Curation Standards and Guidelines
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.0 Artifact Processing
The Department of Cultural Resources is the state agency responsible for preservation of many of North Carolina's archaeological collections and their documentation. To ensure availability for researchers and the public, archaeological collections and records should be retrieved, processed, stored and handled in ways that will contribute to their long-term preservation.
The Office of State Archaeology (OSA), an agency of the department's Division of Historical Resources, has a stewardship responsibility for archaeological materials owned or maintained by the department. Collections on hand have been donated or otherwise acquired by the department, or may be on indefinite, long-term loan through interagency agreements with other state or federal agencies with statutory or regulatory control over artifacts and records.
A basic goal for OSA collections management is to work with agencies to achieve OSA system compatibility for newly acquired collections, and to help these agencies organize older collections to meet professional standards like those detailed in these guidelines. Collections donated from private or corporate sources can also be accommodated by the OSA, thus adding to the state's inventory of prehistoric and historic archaeological research materials.
Requests for using the OSA's collections storage and research facilities should be submitted to the State Archaeologist. The determination of what will be accepted rests with a curation committee appointed by the Director, Division of Historical Resources. Materials will be provisionally accepted by the OSA and then forwarded to the committee for evaluation and determination of final acceptance (North Carolina Administrative Code T07:04R.0803).
This document outlines guidelines and instructions to be followed by state and federal agencies, private consulting firms, museums and individuals for the preservation of prehistoric and historic archaeological materials and associated records. Collections are frequently recovered under the authority of various state and federal laws, including: the North Carolina Archives and History Act (G.S.121); Public Records Act (G.S.132); Indian Antiquities, Archaeological Resources, Unmarked Human Skeletal Remains Protection and Archaeological Record Program acts (G.S.70); Roads and Highways Act (G.S.136); Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C.431-433); Reservoir Salvage Act (16 U.S.C.469-469c); Sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C.470h-2); Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C.470aa-mm); and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (P.L.101-601).
These guidelines and instructions apply to archaeological collections of statewide significance held by the Office of State Archaeology (Archaeology Branch, Archaeology and Historic Preservation Section, Division of Historical Resources), on behalf of the Department of Cultural Resources. They are consistent with the Standards and Guidelines for Curation of Federally-owned and Administered Archeological Collections (36 CFR 79) promulgated by the National Park Service. Definitions included in the federal rule (36 CFR 79.4) are incorporated by reference.
These procedures should be followed in preparing artifact collections and documentation for submission to the OSA. Please note that requirements apply equally to artifact collections and to related records such as field notes, drawings, maps, photographs, artifact inventories and similar forms of documentation.
Staff and space limitations of the Office of State Archaeology (OSA) require that materials submitted for curation meet certain general conditions prior to acceptance.
All artifacts should be cleaned and stabilized prior to shipment to the OSA, except in instances where an uncleaned condition would facilitate a particular form of analysis, or where the depositor desires to have the OSA staff perform--at cost--cleaning, conservation, packaging and other tasks. Items requiring specialized conservation measures will be considered on a case-by-case basis and special arrangements must be made with the OSA laboratory manager. Artifacts requiring special treatment must be packaged separately and clearly labeled.
All artifacts must be marked with accession numbers supplied by the OSA, except in cases where lot accessions or an alternative accession system have been authorized in advance. Standardized accession numbers may be obtained from the OSA laboratory manager or site registrar. Accession numbers must be marked on the exterior of boxes, bags, and other containers in permanent ink; legible paper tags inserted into bags are acceptable for short-term identification purposes.
Artifacts must be packaged by provenience. Each package must be labeled with the Standard Provenience Information (SPI) which includes the site number(s)--(a permanent site number assigned by the OSA is required), county, project name, OSA accession number, and other appropriate provenience designations. Other information may be needed, as indicated in the specific instructions that follow.
Artifact packages must be of a size which will fit standard storage boxes (10" high, 12.5" wide, and 15" long). It is preferable to use additional boxes rather than exceed these measurements. Although 4 mil polyethylene bags are preferred, paper bags will be accepted subject to repackaging charges. Oversized artifacts must be securely tagged with appropriate information.
Place all artifacts submitted for permanent storage in acid-free boxes. Suitable acid-free boxes may be obtained at cost from the OSA. Inquiries should be directed to the OSA laboratory manager.
All shipments to the OSA must be accompanied by a packing list, which provides the project name, county, site number(s), accession numbers and number of containers for each project. A complete accession catalog or artifact inventory must also be included.
Material classes such as ethnobotanical and soil samples should be placed in appropriate sealed containers and labeled with Standard Provenience Information (SPI), plus sample-specific identifiers.
Materials recovered from private lands should be accompanied by an agreement, signed by the landowner, stating that the materials recovered from his/her property have been permanently donated for appropriate curation to the State of North Carolina. Contact the OSA laboratory supervisor for sample donation forms.
