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Preparing your Archive#

Standards and guidelines for depositing digital archives in archaeology#

Some guidelines about archiving are already mandatory for certain sectors within the discipline of archaeology.

  • Museum curators working in UK museums that are accredited by the Museums and Galleries Commission should adhere to the MGC (1992) and SMA (1993; 1995) guidelines for archive access, deposition, recording, and storage
  • Archaeologists funded by Historic Scotland must adhere to Publication and Archiving of Archaeological Projects (Historic Scotland 1996a) and the Guidelines for Archiving of Archaeological Projects (RCAHMS 1996)
  • Projects funded by English Heritage must conform to the Guidelines known as MAP2 (English Heritage 1991)
  • Projects in Wales should be aware of the developing strategy for archaeology in Wales (Cadw and RCAHMW 1998)
  • Archaeologists creating digital data with funds received from the Arts and Humanities Research Board, British Academy, Council for British Archaeology, Leverhulme Trust, Natural Environment Research Council, Society of Antiquaries of London, or the Wellcome Trust should deposit digital archives with the Archaeology Data Service (ADS 1998).

Archiving requirements in project designs or specifications#

Special archiving requirements are often included in project designs or specifications that vary on a case-by-case basis (e.g. Northamptonshire Heritage 1998). In West Yorkshire, for example, the provision for archiving digital fieldwork data is ensured through planning conditions. The following paragraph is a preliminary wording of the West Yorkshire digital archiving specification:

There is a potential that the digital archive may merit curation by the ADS (Archaeology Data Service, Department of Archaeology, University of York, King's Manor, York YO1 7EP phone 01904 433 954, http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/, email). The decision that the archive merits such deposition will be made by the WYAS Advisory Service upon receipt and appraisal of the report, on the basis of the type and quality of the archaeological remains. The contractor will then be informed in writing of any need to transfer material to the ADS. There is a charge for depositing archive material with the Archaeology Data Service, and the potential charge will need to be included as a contingency sum within the tender. Before commencing any fieldwork, the archaeological contractor must contact the ADS in writing to determine their requirements for the deposition of a geophysical survey archive (NB: it is anticipated that Guidelines for deposition will be available on the Internet in the near future). This letter should be copied to the WYAS Advisory Service.

Repositories for archaeological digital archives#

Most existing archive repositories are aware of, but have not yet confronted, the challenges of preserving digital datasets. Indeed the recent Survey of Archaeological Archives in England (Swain 1998, 47) concluded that 'most museums do not have the correct technology to store, access and curate in the long-term those archives for which computer files play an important part'.

It should be the responsibility of those managing archaeological resources in a region to liaise over how best to manage the digital resource for their area (whether locally or through an agency such as the ADS) and then articulate this to contractors. The ADS recommends that fieldworkers should consult with the museum, national monuments record, SMR, or other archive repository that will receive the rest of the project archive about their digital archiving policies. If, following this consultation, there is doubt about what to do with digital archives, fieldworkers are recommended to contact the ADS for information.

Basic guidelines for organisations contemplating the preservation of their own digital data are provided in Section 2, but the provision of digital archiving services is not a decision to be taken lightly. Strategies for Digital Data, the ADS's user-needs survey, found that only 50% of the digital archives held by local government bodies are copied to new media or migrated and that digital archives held in museums are in many cases left unmodified (Condron et al. 1999, 38) and are thus at risk of becoming irretrievable as technology advances. The survey also found that many digital archives held by museums and local government departments were also not being held in protected storage conditions (Condron et al. 1999, 38).

Some system of designating secure digital archiving facilities is required and, although the National Preservation Office and other national agencies are currently examining strategies for implementing such a designation system, there is currently nothing in place. Strategies for Digital Data recommended that

there is a need for a document that details the appropriate standards and facilities for digital archives. Included in this document should also be a list of digital archives that conform to these standards. An accreditation scheme for digital archives should be devised

(Condron et al. 1999, 5).

Without formal registration or definition of what constitutes a digital archiving facility, there is no effective mechanism requiring archive curators to take digital records only if they can adequately care for them. Until such a designation system is in place, organisations are encouraged to contact the ADS for up to date information and/or for the provision of professional digital archiving services.

Strategies for Digital Data calculated that there are between 9,600 and 12,200 extensively digitised projects held by archaeological bodies in Britain and Ireland (Condron et al. 1999, 41). Although there is a need to archive this valuable and fragile resource, it inevitably raises the issue of the long-term funding implications of digital archive migration strategies.



Museums and Galleries Commission (1992) Standards in the Museum Care of Archaeological Collections.