Society for American Archaeology Curation Ethics

Principle of Archaeological Ethics No. 7: Records and Preservation

Archaeologists should work actively for the preservation of, and long-term access to, archaeological collections, records, and reports. To this end, they should encourage colleagues, students, and others to make responsible use of collections, records, and reports in their research as one means of preserving the in situ archaeological record, and of increasing the care and attention given to that portion of the archaeological record which has been removed and incorporated into archaeological collections, records, and reports.

Implementing SAA Ethic Principle No. 7

SAA Ethic # 7, Records and Preservation, provides a firm foundation to support the preservation, access, and use of archaeological collections and associated records. The SAA Advisory Committee on Curation, in collaboration with the SAA Standing Committee on Ethics, developed the following guidelines to help implement Ethic #7. The SAA Board of Directors approved these guidelines by electronic vote, which was ratified at the 2002 SAA meetings in Denver. The SAA Committee on Curation also sponsored a session at the 2002 SAA meetings, called “Our Collective Responsibility: The Ethics of Archaeological Collections Stewardship,” to further expand on these guidelines:

  • The same ethic of stewardship applies to collections and associated records as to in situ sites or other phenomena comprising the archaeological record.
  • The integrity of collections, including their associated records, should be preserved and maintained. Field records are an integral part of a collection and are not the permanent property of an individual researcher or contractor. Field notes, photographs, maps, laboratory notes and data, and other records require the same levels of management, care, and preservation as artifacts and other recovered items. Records generated during collections research and treatment should be deposited with the collection. Data and records created or stored in electronic formats are fragile and require specialized long-term care and management.
  • Archaeological excavation is a destructive process, and the resulting collections are finite, nonrenewable resources.  Efforts should be made to employ existing collections, and databases to address research questions whenever possible, and prior to initiating new excavations or other destructive techniques.
  • Archaeological projects should explicitly provide for the permanent curation of resulting collections at an appropriate repository. Collections and associated records-including all necessary permits and deeds of gift-should be deposited in a timely manner. The location, accessibility to, and any restrictions on the collections should be provided in research and compliance reports.
  • Access to archaeological collections and associated records should be provided to qualified users for scientific, educational, and heritage uses. Under the rare circumstances in which access restrictions may be imposed due to issues such as applicable law, sovereignty, and cultural sensitivity, appropriate levels of access should be established in advance.
  • As part of their training, professional archaeologists should understand the need for and basic principles related to the long-term preservation of archaeological collections, including curation, collections and archives management, and conservation. Elementary training in these areas should be part of undergraduate and graduate level curricula in archaeology.