Federal or state agencies wishing to donate or loan collections from projects they have undertaken should submit cover letters (addressed to the State Archaeologist) stating those intentions. These communications must precede the actual transfer of collections by at least one month, and include or reference the terms of agreements reached with the OSA for permanent care of the materials (cf. 36 CFR 79.8). Project- or site-specific waivers for donation or maintenance of agency-owned collections may be granted for older collections by mutual written agreement between agency officials and OSA. Waivers of property donation forms may be appropriate in circumstances where specific landowner donations or agreements were not obtained by agencies at the time collections were made.
A statement indicating whether conservation treatment was performed, and a list of objects with a description of their treatments should accompany collections. If conservation has not been completed, provide an itemized list of those objects needing treatment.
At least one photocopy--on stable, acid-free paper--of all original field documentation must accompany each collection submitted for curation. Original notes, drawings, maps and other forms of documentation also may be submitted for permanent storage with the artifact collections.
No materials will be accepted for curation without a complete OSA site inventory record form ("site form"), including maps.
A representative set of photographic slides and B/W photographs documenting the site, or sites, should accompany each archaeological site collection. Color slides should be Kodachrome process. Exceptions to this are not recommended, but may be considered in special cases. Minimally, images should include an overall site view, a referencing landmark and selected excavation units (minimum number = 3). Representative features and burials should be included if encountered during the fieldwork.
Prepare and submit a catalog of all photographic documentation with an explanation of the labeling information.
As indicated throughout this document, accurate, informative labels are required for individual specimens, containers, inventory forms, etc. Standard Provenience Information (SPI), incorporating site number(s), county designations, project name, and accession number(s) are required for all labels; other provenience data, special sample identifiers, handling instructions and related information may be required also.
Human burials are occasionally encountered during planned archaeological excavations. The forces of natural erosion and construction-related earth moving operations also cause exposure of burial sites. Archaeologists and law enforcement officials prevent further endangerment to these sites by documenting and removing them.
North Carolina and federal statutes and attendant regulations provide general directions for the recovery, handling, treatment, analysis and disposition of human skeletal remains and associated objects (see "Purpose and Authority" for legal references). Regardless of the historical or cultural associations of discovered human remains, all burials deserve respectful treatment transcending even the care afforded to any other class of archaeological materials.
The exact methods for recovery and disposition of human remains should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Each case requires specificity that goes beyond the general--and often confusing or contradictory--regulatory requirements. Legal procedures must be followed, but the methods of how each burial is to be handled should be properly defined in the terms of agreements among the concerned parties (descendants, landowners, agencies and archaeologists). Each agreement should precisely outline mutual responsibilities and the steps to be taken for recovery, treatment, analysis and disposition of the remains.
It is impossible in these guidelines to predict the terms and conditions of such agreements, and there are no particular instructions here on the handling of human remains. That said, the State Archaeologist or federal agency officials should be contacted for direct guidance whenever burials are discovered. Law enforcement officials, local or state medical examiners, Tribal authorities, landowners and other individuals will probably also be involved in consultations.
In almost every instance, however, short- or long-term curation of human remains is an important consideration. Unlike other archaeological materials, most human remains will eventually be returned to the next of kin or descendants for reburial. The remains must be carefully handled, documented and protected from unnecessary harm or deterioration during the entire process of removal, transportation and analysis.
The types of scientific and historical information to be gained studying human burials will vary from one instance to the next, and are without question important to our understanding of human culture and history. But human remains are not artifacts in the same sense as stone tools, glass fragments or ceramic vessel sherds. Human remains must be afforded the special considerations fixed in law and through mutually-agreeable terms established among the concerned parties.
Archaeological collections submitted to the OSA for long-term ("in perpetuity") curation must conform to the following instructions. Variations or exceptions to the requirements must be approved in advance. Potential depositors should call (919/733-7342) or write (Office of State Archaeology, 109 E. Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601-2807) for information at any stage in the planning or execution of a project. Questions on conservation will be answered by the laboratory manager. Consultations are encouraged at all phases of research, from planning to field work to analysis, because experience has shown this practice to be beneficial and cost-effective for both the depositors and the OSA.
The cleaning, sorting, cataloging, documenting, conserving, and packaging of archaeological materials are the responsibilities of the depositor. The OSA may be able to provide those initial processing services on a cost-reimbursable basis, however. Whether OSA workers or the depositor assume the responsibility, collections accessioned into the permanent collections of the OSA must conform to the following instructions.
