff, affiliated culture groups, interested public) in the creation and execution of a systematic collecting strategy at the national or, more feasibly, the regional or state level. Such a strategy can help archeologists fill interpretive gaps in the archeological record, while justifying the need to properly curate and manage the collections that are saved.

A critical step, however, in creating a regional or state collecting strategy is to figure out what the existing collections, both the material remains and associated records, contain. How does information that can be gleaned from the existing collections relate to what is already known about the archeological record? What condition are the collections in? Are they accessible for use? When it is known what information is already available through inventory and interpretation, it will be easier to determine what collections still need to be developed. In a few places, some of this work is being tackled by state and regional archeology societies. At the federal level, knowledge of what an agency's collections contain can help focus research and preservation initiatives in compliance with Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended.

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