Artifacts should be cleaned with water or dry brushed. Wash only those materials that will not deteriorate or where cleaning with water will not destroy archaeological evidence (e.g., carbon deposits, slip on pot sherds, etc.). Artifacts, specimens or samples that require special care (e.g., which must not be washed or otherwise cleaned or processed) should be clearly separated from other materials and marked: SPECIAL TREATMENT REQUIRED. Costs of specialized analyses involving such materials that are part of regulatory compliance reports, and which precede acceptance of collections by the OSA, are the responsibility of the individual or agency.
It is preferred that the collection be sorted by site number, provenience, category of material (ceramic artifacts separate from lithic artifacts, etc.) and that analytical categories be further subdivided within each category. In cases where only a small volume of the recovered material is analyzed in detail, the analyzed and unanalyzed materials should be separated.
A standardized method of collections cataloging must be employed for each collection and project. Include a full, written explanation of the cataloging method employed with each collection. Guidance on the OSA cataloging system may be obtained from the OSA laboratory manager.
As an example, a collection might be sorted as follows (any of these categories could be further subdivided):
For guidance concerning conservation needs in the field or laboratory, consult published sources like "A Conservation Manual for the Field Archaeologist," by Catherine Sease (Archaeological Research Tools, Volume 4, Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1987) or "Caring for Artifacts After Excavation: Some Advice for Archaeologists," by Katherine R. Singley (Historical Archaeology 15 (1):35-48, 1981).
Materials that have been cleaned, sorted, cataloged and conserved are ready for final packaging. Boxed materials will be stored on industrial shelving constructed of 18 gauge steel or 2x4 and plywood construction, with back and side braces attached for stability. Alternatively, containers or individual specimens may be stored in closed metal cabinets or specimen cabinets (with sliding trays and internal partitions). Shelving and other storage furniture are provided by the OSA, except in cases when agreements are reached with agencies to defray costs of purchasing new storage units for exceptionally large collections or fragile specimens.
Exterior corrugated cardboard storage boxes must meet or exceed a bursting test of 200 pounds per square inch. Standard exterior boxes are acid-free, Hollinger brand record storage boxes, with dimensions of 10 x 12.5 x 15 inches (approximately 1 ft3). Different-sized boxes may be approved by the OSA on special request.
All artifacts should be placed in plastic bags, or in plastic or glass vials if particularly fragile. Plastic bags for permanent storage must be at least 4 mils in thickness. Self-sealing ("Zip-loc"-type) bags are preferred. Open-ended bags are less expensive, but are not as secure. If open-ended bags are used, they must be sealed with transparent (e.g., Scotch Brand) tape or with a paper clip after folding over the end of the bag. Do not staple bags, because this deters access and punctures the bags, causing more frequent replacement. Artifacts must be completely dry before final packaging.
Interior boxes may be used as containers and dividers for separate site collections or proveniences. They are made of acid-free cardboard. Sizes presently in use at the OSA include:
Cards with Standard Provenience Information (SPI) are placed in
all interior boxes, which are then closed. Cards in use at the
OSA are 3" x 5" (see example below).
Materials packaged in interior bags and boxes must be limited to one provenience per container. This separation may involve different sites (especially from surface collections), separate excavation units or levels, individual features, or subdivisions thereof.
Multiple provenience numbers may be grouped within exterior boxes provided they are from the same site (or--in the case of survey-level, surface-collected materials--from the same project). Ideally, each exterior box will contain the material from only one site.
Multiple boxes containing materials from a single site or project should be numbered sequentially ("Box 1 of 3, 2 of 3," etc.) on the outside with permanent marker, and all inventory records must reference those numbers.
Fragile items (bone, wood, shell, etc.) should be wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and bagged, or placed in vials. Use roll Styrofoam (1/32" thick) or bubble wrap to package large items. These products are available in multiple widths. Do not use newspaper. It is highly acidic and unstable.
To pack fragile items within standard boxes, place Styrofoam peanuts at the bottom to act as a buffer and reduce excess volume. Do not use newspaper. Place materials in position, then fill the remaining volume with Styrofoam peanuts to keep the materials in an upright or stable position within the exterior storage box. The weight of boxed collections should be distributed as evenly as possible.
Silica gel should be included as a desiccant if plastic bags are used for the storage of metal artifacts, but the silica gel must not come in contact with artifact surfaces. Fine or delicate metal artifacts may be stored in small plastic boxes or vials. A small, perforated plastic bag of silica gel should be placed in each container.
In addition to artifacts, supplementary scientific data, specimens, and samples are also in need of curatorial care. Those materials must be packaged and identified separately from other artifact classes, e.g., ethnobotanical or radiocarbon sample may not be placed in the same exterior boxes with stone or ceramic artifacts. The following instructions apply for those materials and samples.
The maximum amount of soil per sample should not exceed 1 pound (0.45 kg). It should be completely air-dried, and packaged in a 4 mil plastic bag (or double bagged in 2 mil bags), preferably with a zipper closure. Open-ended bags may be used if securely sealed. Use a permanent marker (Sharpie or Magic Marker brands) to label bags with the SPI. Do not package sample in paper bags, since they mildew, rot and tear, leading to sample loss and contamination. Do not package soil in glass jars, which are bulky and easily broken.
Storage boxes containing soil samples must not exceed 40 lbs. total weight, regardless of box size. Be sure the exterior label includes the SPI, and is also marked as containing soil samples.
All samples should be packaged and labeled in the same manner in which they would be sent to a C-14 laboratory. Do not use glass jars. Label each package with the SPI, and clearly mark each package as containing C-14 samples.
Samples should be packaged in 4 mil plastic bags (or double bagged in 2 mil bags). Do not exceed more than 1 lb. (0.45 kg) per sample. Use a zipper or open-ended plastic bag that has been securely sealed. Use permanent marker to print the SPI on the exterior of each sample container, and also indicate the type of material it contains.
Slides made as a result of pollen or phytolith analysis, or thin-sectioning of stone, bone, etc. are to be stored in plastic or metal microscope slide storage boxes (available from Fisher Scientific or other laboratory supply catalogues). Slide numbers must be readable with minimal information on the interior of the box. A label must be affixed to the exterior of the box with the SPI, and name of person performing the work.
All project field notes, correspondence, analysis sheets, feature records, etc. must be complete, organized and clearly labeled. The following information should be given on standard size, acid-free folders which contain documents: site number, site name/project name and date. If originals are not submitted, clear, readable copies may be substituted. Copies must be made on archival quality paper (xerographic process). Field notebooks or other bound records may be labeled on the exterior cover in permanent marker with the same information. Use of spiral-bound, 8.5" x 11" notebooks for field notes is strongly discouraged. Notes recorded in them must be photocopied onto archivally-stable paper and placed in file folders before submittal to the OSA.
Those on paper should be either rolled or folded with a proper outer label. Adhesive labels must be archivally stable. Labels should include the SPI, plus the name of the person preparing the map and subject of map. Maps or drawings prepared on plastic drafting film ("Mylar") should be wrapped in acid-free tissue paper. Use string or rubber bands to fasten maps. Although these will eventually deteriorate, they cause no permanent damage. Fasten maps or drawings with moderate tension so that there is no stress on the medium itself. Do not use cellophane or plastic tape on maps (it loses its adhesive qualities over time and discolors the map). Do not staple maps. Cardboard or plastic chart storage tubes may be used for shipping purposes; for long-term storage purposes maps and charts will be placed in flat files or in other, archivally stable containers.
Storage media for computerized data can take several forms, but should be carefully labeled and protected from physical damage. Diskettes or magnetic tapes should be labeled on storage sleeves or plastic storage boxes, using permanent marker. Computer printouts must be placed in appropriate folders or binders. The exterior of sleeves, plastic cases and folders should be labeled with the SPI, plus the name of the person supervising the programs, and identification of the computer software and operating systems used.
Photographs and negatives should be stored in acid-free photographic envelopes, which can be purchased from photography and archival supply catalogs. Presently, OSA negatives are stored in envelopes that measure 4 3/8" x 5 3/8" up to 3" x 11." Prints are stored in envelopes that are 6" x 9" up to 11.5" x 15." Color slides are stored in molded polypropylene pages 9 1/2" x 11" (SAF-T-STOR brand). The SPI, plus date, photographer, negative number, photo catalog number, negative size, subject, recorder name and date recorded must be marked on storage envelopes. Plastic boxes may not be used since they are not archivally stable and lead to deterioration of images over time.
Photographic slides must be individually marked and identified in the following manner:
Comparable labeling is required for B/W images and negative holders. Videotapes may be submitted in clearly-labeled plastic or cardboard storage sleeves.
Once all materials have been packaged and boxed, a label must be placed on the "width" end (upper left hand corner) of each sealed box. Labels include the SPI, plus additional required on the type of materials in the box.
Labels should be typed, or computer-generated, in large font, bold letters and double spaced for easy reading. Clearly hand-lettered labels or cards are acceptable. Box labels must be self-adhesive or securely attached to boxes with adhesive tape. The minimum label size for standard storage boxes is 3" x 5."
Multiple boxes for each site or project collection should be marked (width end, upper right hand corner) with sequential box numbers ("1 of 4, 2 of 4," etc.), using a permanent marker. Those numbers must be applied to all boxes, containers, or other packaged artifacts, samples, documents, records, etc., and cross-referenced to packing lists and similar inventory control documents.
Additional permanent labels will be applied to storage containers by OSA staff to meet inventory and records management needs of the repository and those established in state or federal guidelines. These may, in future, include bar-coded computer labels, keyed to other inventory management systems.
For additional information regarding these standards and guidelines, or for further instructions on preparation or shipping of archaeological collections, contact:
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